TORONTO - Money-losing newscasts are getting the axe at Omni multicultural channels as Rogers Media Inc. tries to reduce its losses with a new slate of current affairs shows that use fewer resources.
The Toronto-based subsidiary of Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B) said Thursday that 110 people will lose their jobs, mostly production staff and news reporters, as it pares Omni's operations and merges some of the responsibilities with City stations.
The changes take effect Monday when the local news shows in Cantonese, Italian, Mandarin and Punjabi, are replaced with shows that spend more time discussing subjects in the news, but don't generate actual news reports.
Omni newscasts had production costs of about $9 million last year and brought in $3.9 million of advertising revenue, said Colette Watson, vice-president of television and operations at Rogers.
"The math didn't work," she said.
"It's the magic of every television executive. You need to find the show that will resonate with audiences, so this is what we're doing."
Last year, former Rogers Media head Keith Pelley highlighted the financial problems of the Omni stations in an application to renew their licences with the CRTC.
He told the regulator that Rogers faced "a very serious financial situation" over certain content requirements, including that a specific percentage of prime time content fits within multicultural guidelines. He argued the stipulations were "not essential to upholding the ethnic nature and orientation of the stations."
At the time, Rogers also blamed the financial state of Omni on competition from Cantonese-language channel Fairchild Television, based in Richmond, B.C., and Richmond Hill, Ont., and the Asian Television Network, based in Markham, Ont.
Viewership has dramatically evolved since Rogers acquired the first Omni multicultural channel in 1986.
"For a lot of older immigrants, that was one of the channels we were watching when we first came to Canada years ago," said Peter Chiu, program director at The Cross-Cultural Community Services Association, a service in Toronto that helps newcomers settle in Canada.
"But a lot of immigrants are also getting their content online now."
Under the new programming, Omni will launch interactive current affairs shows that broadcast in Cantonese, Mandarin and Punjabi.
The Italian newscast is being scrapped entirely and replaced with popular novella "Raccontami," an import from Italy.
The new current affairs shows will have a strong focus on community stories, rather than news from overseas, Watson said. The conversational element allows each show to have a longer shelf life for audiences who want to watch the video-on-demand version.
"I'd rather do programing about where (viewers) live now," Watson said. "There's a federal election coming, so how about we talk to candidates and do a larger in-depth profile."
She also pointed to recent protests in Toronto over the sex ed curriculum as an opportunity missed.
"Instead of doing a 90-second news piece about that ... we would then do a six or seven minute in-studio interview with the community about why this matters to them," she said.
Other possibilities in the future could include repurposing the content for a podcast, Watson said.
As part of the changes, Rogers will scrap its Edmonton edition of "Breakfast Television" on City, and launch a new show called "Dinner Television" in the evening, hosted by NHL veteran Jason Strudwick.
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