CBC says may cut services
By Wojtek Dabrowski
TORONTO (Reuters) - The Canadian Broadcasting Corp said on Thursday it is looking at cutting services in coming months, including the "downgrading" or even the sale of some of its TV or radio assets, as the public broadcaster weathers a slump in advertising.
"If we are to maintain our strategic momentum ... we must protect, to the extent possible, our key assets -- our people and our programs -- but we too will be looking at reducing our services in the new fiscal year," Chief Executive Hubert Lacroix said in a speech in Toronto.
The CBC has said it is facing an advertising revenue shortfall of up to C$65 million for the fiscal year ending March 31 as the economic crisis pushes advertisers to slash their spending.
Even so, it thinks it will be able to barely break even. It is the future that is of concern, Lacroix said.
"Frankly, all the options are on the table in terms of trying to monetize some of our assets and generate some revenue," he told reporters following his speech.
Lacroix said the company may also look at consolidating some of its local stations and that it may introduce more U.S. television programing.
He said it's too early to speculate about layoffs at the CBC, which has about 5,500 employees represented by the Canadian Media Guild union.
The broadcaster hopes to have a firmer plan in place for cost cuts by mid-March.
He added that the company had asked the Canadian government for help with "some financial flexibility". However, Ottawa said on Wednesday it expects the CBC to clamp down on costs as other broadcasters are being forced to do.
A MEETING WITH THE PRIME MINISTER
Lacroix has requested a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and insists that the flexibility he is after will not involve more money from the federal government.
Instead, he said he simply wants tools that would help the CBC manage "through this really big mess."
These could include a line of credit or an advance on funding allotted for future years to deal with the current crisis, he said. The CBC receives more than C$1 billion each year from the government.
Belt-tightening at private Canadian broadcasters CTV and Canwest Global Communications Corp has already resulted in layoffs.
CTV cut 105 jobs in late November, while rival Canwest chopped 560 the same month, including 210 at its broadcasting operations.
Canwest is also looking at selling five conventional TV stations and CTV announced on Wednesday that it would shut down two Ontario stations. CTV cited the economic crisis and "the ongoing structural problems facing the conventional television sector in Canada".
Unlike Canwest and CTV, the CBC is funded in large part by taxpayer dollars, which helps guarantee it can continue to operate despite the plunge in advertising revenues in recent months.
However, Lacroix noted the CBC has no access to the capital markets or commercial borrowing that its private rivals can tap for financing.
(Reporting by Wojtek Dabrowski; editing by Rob Wilson)