Thank you, Chairman Easter. I will say, just off the top, that as a local broadcast partner with the CFL in several markets, we have strong sympathy for and a strong understanding of what the league is going through.
Good evening, committee members. My name is Troy Reeb. I serve as executive vice-president, broadcast networks, at Corus Entertainment. On behalf of our company, and our 3,500 employees across Canada, I want to start by thanking this committee, your parliamentary colleagues in the House and Senate, and all federal public servants for the tireless work you are doing to protect Canadians and support our economy.
I am pleased to be here tonight to discuss the impact that COVID-19 is having on our company and on our programming for Canadians, and to share our thoughts on government responses to this crisis.
First, I will say a few words about Corus. We are Canada’s leading pure play media and content company. We operate 15 Global television stations; 34 specialty networks including such leading brands as HISTORY, W, Showcase, HGTV Canada and Food Network Canada; and 39 radio stations across the country. Our subsidiary, Nelvana, is Canada’s premier animation studio, and Corus-owned Kids Can Press is Canada’s largest independent children’s book publisher.
In Quebec, we operate Historia, Séries+, Télétoon and the Disney channel. Toon Boom, our Montreal-based division, creates software for international studios.
We work closely with producers to create thousands of hours of Canadian programs every year. All told, our programs and our products are exported to 160 countries around the world.
Every part of the Corus Entertainment family has been affected by COVID-19 in some way. As is the case for so many other businesses, our supply lines have been disrupted, our customer demand has fluctuated, our employees have had to adjust to working from home and we just don’t know when things will get back to normal.
Uniquely, we have continued to provide an essential service to Canadians throughout this crisis. Global News, as you will know, is one of Canada’s largest journalism organizations. We employ approximately 1,000 journalists and technicians in the news division and spend roughly $140 million per year to provide local and national news from coast to coast. Since March, we have proudly maintained all of our local newscasts. More than that, we have added special COVID-19 news broadcasts to our schedule, provided round-the-clock updates on all our radio stations, interrupted regular programming to air news conferences and health briefings daily, and launched a 24-7 online news streaming service. We have done this while navigating significant logistical challenges and having to invest in new equipment and technology to protect our news-gathering staff.
Audiences have responded. Ratings for Global News broadcasts have risen significantly since March, and Global News has solidified its place as the number one private-sector online news brand in Canada. In this time of uncertainty, Canadians are gravitating to reliable news and information sources, and we are very pleased to be one of them.
However—make no mistake—the news business is challenging. It was challenging before COVID-19, and it is more challenging now. It is challenging for journalists, like Caryn Lieberman, who last week spent a day behind the scenes, telling the stories of life and death in one of the country’s busiest COVID-treatment wards at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital. It is challenging for our business, which has needed to invest even more in gathering the news while pre-empting the commercials that pay our bills.
Our news content is delivered almost entirely on radio, TV and online platforms, all of which are entirely dependent on advertising. Since social distancing restrictions were enacted in mid-March, and with many businesses closed entirely, we have seen significant disruptions to our advertising revenues. Because news, and local TV and radio more generally, operates on a fixed-cost structure, the bottom line has significantly worsened.
Corus is extremely proud to be a news provider. We want to continue to provide this essential service to Canadians for years to come. Crises like COVID-19 have a way of clarifying what we as a society cannot take for granted. We believe broadcast news is one of those things. It is vital; it faces challenges, and it needs support.
What can the government do to help?
First, I want to recognize certain helpful measures the government has already taken. On March 31, Minister Guilbeault announced that the CRTC will not request payment for part I broadcasting licence fees for the current fiscal year. This measure will provide roughly $30 million in savings to the broadcast industry.
While that amount is relatively small and will not nearly cover the news broadcasters' shortfalls, it is a start.
We would strongly urge the government to place news broadcasters in a stronger position to sustain their operations now and going forward. That would entail measures such as waiving additional fees, such as broadcasters' part II licence fees, which are more substantial, as well as things like reimbursing certain costs, such as the 600 megahertz transition costs that have been forced onto broadcasters not through the will of their own, but by government decisions. We believe it ultimately entails ensuring that private broadcasters are able to cross-subsidize news with other, more profitable parts of their businesses.
While COVID-19 may be consuming a great deal of Corus' current organizational focus, we intend to emerge from this crisis on a solid footing. Our news division and the dozens of communities it serves with public-interest journalism require our future success.
That is why broadcasting policy reform remains so crucial. Before understandably shifting its focus onto COVID-19, this government pledged to table new broadcasting legislation in Parliament by the end of the year, and we certainly hope that's still possible. The government recognized that a rapidly changing, competitive environment has made broadcasting policy reform an urgent priority, and we would say that COVID-19 has made it more urgent still.
While almost every other business in Canada has been making rapid adjustments to deal with the new economic environment, broadcasters are not treated like every other business. Corus' licences require us to spend 30% of last year's revenues on Canadian program supply this year, regardless of what has happened to this year's revenues. Our licences prescribe not just what kinds of programs we need to spend our money on, but the time of day we have to run them. All of this limits our ability to adjust for COVID-19 in the short term as well as remain competitive long term with foreign streaming giants.
Thank you again for the opportunity to appear tonight. I would be pleased to answer any questions.