Thunder Bay TV stations surviving on life insurance cash, shutdowns looming

Two local Thunder Bay TV stations surviving on former owner’s life insurance policy, may shutdown
WATCH ABOVE: Two Thunder Bay TV stations surviving off former owner's life insurance, may shutdown

Thunder Bay, Ont., could see both its local TV stations sign off for the final time Sept. 1.

The stations are currently in the red and running on funds from life insurance policies, not revenue, Don Caron, vice president and general manager of Thunder Bay Electronics told a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CTRC) panel in Gatineau, Que., Wednesday.

“The reason that we’re still in business and that we’re still operating is the fact that we unfortunately had a general manager and an owner who passed away in the last year and the company had fairly significant life policies on them,” Caron said.

READ MORE: Half of local TV in Canada could go off air by 2020: report

“The reason we’re still operating is that we’re burning those non-broadcast assets to stay in business, awaiting to see if there’s some way we can work out and the Commission can hear our plight of angst, if you will.”

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This isn’t a threat, Caron said, it’s simply the reality for Thunder Bay Electronics, also known as Dougall Media. The two stations in jeopardy are CKPR and CHFD – Global Thunder Bay, which has local programming along with Shaw Media content.

The state of local TV has grown increasingly grim as advertising revenues plummet. The change is due to a number of factors, including competition from speciality channels and Internet content providers such as Netflix.

READ MORE: Canada to require a la carte television service by December 2016

The CRTC panel Wednesday was part of an ongoing public hearing on local and community television.

Advocates say when a community loses its local programming it doesn’t just lose its voice; jobs are terminated, and the chance for future training and employment in the community gone.

The Thunder Bay stations service an area “bigger than the size of France” Caron said, the only TV stations covering local news in Northwestern Ontario.

“I just want to make it aware that I am struggling to stay in the business ‘til September, and if it goes beyond that then I really have no choice but to consider shutting the whole place down, which will blacken northern Ontario.”

Caron was speaking alongside other members of the Small Market Independent Television Stations (SMITS) Coalition, in a plea for additional support from the CRTC.

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It’s not the first time the coalition has reached out for help to Canada’s telecommunications watchdog; last March SMITS submitted a failed request for emergency interim funding.

Caron’s admission comes the same week the Guelph Mercury announced it would cease print editions — cutting 23 full time and 3 part time jobs — and Rogers said it would be cutting 200 positions in TV, radio, publishing and administration.

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More media cuts predicted as study presents bleak future for local TV
More media cuts predicted as study presents bleak future for local TV