Hamilton's CHCH channel cuts back on local news in an effort to save costs

TORONTO – Hamilton’s CHCH channel is cutting back on local news in an attempt to right its troubled finances and 129 full-time employees have been let go.

The broadcaster broke into its regular news programming on Friday to announce the changes.

Romen Podzyhun, chief executive of CHCH’s parent company Channel Zero, told viewers the channel would not be airing its 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news broadcasts on Friday.

He did not give a reason for the brief stoppage, but said the station would resume reduced local news coverage on Monday.

Chris Fuoco, Channel Zero’s vice president of sales and marketing, said 58 of the full-time employees have been given new offers of employment.

Under the new plan, CHCH will air fewer overall hours of news programming, but will be able to continue to deliver local stories to the community, he said.

“This decision will allow us to continue to deliver local stories that matter most to this community,” he said.

“Many of the faces you have grown to love over the years will remain.”

Podzyhun highlighted that CHCH been operating with “greatly reduced funding in national ad revenue.”

Channel Zero said Friday night that programming would be reduced to 17.5 hours per week.

As part of the changes, Channel Zero said that Channel 11, the holding company for CHCH, has also filed for bankruptcy.

CHCH first hit the airwaves in 1954, covering the Hamilton, Halton and Niagara region, but the station has faced financial turbulence over the past decade.

In 2009, Channel Zero snapped up CHCH-TV from struggling media giant Canwest Global Communications Corp. and began a foray into local television, despite assertions from its former owner that over-the-air television model was broken.

With experience running only a few small specialty channels, Channel Zero tapped into cheaply-acquired content to pad the hours between its local coverage.

Breaking news aired in the day while second-run Hollywood movies were shown in prime time. Overnight it was mostly content in the public domain.

Eventually that business model shifted to airing more popular TV shows alongside news programming.

Channel Zero hit a snag last year when the CRTC discontinued the Local Program Improvement Fund, a subsidy created to help smaller TV channels survive the economic downturn and declining advertising market.

“There is a crisis in local broadcasting in smaller centres around the country — Hamilton would be the largest of those centres,” said Ian Morrison, a spokesman for the advocacy group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

“It’s a warning of things to come.”

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