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ROGERS cuts Jobs at OMNI while Multicultural Viewers wonder where their news will be sourced

Posted by Vanessa Vachet | 05.11.15


Rogers Media Inc. slashes programming at OMNI TV

Rogers Media Inc. slashes programming at OMNI TV


Who would have thought it would come to this? Multicultural viewers are shocked by last Thursday’s announcement that OMNI TV, the multicultural wing of Rogers Media Inc., which currently broadcasts news in Punjabi, Mandarin, Cantonese and Italian, as well as other cultural programming, has cut 110 jobs and has dramatically revamped its multicultural lineup, axing one City TV local morning show and a pair of arts shows about South Asian culture.


What is the impact to OMNI TV’s many multicultural viewers?


Instead of daily newscasts, OMNI will launch interactive current affairs shows that broadcast in Cantonese, Mandarin and Punjabi. The content will focus on community stories, rather than news from overseas. “I’d rather do programing about where [viewers] live now,” said Colette Watson, Rogers’s vice-president of television and operations. “The hosts are staying, the producers are staying,” said Watson. “[But] we’re going to be talking about issues that matter to those particular [ethnic] audiences, where they live now. A lot of the news they get is available on the Internet.”


Rogers claims the move is essential, as these current affair shows use fewer resources than their current programming. They also claim that they will spend more air time on each story, but sadly, those shows won’t include original reporting.


The reason for the dramatic change?


Profitability was the main issue. Watson explained that the OMNI news broadcasts cost $9-million to produce last year, but brought in only about $3.9-million in revenue. “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.”


This news comes as no surprise to media insiders. Last year, former Rogers Media head Keith Pelley highlighted OMNI’s financial problems in an application to renew their licences with the CRTC. He told the regulator that Rogers faced “a very serious financial situation”, especially over certain content requirements, such as the multicultural guidelines. He argued the stipulations were “not essential to upholding the ethnic nature and orientation of the stations.”


Most of OMNI’s revenues had come from ad sales on U.S. programs such as “Two and a Half Men” and “The Simpsons”, which have now become more widely available in syndication and on streaming services. Mr. Pelley said that those ad revenues had subsidized the ethnic and third-language news and information programming, and now that those revenue streams are down, changes were necessary to make OMNI operations “revenue-neutral”.


Rogers also claimed that it was facing increasing competition from Cantonese-language channel Fairchild Television, based in Richmond, B.C., and Richmond Hill, Ont., as well as from Asian Television Network (ATN), based in Markham, Ont. They also face increasing pressure from newscasts originating abroad. “For a lot of older immigrants, [OMNI] 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 agency in Toronto that helps newcomers settle in Canada. “But a lot of immigrants are also getting their content online now.” This is a fact which is well supported — see a summary 2014 MTM report, which found that visible minorities are frequent consumers of online audio, radio, as well as news programming in other languages.


So, what will the future hold for OMNI broadcasts?


Rogers claims that the new format will allow for a deeper focus on local issues. Politicians, however, are not assured that this will be enough. Surrey MP Jinny Sims (NDP) pointed out that her constituency has a large Punjabi-speaking population. Many of her constituents regularly watch the Punjabi news. “They look forward to [it]. Because that’s their way to really be engaged in our democracy and to know what is going on, while they’re learning the [English] language.”


Ms. Sims, who also represents a riding in the Newton-North Delta area, says that the loss of these multicultural offerings is a blow to her community, stating that, “to get the news and its nuances in your own language makes a huge, huge difference for you to be able to participate in a democracy and in our society.”


Jasbir Sandhu, an MP for Surrey North (NDP) even called the newscasts “an essential service to the community”, a “vital link”, for politicians who want to reach people who speak Punjabi and other languages. “I hope Rogers will reconsider this decision,” he adds.


Perhaps these changes will be positive in the long-run. OMNI could find its place among second- and third-generation Canadians who may not receive their news from traditional broadcasts and who could benefit from another media stream. Time will tell if this move will increase or decrease OMNI’s viewership.


Sources: (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)