Rogers axes CityNews Channel, parts of OMNI TV programming

TORONTO – Rogers Communications axed its short-lived 24-hour CityNews Channel and slashed production in some areas of its OMNI Television operations Thursday in an abrupt announcement which took viewers by surprise.

A Rogers spokeswoman said the changes “impacted” 62 full-time employees in total — 23 at CityNews Channel and 39 at OMNI Television.

“The impacted positions included all facets of the television industry – production, operations, writing, reporting,” said Andrea Goldstein.

The changes were announced in a memo to employees from Scott Moore, the president of broadcast at Rogers Media.

“We made changes to the company’s television strategy to reflect evolving viewer habits and the global structural shift in advertising,” Moore wrote in the memo obtained by The Canadian Press.

“While difficult, these changes enable us to continue to focus our efforts where we know the market is growing, while helping us to effectively manage our costs.”

Moore said Rogers had “ceased operations of CityNews Channel, effective immediately,” and added that the company would now focus on its all-news Toronto radio station 680News and news operations at its City channels.

CityNews Channel launched in October 2011, touted at the time as a round-the-clock source for the Greater Toronto Area’s news, entertainment, sports and current affairs. It was broadcast on Rogers’ digital cable systems.

Viewers tuning in to CityNews Channel on Thursday saw a note at the bottom of their screens saying “CITYNEWS CHANNEL is no longer available. Thank you to our loyal viewers.”

Moore also announced changes at Rogers’ OMNI Television, which focuses on multicultural programing.

“The English-language South Asian newscast is no longer being offered and production operations in Alberta have ceased,” Moore wrote.

Rogers said OMNI Television stations in Calgary and Edmonton will continue to operate but original content would not be produced from the Alberta locations.

Moore said Rogers remains committed to ethnic programming, but adds that the changes were made due to “the changing marketplace.”

One observer commenting on Thursday’s developments said the move to have CityNews Channel fade to black was abrupt but didn’t come as a total surprise.

“Any time you have a voice silenced in television news in Toronto, it’s sad,” said Ellin Bessner, national director of the Canadian Association of Journalists.

“But the reason I’m not surprised is because they certainly did not do well in marketing…You never saw it on anywhere in the city.”

Bessner added that Rogers didn’t appear to have invested enough into making CityNews Channel as widely watched as CP24, it’s main all-news competitor in the GTA.

“It’s a shame, but I don’t think Rogers gave it enough money, enough promotion and now they’re pulling the plug because they don’t want to waste any more time.”

Meanwhile, in terms of the production cuts announced at OMNI, Bessner suggested Rogers could have come to the conclusion it didn’t have enough of a local audience for original multicultural content in Alberta.