Ontario public broadcaster TVO has announced it will shut down its widely available over-the-air broadcasts in every Ontario city — with the exception of Toronto.
The broadcaster, which annually receives $30 million from the province, said the move was aimed at saving around $1 million, which can be used to bolster investments into other initiatives, including its catalogue of content available for streaming online.
The move will affect people who receive their TV signals over the air through an antenna. It will have no effect on cable TV or satellite TV subscribers.
TVO will cease to broadcast over the air on July 31.
“This announcement reflects the reality of today’s media environment,” said Lisa de Wilde, chief executive officer of TVO, in a statement. “TVO has to make tough choices about where to allocate resources in order to move forward with the strategic priorities of digital learning and high-quality current-affairs journalism, as well as cover inflationary pressures. TVO’s audiences overwhelmingly receive our content through cable, direct-to-home satellite or online platforms.”
TVO said at least 136,000 people will be affected by the stoppage. The public broadcaster will shut off towers in Ottawa, Belleville, Chatham, Cloyne, Kitchener, London, Thunder Bay and Windsor.
TVO said it will continue to broadcast over the air in Toronto due to its large population density. It also said by keeping its Toronto broadcast array functioning, it will remain complaint with Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) regulations. That would allow it to keep its broadcasting licence.
Repeated attempts to reach TVO for comment were unsuccessful.
Some critics have questioned the decision, saying the people affected have few other options.
“For the most part, the people who are being cut off are people who do not, for either economic or other reasons, have other options,” said Ian Morrison, a spokesman for the non-profit watchdog group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. “TV Ontario has been, until now, a universal service. It is a cutback and it is affecting the people who have the fewest options.”
Morrison noted an increasing number of Canadians are ridding themselves of cable and satellite TV services in favour of free over-the-air broadcasting signals and new Internet-based entertainment services like Netflix. In this world of cord-cutting, Morrison said, it makes even less sense for TVO to shutter its broadcast network across the province.
According to analysts, Bell, Rogers and Shaw lost anywhere between 150,000 and 200,000 subscribers by the end of 2016 compared to an overall loss of approximately 173,000 TV subscribers in 2015. The number of people opting to go TV subscription-free is expanding as faster Internet connections become more readily available and more content is made accessible online.
TVO is overseen by the Ministry of Education in Ontario. The ministry said it believes turning off the broadcaster’s over-the-air signal will have no impact on its ability to continue providing educational content for the province’s students.
“TVO is an operational enterprise agency of the provincial government mandated to deliver educational and citizenship engagement programs/services,” said Heather Irwin, a spokeswoman for the ministry, in an email. “While the Ministry has no jurisdiction in TVO’s broadcast programming decisions, we remain confident that TVO is delivering innovative programs to support 21st century learning for today’s students, so that they have the talent and skills they need.”
TVO is asking people who do not subscribe to TV services through cable or satellite to visit its website to access its content after that date.
© Ottawa Citizen