TORONTO — Bell Media, one of Canada’s largest operators of terrestrial radio, TV and broadcast music channels, has cut hundreds of jobs in a new round of layoffs that the company says is a move to streamline operations and focus more on technology and other content investments.
At least 210 employees have been laid off according to the Canadian Press, citing numbers from private sector union Unifor, which represents 315,000 workers across Canada, including those with Bell. Bell would not confirm the number.
The company attributed the layoffs to a shifting media landscape and the need for a “streamlined operating structure.”
Bell is Canada’s leading content creation company, with assets in television, radio, out-of-home advertising, digital media and more. Its radio division consists of 215 music channels, including 109 licensed radio stations, all under the iHeartRadio brand and streaming service.
“As the media industry evolves, we’re focused on investment in new content and technology opportunities while also ensuring our company is as agile, efficient and easy to work with as possible,” Marc Choma, a Bell spokesman, told Billboard in an email. “That includes programming changes affecting some on-air positions.”
Radio conglomerates in the U.S. have made similar decisions to consolidate. iHeartRadio has laid off more than a hundred employees since the pandemic as part of a $250 million cost-cutting measure, and continues — alongside Entercom and other major radio corporations — to replace local talent with syndicated shows and remote DJs.
This week’s round of layoffs comes after members of parliament revealed last month that Bell had received 122 million Canadian dollars ($95.42 million) in COVID-19 relief aid, as part of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program, which covers a portion of employees’ salaries. Bell was “a participant in a government program that was very well designed to keep Canadians working at a critical time and we participated in that program commensurate with the impact that the pandemic was having upon our workforce,” Robert Malcolmson, Bell’s chief legal and regulatory officer, told Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith in a Jan. 26 video chat.
Bell also has received public criticism for putting so many people out of work behind the scenes as it publicly promoted its annual nationwide mental health awareness campaign and fundraiser #BellLetsTalk Day. The event attracts celebrities such as singer Michael Bublé. Bell has donated more than 100 million Canadian dollars over 10 years to mental health organizations and programs across Canada and targets 150 million Canadian dollars by 2025.
Bell Media has been undergoing changes at the top levels too. In October, music industry titan Randy Lennox announced he would be leaving his position as president of Bell Media on Jan. 4. Lennox, a former president and CEO of Universal Music Canada, had been with Bell Media since 2015. Bell Group president and vice chair Wade Oosterman has now assumed that position.
The company laid off two other key music executives that month: Tyson Parker (director, podcasting and artist and music industry relations) and Rob Farina (head of content, strategy and iHeartRadio). Lennox had brought both to Bell.
Parker was formerly vp communications and artist relations for Universal Music Canada and followed Lennox in 2015 as the newly created head of artist and music industry relations. Farina, an experienced radio executive, joined Bell in 2016 as a senior advisor for the launch of iHeartRadio in Canada.
On Tuesday, news of Bell’s new round of layoffs was leaking out via the dismissed employee’s auto-reply emails stating they were no longer with the company and their public social media posts. Among those terminated were Mike Cosentino (president content and programming); Scott Henderson (vp communications), Tracey Pearce (president distribution and pay), Corrie Coe (senior vp original programming), Nanci Maclean (vp Bell Media Studios and president Pinewood Toronto Studios), and Kevin Goldstein (vp regulatory affairs, content and distribution, BCE).
Toronto radio host Ted Woloshyn, a legend in radio, was also terminated. Of the cuts, he tells Billboard, “I believe it’s a combination of media merges, the pandemic and social media platforms.”