CBC real estate eyed for sale in bid to scale back costs: Lacroix – Metro US

CBC real estate eyed for sale in bid to scale back costs: Lacroix

TORONTO – Now that 250 CBC employees have been laid off and 300 more have agreed to retire early, the public broadcaster is turning its sights on potential real estate sales that could draw in more badly needed cash, company president Hubert Lacroix said Tuesday.

Lacroix said the CBC would consider selling the buildings that house its radio and television stations, a move he says could generate $125 million.

But he says the preferred option is to speed up payments owed to the CBC for past sales of land surrounding the Toronto broadcast centre and its pay audio service Galaxie. That money that is currently being doled out in instalments.

“It’s a question of us being owed money over time and accelerating these cash flows,” Lacroix said in a telephone interview from Montreal.

“If that doesn’t work, we’re going to have to go to our real estate portfolio,” he continued. “Anything that we own we would then look at probably trying to sell and lease them back.”

Both scenarios require federal government approval to proceed. Lacroix says the CBC is still awaiting permission but expects to receive it in the coming months.

“We’re fairly confident that we’ll be able to do this by September,” he said.

The past months have seen the beleaguered broadcaster slash jobs and programs in a bid to shave $171 million from its budget amid the economic downturn.

Of the 250 layoffs, Lacroix said roughly 170 came from English services, between 60 and 70 from the French services, and the rest from the corporate ranks. Of the 300 retirees, roughly 185 were from the French service, while just 75 employees stepped down on the English side. Some of the more prominent retirees have included veteran Newsworld host Don Newman and esteemed “National” reporter and Newsworld anchor Brian Stewart. Roughly 45 retirees held corporate positions.

Despite the staff cuts, Lacroix insists that every effort is being made to maintain a national “geographic footprint.”

Critics have worried that local news and rural areas particularly dependent on CBC coverage would be disproportionately affected by the cuts. Recent measures included the reduction of local content in regional noon radio programming to one hour from two, but Lacroix says the alternative could have been much worse.

“That is a substantial retrenchment of service but we still are able to keep one hour instead of just closing down and replacing it by national shows,” said Lacroix.

“We’re very, very sensitive to what’s been playing out in the regions and we are trying as best we can to not affect our services.”

Still, the cuts have forced a drastic rethinking of the CBC’s very identity. Lacroix said the CBC should be regarded as “a content company” rather than a broadcaster.

“We are no longer and should not be thought of as a radio broadcaster, a television broadcaster or a broadcaster which offers you services on the Internet where you can get news and all sorts of stuff. We’re basically more and more one company doing all sorts of things on the different platforms.”

Part and parcel of this new identity is a massive overhaul of CBC’s news division that will closely integrate radio, television and online services, in which staff will work in a variety of platforms rather than specialize in one particular medium.

While touting the restructured model as the “most important revamping of news at CBC in a very, very long time,” Lacroix acknowledged it has as much to do with “doing more with less and trying to be more effective.”

He says the rollout should by completed by fall.