CRTC data shows commercial radio, television revenues hit hardest by pandemic

Commercial radio and private conventional television were hit the hardest by the pandemic impact on advertising as Canadian broadcast revenues declined overall by 6.6% in 2020, according to new data released by the CRTC.

The commission has released statistical and financial data from annual returns provided by commercial broadcasters and the CBC for the broadcast year ended Aug. 31, 2020, revealing that commercial radio revenues plummeted 20.9% and private conventional television 14.3%.

Operating margins for AM/FM radio were halved, falling from 20.3% in 2019 to 9.9%. The margin for AM English radio was among the hardest hit (-8.8% compared to 6.1% in 2019), while FM English radio margins fell to 12.5% from 23.6% in 2019). Comparatively, French FM fell to 16.7% vs. 21.7% in 2019, while operating margins for French AM stations actually increased to 21.3% from 18.5%. CBC Radio operating margins were also up year-over-year to 13.3% from 9.1%.

Over 700 commercial radio stations reported combined revenues of $1,149 million in 2020, compared to $1,453 million in 2019. AM/FM local time sales were down 25.35% in the English market and 21.42% in French markets, compared to 2019 (24.76% overall). National ad time sales across all stations was down 21.65%. Among the markets hardest hit were Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Red Deer, Halifax and Kelowna where local time sales were down more than 30%.

Staffing levels fell 5.74% across the industry year-over-year to 7,779. Average renumeration also fell nearly two per cent (1.90) to $65,706, excluding benefits.

Conventional television

Overall, conventional television fared better than radio with local ad time sales down 16.81% to $240,833,225. Operating margins were down 16.4%.

The PBIT (Profit Before Interest and Tax) for commercial television stations declined from -$107 million in 2019 to -$234 million in 2020, or a PBIT margin of -18.6%. Commercial station revenue decreased by $222 million, from $1,554 million in 2019 to $1,332 million in 2020, a decline of -14.3%.

TV stations on the Prairies experienced the sharpest decline (-20.2%), while stations in the Atlantic region fared the best with declines of just -6.4%.

Overall conventional television staffing numbers fell by 2.44% to 4,667, while pay levels fell 1.27% excluding fringe benefits, to an average of $79,569.

CBC conventional television, which derives its revenues from both advertising and parliamentary appropriations, fared better than commercial television, posting reduced revenues of -2.2%, less than the -10.9% revenue loss reported in 2019.

Discretionary and On-Demand

With less reliance on advertising revenues, discretionary and on-demand services weathered COVID-19 better with French-language services improving their PBIT margin from 9.6% in 2019 to 10.6% in 2020 and Ethnic services from 6.6% to 7.8%.

Revenue for discretionary and on-demand services declined in 2020 overall by -7.2%. English-language services experienced the biggest decline (-7.6%), followed by French-language and Ethnic services, which saw revenue drops of -5.5% and -5.7%, respectively.

Year-over-year revenues for discretionary services declined -7.1%, with on-demand services reporting a decrease of -9.2% in 2020. Within on-demand services, pay-per-view revenues remained relatively stable experiencing a -0.2% decline, while video on-demand (VOD) services reported a -12.3% decline in revenues.

Television Service Providers (or Broadcasting Distribution Undertakings [BDUs])

The CRTC data shows a significant year-over-year decline in television service provider subscribers and revenue growth, a trend that was compounded by pandemic consumer habits.

Overall revenues dropped by $270 million, from $8,364 million in 2019 to $8,094 million in 2020. Year-over-year DTH (Direct-to-home/satellite) revenues declined the most (-5.6%), followed by cable revenues (-4.4%), while IPTV (Internet Protocol television) revenues rose slightly (1.2%).

BDU subscribers decreased by-3.2% in 2020. By service type, DTH lost over 130,000 subscribers (-7.4%), cable lost nearly 300,000 subscribers (-5.1%) while IPTV gained 85,000 subscribers (2.8%).

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Connie Thiessen
Connie Thiessen
Connie has worked coast-to-coast as a reporter, editor, anchor and host at CKNW and News 1130 in Vancouver, News 95.7 and CBC in Halifax, and CFCW Edmonton, among other stations. With a passion for music, film and community service, she led News 95.7 to a 2013 Atlantic Journalism Award and regional RTDNA award for Best Radio Newscast. More recently, she was nominated for Music Journalist of the Year at Canadian Music Week 2019. To report a typo or error please email -

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