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CHEK ranked 4th in B.C. for viewership, adds to staff

Employee-owned and -controlled, station has fourth-highest viewership in the province, behind only Vancouver stations CBC, Global BC and CTV Vancouver.
From left, on the CHEK News set, reporter Jordan Cunningham, hired after being laid off at CTV 2, anchor Paul Haysom, who debuts tonight as CHEK News anchor at 6 p.m., and news director Joe Perkins, DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The TV landscape in Victoria has dramatically shifted in recent weeks, with changes to CHEK and CTV 2 coming at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Bell Media cut 1,300 positions nationwide in June, as it bowed to rising financial ­pressure. Those cuts resulted in termination letters to a reported 16 ­people at Bell-owned CTV 2 Vancouver Island, reducing the station’s staff to seven and on-screen footprint to a single 30-minute local newscast anchored at 4:30 p.m. from ­Vancouver.

Meanwhile, the employee-owned CHEK continued its surge in the market by hiring former Global BC anchor Paul Haysom for its 6 p.m. news broadcast. Haysom — who will anchor CHEK News at 6 for the first time Tuesday night — replaces former anchor Joe ­Perkins, who was hired away from CTV 2 in 2019 and has moved into a new role as CHEK’s news director.

CHEK also recently hired reporter/videographer Jordan Cunningham and digital editor Adam Chan, both of whom were among the layoffs at CTV 2. CHEK also promoted reporter April Lawrence to executive producer.

“There’s a ton of changes happening to the city right now, some good, some sad,” Perkins said. “As sad as it was for CTV 2 to make those cuts, it did open up a couple of opportunities for our shop.”

Stuart Adamson, the news director and manager of operations for CTV 2, was contacted via email but declined to comment for this story. But in a statement released when the cuts at CTV 2 were announced, he suggested Greater Victoria’s “workforce, demographics, viewing habits and varying industries” were well-suited to a 4:30 p.m. newscast.

That is the lone newscast CTV 2 produces for Vancouver Island, and it re-airs at 6 p.m. in place of the station’s former live supper-hour newscast. Both stations have established a significant online imprints, with CHEK focusing its attention on podcasting and streaming.

But from an advertising perspective, nightly local newscasts are where stations focus the majority of their energy, and in that regard, CHEK does well.

“We are trying to find what that balance is,” Perkins said, adding that the company’s future focus will be on the myriad ways in which to deliver programming to audiences.

“We are never going to tell viewers they have to find their news just one way. We want to give people options.”

CHEK general manager Rob Germain has been instrumental in CHEK’s reversal of fortune, from when it was nearly shut down in 2009. A consortium of employees and local investors co-founded the CHEK Media Group and switched to the employee-owned model; at the time, the station had 39 staff. That was down from the 100 or so when Canwest Global owned it, Germain said.

Staffing has steadily expanded in the years since, and CHEK now sits at 80 employee-owners. “It is truly employee-owned and -controlled,” Germain said. “We have union-management commitee meetings regularly, where we set policy for the station. There’s a lot of input. It’s pretty grassroots.”

The addition of Haysom, who comes to CHEK from Global, the highest-rated station in B.C., gives CHEK another leg up on its competition.

His return to the station where he worked as a reporter from 2007 until 2012 shows that CHEK’s stature is growing provincewide, despite being one of the few employee-owned companies of its kind.

“Ten years ago, the job security came from the big stations owned by these big corporations,” Haysom said. “But the model of CHEK being completely employee-owned and -operated, and embedded in the community, is one you’re going to start seeing replicated across the country.”

For decades, Victoria has been a TV market unto itself. CHEK was the only commercial station in Victoria from 1956 to the arrival of The New VI in 2001 (the CHUM-owned station was re-branded A Channel in 2005, and became CTV 2 Vancouver Island in 2011).

According to Numeris, which tracks audience data for TV in Canada, CHEK has grown to the fourth-highest viewership of any station in the province, behind only Vancouver stations CBC, Global BC and CTV Vancouver.

Numeris ranks the Vancouver-Victoria market just outside the Top 20 in North America, in terms of overall viewership, on par with Montreal and ahead of Calgary and Edmonton. The province is considered one market as programming from both Vancouver and Victoria airs in each city.

Perkins credits the station managers and employees who purchased the station from parent company Canwest Global for $2 in 2009, and who bought shares in the fledgling company, for CHEK’s continued success. “The reason we are able to do what we do today is because the staff members stepped up and saved the station. It’s important that we don’t take that for granted. I’m only fortunate because of what people did before me.”

In an era where multimedia conglomerates are shedding staff and clawing back budgets, the CHEK model has become more prescient.

With cutting-edge programming and community-centric content such as The Upside, the popular on-location CHEK broadcasts hosted by Jeff King and Ed Bain, long-term sustainability is coming into focus, ­Germain said.

“As we see other media in B.C. pulling back from regional programming, there’s an opportunity for us to meet the market demand.”

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