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Bell Media to shutter French-language net Vrak citing ‘significant’ media challenges

Canada’s Bell Media is closing its French-language pay TV network Vrak, citing “significant challenges” facing Canadian broadcasters and the fallout of a recent carriage dispute with telecommunications company Videotron. The network will shut down on October 1 after 23 years.

Karine Moses

The company said the channel closure is “not a decision we wanted to make” but argued that the loss of viewers due to being dropped by Videotron, coupled with broader challenges facing linear channels, made it financially unviable.

“Vrak is a unifying, entertaining and current specialty channel that has left its mark on several generations of Quebec viewers,” said Bell Media’s senior VP of content and news Karine Moses.

“Ending Vrak’s activities is not a decision we wanted to make. However, given Videotron’s decision and the current context in which we operate, a reassessment of our programming is in order and viewers are no longer numerous enough.”

Earlier in history, Vrak was skewed more toward a youth audience, but in more recent years its schedule has shifted towards imported US series and adult-focused Canadian shows commissioned originally for other Bell Media-owned platforms.

The closure of Vrak comes as Bell Media’s parent company, telecommunications giant Bell, continues to make sweeping cuts.

In June, Bell announced that it was making 1,300 job cuts across the breadth of its business, with its news and media divisions hit particularly hard. It, along with other privately owned broadcasters, has asked Canada’s TV regulator to lower the amount it must spend on local programming.

Rival Canadian broadcaster Corus Entertainment has also raised the alarm on the existential threats to local players as tech giants continue to eat away at their revenue and audience share. Corus has cut its overall workforce by around 8% since the start of the year, in addition to restructuring its original programming team and selling off its animation software business Toon Boom Animation.

“The Canadian media industry faces significant challenges from an ever-changing operating environment,” said Bell Media in a statement accompanying the Vrak closure announcement.

“The regulatory framework with which broadcasters like Bell Media must comply is obsolete and does not take current challenges into account.”

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