TORONTO – “Canada AM” fans expressed shock on Thursday as CTV announced the seminal morning program would abruptly end its 43-year run just a day later.
But at least one expert said the move simply reflects the shift in early-riser news consumption habits in the digital age and added “it’s surprising to see that it lasted as long as it did.”
Billed as “Canada’s most-watched national morning newsmagazine,” “Canada AM” began airing in 1972, providing news and lifestyle headlines as well as interviews with stars and newsmakers.
Canadians who typically started their day with the show’s anchors said they couldn’t believe CTV would suddenly pull the plug on the program.
“There was no warning,” said Elaine Uskoski, a holistic health practitioner in Caledon, Ont., and regular viewer of the show. “I don’t think that’s fair to the fans.”
“I’m just stunned,” added Katia Ulysse Saint Vil, a political communications professional in Ottawa, who watched the show nearly every day.
“I would never think that the show would be ending just like that.”
CTV declined a request for interviews to explain the move and said an announcement on a replacement show would come next week.
“As the television landscape continues to evolve, so too must our programming. We look forward to building upon the success of ‘Canada AM’ as we move forward,” said Randy Lennox, president of entertainment production and broadcasting at Bell Media, in a statement.
Of course, much has changed in the media landscape since the 1970s.
“There was a time when morning news and current affairs shows like ‘Canada AM,’ just as much as evening flagship shows, totally set the agenda,” said Lisa Taylor, assistant professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism in Toronto.
“This show was borne of a time when we really did have to roll out of bed and turn on a TV to actually find out what had happened overnight, to find out what was going on.
“With the change in our consumption habits and with the advent of digital media, of course the whole game has changed.”
“Canada AM” was recently drawing an average audience of about 234,000 viewers, according to Numeris, which was down two per cent from the previous year. But ratings were down 21 per cent in the key 25-to-54 demographic favoured by advertisers.
Taylor noted many Canadians now get their news from their phones as soon as they wake up. They also work longer hours than they used to, and the largely female demographic that morning shows like “Canada AM” had in their early days has changed with gender parity in the workforce.
“Morning shows that just tell us what is going on no longer have a ton of currency, because they’re speaking to a smaller and smaller audience,” she said.
The “Canada AM” model of television — with a full-production, sit-down set — is also expensive and can look dated, she added.
“When we look at the reduction in advertising dollars going to terrestrial television, we see perhaps shows like this simply aren’t as profitable as they once were.”
The show has been home to many of CTV’s broadcasting greats, including Craig Oliver, Sandie Rinaldo, Tom Clark, Lisa LaFlamme and Seamus O’Regan.
“I really liked the way they reported the news,” said Ulysse Saint Vil.
“One of the things I also liked about it is that, I think that in Canada, black people are not very well represented in the media and seeing Marci Ien was also one of the reasons why I was watching every morning.”
Taylor would like to see CTV replace “Canada AM” with a morning news program that “totally breaks free of the existing models.”
“I worry it would just be filler or a script show and nothing that will really create many jobs or keep many people employed in the business,” she said.
In an emailed statement, Scott Henderson, vice-president of communications at Bell Media, said the new morning show “will result in incremental job opportunities at Bell Media.”
CTV said co-hosts Beverly Thomson and Ien will continue to stay with Bell Media while Jeff Hutcheson will begin his previously announced retirement.
Thomson will move to CTV News Channel while Ien will develop new projects with Bell Media In-House Productions.
Friday’s final “Canada AM” episode will be a tribute to both the program and its hosts.
Until a new show is announced and goes on the air, a simulcast of live CTV News Channel programming will run in the “Canada AM” timeslot, beginning Monday.