by MaxPower

If you are not Canadian you will not be impacted by the CBC lockout. If you are Canadian you are likely not impacted by the CBC lockout either. Why? Because in this age of media convergence, the model of taxpayer funded public broadcaster is quickly losing relevance. Yet the CBC receives $800 million dollars a year in taxpayer’s money.

In a recent Decima poll of 1,000 Canadians, 61% of said their lives/routines haven’t been impacted at all by the lockout of CBC media guild members. 27% said the lockout was a minor inconvenience and 10% said it was a major inconvenience. Liberal and NDP voters were more likely to say the lock-out was an inconvenience – imagine that. Personally, my television watching has been impacted slightly – I went to watch a weekend CFL football game and was treated to the visual without any commentary. Was that a minor inconvenience? Not really – I kind of enjoyed listening to the sounds of the game as it made for a much more “realistic” game experience.

Predictably, the union said the survey results weren’t worth much. Arnold Amber, a media guild union spokesman said “If you go to people who never watch the CBC and ask the question, ‘Does it inconvenience you?’ of course they’re going to say, ‘No, it’s not inconveniencing me.’ “. I think his response shows a fundamental misunderstanding by the union on what exactly the CBC should be doing. When that union spokesman said “If you go to people who never watch the CBC?” he ignores the underlying assumption. All Canadians have the option to watch the CBC yet a large portion don’t. So shouldn’t he be asking why people don’t watch? The bottom line is that these people aren’t using the CBC for a reason and this lockout is compounding that.

The CBC’s role as a public broadcaster often gets compared to the BBC. The BBC provides four distinct channels; BBC 1 and 2 are available on terrestrial TV in the U.K. and BBC 3 and 4 on satellite. It also provides seven different radio channels covering the gamut of music, news and programming choice. BBC Radio 1 is without question the best radio channel I have ever listened to and puts any radio channel in North America to shame. (You can listen to Radio 1 live or to shows taped over the past week here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/) Additionally, the BBC has one of the most respected international news channels in existence – BBC World Service. I know it’s the first choice for English language news for me when I am travelling. There are also a host of specialty channels which can be seen on numerous digital networks which include but aren’t limited to BBC Kids, BBC World, BBC Canada, BBC America, BBC Japan, and UKTV. Finally, the BBC has a top-notch website with streaming real time news and comprehensive stories from across the planet. In comparison, CBC’s website looks like a high school student’s IT project even after its recent redesign. The BBC also produces a large number of independent documentaries (generally without political bias), comedies and historical dramas. Finally and perhaps most importantly, the BBC provides these services without commercials. No interruptions to programming whatsoever, which is pretty unique among major broadcasters. For this wealth of information and programming, the BBC receives about C$4 billion from license fees paid by people in Britain who have a television set. If you own a TV in the U.K. you pay a set fee per year per TV and that money goes straight to the BBC. In return, consumers get all of the above with the benefit of no commercials during their programming. The BBC’s budget in total is about C$6 billion because it sells much of its programming abroad (to channels like the CBC) and through royalty revenues from DVD sales.

In contrast, the CBC has three national channels – CBC, CBC Newsworld, RDC (the French CBC), one digital channel – CBC Country Canada, three radio channels (two English, one French) which cover a very small segment of the talk/news and classical music segment, the CBC.ca website and one digital music network – Galaxie. The CBC also provides an important TV/radio service to Northern communities in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon in many native languages. It receives approximately C$1 billion in funding – about C$800 million from the government and C$200 million from advertising revenues. (All numbers are ballpark based on other news reports.)

I don’t know about you – but my take on the value of the CBC as a portal for Canadians when compared to the BBC is that we are paying approximately 1/4 of what taxpayers (or more accurately TV owners) in Britain are paying for and getting no where near one-quarter the value. That begs the question what does the CBC do well?

  1. Sports – providing regional and national coverage of amateur sporting events which are not covered by the major domestic private companies, as well as CFL and NHL coverage.
  2. News – mainly because people have grown up with The National – however, with the rise of the internet and 24-hour news channels the importance of the 10 o’clock news is a shadow of its former self and will likely go the way of the evening newspaper. And who could forget the specially prepared CBC news programs prepared for Air Canada flights.
  3. Remote Location Access – providing radio and TV service to remote areas is probably the CBC’s most important function, but even that is declining in value with the advent of satellite radio and widely available broadband internet connectivity.

CBC defenders would also point to “Canadian-made” TV and the importance of the CBC in the fight against the dominance of U.S. media forces. To that I would say: 1) you can’t fight U.S. media dominance – Hollywood has basically taken the world and ‘the Corp’ can’t stop it here, 2) many other networks are doing a great job with Canadian television in recent years, making the CBC’s claim to be the beachhead of Canadian broadcasting seem even weaker – see CTV’s Corner Gas and Canadian Idol (granted a U.K. premise – but what isn’t), Global’s Train 48, Home & Garden Television’s Holmes on Homes.

The Answer

I suggest the CBC be radically scaled back to focus on its core competencies – being a Canadian public broadcaster. Don’t compete with private Canadian or U.S. networks. Show purely Canadian programming – not The Simpsons and Coronation Street – and don’t focus on expensive Canadian-made dramas/situation comedies. Spend money wisely by showing more amateur sports, Canadian news shows, and documentaries (which are all cheap to make). Focus on providing a service which private TV providers can not or do not provide. Get rid of all advertisements as it doesn’t bring in that much in revenue and ruins the focus of a public broadcaster. Finally, the CBC should detach itself from politics by drawing on a constant source of funding from the government (at a much lower base – I’m thinking $400M per year) and not relying on year-to-year handouts which have coloured the CBC’s news and documentary with a bias for the past ten plus years. It is no surprise that the handouts generally occurred during election years. If the CBC can make more money selling its programming abroad or can start new shows/channels with this reduced level of funding, then it deserves to keep that money and spend it in the way it sees fit (like the $2 billion the BBC makes and reinvests). But until then, the CBC should be weaned off taxpayer handouts, government pork-barrel politics and advertisements. Then maybe we would get a public broadcaster worth its title.

  • CBC vs. BBC
  • by MaxPower
  • Published on September 1st, 2005

More from :

Other recent features: