CBC CEO tells Senate that the public broadcaster will not retreat by Perry Hoffman
Mar 3, 2014
OTTAWA - CBC/Radio-Canada chief executive Hubert Lacroix shot back at those who think the public broadcaster should only be to Canadians what the privates are not.
“I do not believe that the answer is to become some kind of niche broadcaster limited to only doing what private broadcasters will not do or have no business incentive to do. No other public broadcaster in the world is put in that kind of a box,” he said during an appearance before the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications this week.
Lacroix was responding to statements made by both the Canadian Media Production Association and former CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein to the committee in the light of the public broadcaster’s loss of the NHL broadcast rights. Both suggested that CBC should instead now focus on developing and producing content that isn’t currently being aired by the conventional private broadcasters.
He added, though that this won’t work because the CBC’s mandate under the Broadcasting Act requires it to offer a wide range of content to all Canadians that enlightens, informs and entertains.
Lacroix acknowledged that losing the NHL contract will create difficulties for CBC. Not only will the loss of advertising revenue force the public broadcaster to have serious discussions about programming and services, but it also causes “a ripple effect in our ability to package and sell advertising on our other television programs.” This also requires the Crown Corp to think about its next five-year strategic plan and attempt to answer questions about what it is and what it does, he added.
Lacroix was quite clear on a couple of things.
“We cannot keep resizing the public broadcaster every second year. We need to develop a long-term sustainable financial model for public broadcasting in Canada,” he said. “That is a key part of our thinking as we presently develop the strategic plan which we are calling right now Beyond 2015. And we need government, the critics and the stakeholders who have an interest in public broadcasting to realize that we need more flexibility in order to shine.”
If policymakers are interested in seeing Canadian content on Canadian airwaves, then there are really only two ways to ensure the creation and airing of Canadian content: regulatory invention from the CRTC or through the investment of public monies, explains Lacroix. It’s no secret that even though CBC receives approximately $1 billion in federal government appropriations, this pales in comparison to what other western democracies provide to their public broadcasters. Only New Zealand and the United States offer less funding that Canada. The BBC, for example, received $6 billion annually from its national government (thanks to taxes applied on individual TV sets).
The public money, about $29 per year per Canadian (we deleted an erroneous per-day figure from the story's initial version) is well spent, he argues, noting that CBC has to divide this money among the 33 services it provides – English and French, eight aboriginal languages, radio, television, online and all of this across six time zones. Lacroix also cited some strong weekly audience figures to back up his statement. On English TV, Murdoch Mysteries has 1.3 million viewers, while about 1 million tune in to each of Dragon’s Den, The Rick Mercer Report and Heartland. For French services, the numbers are equally impressive with 2 million viewers for Unité 9 and 1.5 million for Les enfant de la télé.
There is little doubt that the global broadcasting industry is facing significant challenges as a result of changing viewing habits and emerging platforms, and CBC is no different. Adapting and offering services in the formats and on the platforms viewers want, yet remaining attractive to audiences is a big challenge. Coverage of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics is an example though of CBC leveraging new technologies, doing things differently, while also delivering a compelling service to Canadians regardless of platform and format, noted Lacroix.
More than 33 million Canadians tuned in for coverage across all platforms with more than 10 million following the Olympics on computers, tablets and mobile phones. As well, 2.5 million Canadians downloaded CBC’s Olympic app and they consumed more than 10 million hours of video content live and on demand.
The CBC chief executive said in addition to the amount of programming consumed in non-traditional ways, the manner in which the coverage was put together – filmed, edited and aired – was innovative. While the corporation sent a crew of 287 people to work in Sochi, creating 1,519 hours of TV coverage, and 1,500 hours of online coverage with 12 live feeds, an additional 245 people stayed back and worked in studios in Toronto and Montreal on directing, editing and publishing of all video footage.
These employees previously went to the Olympics to do this work on site, but now they don’t have to because CBC used newer, faster technologies to cover the Games, said Lacroix. “That’s my definition of a modern public broadcaster.”
Hearings continue this week with the CRTC appearing on March 5.