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Watchdog group charts CBC’s funding decline over the decades

Apr 10, 2014

Source: Marketing Magazine

With Canadian Broadcasting Corporation employees bracing for a series of town-hall meetings Thursday that are expected to bring deep cuts, broadcast watchdog Friends of Canadian Broadcasting has released an analysis of government funding for the public broadcaster dating back to the Mulroney era.

Based on Treasury Board estimates and annual reports to Parliament, as well as CBC annual reports, the graphic depicts a steady downward trajectory for CBC funding over the past two decades.

CBC Grant 2014

That decline has accelerated under the Harper government, with the parliamentary appropriation falling for six straight years, to a historic low of $1.03 billion for 2014-15.

But while the Conservatives have been characterized as particularly unfriendly to the CBC, the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting chart shows that cuts to its funding have taken place under various governments, with the most pronounced funding reductions coming under the Chretien government.

Adjusted for 2104 dollars, for example, the chart shows that the CBC’s parliamentary appropriation plunged by more than $400 million, from $1.64 billion to $1.19 billion, between 1994-95 and 1997-98.

It bounced back to $1.3 billion in 2002-03, and remained relatively stable – hovering around $1.2 billion – through 2008-09, when a series of reductions that brought it to its current level began

Exacerbating the latest round of funding cuts, of course, is the CBC’s recent loss of NHL hockey rights to Rogers.

Speaking last week before a senate committee on transport and communications on the challenges faced by the CBC, Barry Kiefl, president of independent research organization Canadian Media Research Inc. (CMRI) and a former CBC research director, said that the loss of hockey has alerted people both inside and outside the CBC to the looming crisis.

“For the first time in a long time, I think the corporation is beginning to realize there is a crisis,” he said.

From a revenue standpoint, the loss of hockey would see CBC’s ad revenues fall to around $100 million, only slightly more than the estimated $70 million its spends on operating its sales and promotion departments.

Kiefl said that the average Canadian currently spends only 70 hours a year watching CBC, and half of that viewing is to hockey and foreign programming. Outside of hockey, he said, the CBC’s attempt to compete with Canada’s private broadcasters for audiences and ad revenues has been unsuccessful.

“The kind of ad revenue CBC TV has dreamed of can only be achieved with programs with regular audiences of one-and-a-half to three million viewers, with large numbers of adults aged 18-24, the demographic that interests most advertisers,” said Kiefl. “The only programming that achieves that kind of audience on CBC is NHL hockey.”

He did say that there is life for the public broadcaster after hockey, noting that its French arm Radio-Canada successfully transitioned to a non-hockey environment after losing NHL rights.

Kielf told the Senate committee that between 25-30% of Canadians make an annual donation to commercial-free public broadcasters like PBS and TVO, indicating that there is considerable public appetite for a distinctive, non-commercial broadcaster to rival the likes of CTV, Global and City.

“There is a desire out there for something that is different than everyday commercial television, and I think the CBC has the bare essentials to start,” he told the committee, noting that its high-quality journalism could be the “bedrock” of the new service that is distinct from private broadcasters.

“I think there is the potential to produce a far higher quality service that treats its audience as individuals, as opposed to consumers,” he said.

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