The Stroumboulopouli

The Stroumboulopouli

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Fork in the Road

The Senate report on the Canadian media was released this week, with the recommendation that CBC-TV become a truly commercial-free broadcaster. The report also recommended that the CBC greatly reduce its coverage of hockey (including Hockey Night in Canada), other professional sports, and the Olympics. Stating that the CBC was "in danger of losing its way", the senate report called upon the CBC to fulfill its duty to provide quality commercial-free programming without any reliance on ratings. This, of course, comes directly on the heels of the decision by the public broadcaster to bump back the National, the CBC's flagship news program, one hour on Tuesday nights during the summer, to make way for the showing of an American reality show talent contest.

While this programming decision is particularly repugnant, it does highlight the pressure that CBC television is under to compete in a tight media market. The CBC does seem to be floundering between its mandate to be the nation's public broadcaster and to be financially viable. CBC Radio, which is truly commercial-free, has found its voice and is flourishing in its role as the voice of Canadians. The television arm is being torn in two directions and needs to re-establish its focus on fulfilling its mandate.

In order to do this, of course, it needs drastically increased funding. Severe budget cuts by the federal government over the past decade are responsible for this situation and have forced the CBC to make these kinds of worrisome programming decisions, in order to seek advertising revenue.

The senate report recommends long-term and stable funding increases to the CBC, to allow it to return to its mandate. However, we are more likely to see Canada win the World Cup than we are to see the Harper government agree to this recommendation. Stephen Harper's calls to eliminate public support for the English television network are a matter of public record. Although he has changed his stance on a lot of issues since becoming government leader, I doubt he has changed his mind in regard to this agenda.

And now, of course, the Hour is making the move to the main network, in addition to being aired on CBC Newsworld. Newsworld is, and always has been, commercially supported, and I would hazard a guess that The Hour is one of its top revenue draws. What does this mean, in light of the new senate report? Will the addition of The Hour to the main network help increase revenue for the financially-strapped CBC? What will it mean for programs like The Hour, if the senate recommendations are adopted (which they almost certainly will not be, but just for the sake of argument)? How do you feel about the call to drop financially successful sports programs like Hockey Night in Canada and the Olympics? Where is the CBC going to go from here?

Barbara B.


Barbara said...

What is more Canadian than Hockey Night In Canada? That is a big part of Canadian culture. So is watching the Olympics as a Nation. No?
I want to see more good Canadian television content on CBC but at what price? Shows as good as The Hour if that is possible... in fact I have this great idea for a sci-fi comedy set in Toronto...
Just kidding.

Allison said...

Barbara, great post! I think it will be really interesting to see this story play itself out.
On the Olympic front, I remember reading a couple of years ago when they made the decision to swtich the broadcasting rights over to CTV, and being really upset, because watching the Olympics on CBC is like an institution, but its basically because CTV was the highest bidder (if I remember correctly), plus its good to the stations rotating broadcasting rights.

Monica said...

Wow, that would SUCK if they didn't show as much hockey on satuday nights. A part of every saturday night during hockey season is to turn on CBC and see Ron and Don there and watching one of the Canadian hockey teams.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I agree, Barbara W, I think it would be a mistake to ditch Hockey Night in Canada. My understanding is that it is actually a very good revnue source. But I guess if you are trying to make the CBC completely commercial-free, that's a moot point. Still it is a distinctly Canadian program.

Thanks Allison. This could be a dog-fight, or it could fizzle out, as so many reports in other areas (health care, anyone?) have before.
I remember feeling quite confused about national identity when the Olympics went to CTV as well. Yes, CTV is a Canadian broadcaster, but it's not CBC! There's something ingrained about having the CBC showcase our national endeavours. Still, if they are trying to compete in a saturated media market, while at the same time trying to be the voice of the people, something's got to give.

Hi Monica! Saturday night hockey is truly a Canadian institution, that for sure. Not sure how much longer Don will be gracing our screens anyway, but when he leaves he will be sorely missed.

~Jen~ said...

so long as they keep showing Coronation Street all will be well with the world!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Well it's Coronation Street, Jen! I think as long as the Queen is still alive it's illegal not to show it, isn't it?

Alana said...

I would be lost without Hockey Night In Canada. It's a tradition, almost a ritual, every Saturday night, Canadian hockey on the big screen, Don Cherry and his entertaining suits... I don't know how many times I've cancelled plans and turned down Saturday night invitations to stay home and watch the game...CBC just wouldn't be the same without it.

When it comes to The National's shortage, that's depressing enough on it's own. I always await Peter Mansbridge's insight and detail after The Hour is over, and the fact that it won't be there for me on a consistent basis is extremely disappointing.

I'm happy for George and everyone at The Hour for expanding the show to the main CBC channel, it will expand their audience base and provide them with a lot more attention that they haven't been getting from people who don't have full cable or can't get Newsworld...honestly, I think that's such a good thing, I've been cheering for this change since it first arised, but change isn't always good, and I'm scared for the outcome of the "new" CBC network.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm with you, Alana. I think the move to the main network will bring far greater accessibility to The Hour.

But to mess with the timing of the National - well that's just sacrilege. And for what? An American reality show? Please people, use your heads, this is not the image that the CBC should be portraying.

Hockey Night in Canada is another of those institutions that should be beyond the grasp of the bean counters. I think it all boils down to a need for increased funding.

Anonymous said...

Irrespective of whatever was written in a report, the reality is that CBC relies on advertising. (For example, as George mentioned during the Las Vegas special, Newsworld is 100% self-financing.) In addition, the amount of support that the CBC has received from the government has -- in the words of Richard Stursburg -- "declined by close to $400 million dollars in the last 15 years" (Globe & Mail, June 23). And, despite receiving less support than just about every other public broadcaster in the world, the CBC has to do more than just about everyone: 27 platforms, including a range of television, radio, and online services in French and English, and eight aboriginal languages in the North. Since it is highly unlikely that the government would increase the CBC's level of support to match what the BBC receives per capita (four times the current level), it seems safe to assume that anything that consistently brings in ad revenue is safe: Hockey Night in Canada, Coronation Street, Antiques Roadshow....

As for The National, it will only be interrupted eight times. And this will occur during the summer news-lull. So, as Mansbridge said, it's like being bumped by hockey. (But there are fewer people watching.)

If bringing The One to CBC can help build the strength and diversity of the network, then more new programs (like The Hour) can be developed. On this account, it seems that the current situation has been blown out of proportion. As Stursberg concluded, "this is a case of much ado about little."

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I don't know about that, Anony. I agree that the CBC has a huge mandate to fulfill and nowhere near the resources needed with which to accomplish this. I don't believe they are intentionally being set up to fail, but still...
And I agree that the revenue generating programs are unlikely to be dispatched. Even I can see that makes absolutely no sense. But in terms of the National being bumped during a "summer news-lull", I didn't realise that news does not occur during the summer. The last time I checked there was plenty going on in the world and I want to hear about it.
And then, of course, there is the matter of the program that is bumping the National. Do people really want to watch yet another craptastic reality show? Hasn't this been done a million times before? I can't really see it drawing a lot of new viewers (and revenue) but I guess that's why I am not a programmer.

Barbara_mtl said...

I can only speak from a personal note.
I grew up watching the CBC. Each budget cut, as it hit the CBC harder each time, it hurt me as a viewer in small ways. Remember Midday? I loved that show!
It was well written, well hosted and got me excited about the news. Then what happened. Cut!
I hope there is a reversal in budget and no more talk of commercial free CBC TV. How would we find time to have a snack or whatever without commercials in any case?

Thank you for weighing in Anonymous! Your comments are very appreciated. We take comfort in your calm.

Anonymous said...

A clarification: yes, of course news happens during the summer. But summer is also when many Canadians go on vacation. This is why there is a lull: fewer people are watching the news. If there was ever a time to experiment with new programming, this is the time.

Everyone recognizes that bumping The National is unfortunate. But, as Mansbridge himself noted in response to the announcement, it gets bumped all the time by hockey. Nobody complains about that. (Although maybe we should.) Furthermore, it's also only being bumped (for 8 nights!) in the East. Viewers in the West, and those who watch on Newsworld, won't be affected at all.

As for why Midday was cancelled, I can't speak directly to the events that led to that decision. But I think it's fair to conclude that fewer good and intelligent specialty shows will be affected in the future if the CBC can find a mix of primetime programming that draws larger audiences. That will lead directly to more advertising income, and indirectly to larger audiences for the specialty shows that get promoted during primetime....

This all assumes, of course, that the gamble will pay off. For that, we will simply have to wait.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I guess I have an issue with the show itself that is being broacast in the National's place, Anony.

I can see the value of showing hockey games to a certain extent, especially if they are playoff games. As cliched as it may be, they are seen as part of the Canadian psyche. But what does The One mean to Canada? Does it portray anything meaningful to us?
And more importantly, if we are talking advert revenue here, will it really draw a significant audience? Aren't people tired of that kind of recycled program yet? It just seems so desperate and lame.

Anonymous said...

Come the Fall, The One will have had three incarnations: 1) the enormously successful Quebec version, 2) the adapted American simulcast that will push back The National in the East for eight nights, and 3) the Canadian version that, depending on where they schedule it, may well provide an excellent lead-in to The National (and The Hour).

From what I have read, in other blogs and in newspapers, it looks as though the simulcast was contractually necessary. And, even though Canadian Idol was originally rejected for requiring a simulcast (and possibly more) of American Idol, circumstances seem to have changed.

As for what the show will be like, only time will tell. But the Quebec version has been very popular. If that is any indication of future potential, then it's possible that an English version could be very meaningfully integrated into the schedule. And that would certainly be good news.

That said, I really don't know if people are tired of the format. Does anyone know anything about ratings trends? (I noticed an earlier post about numbers---that kind of information would be relevant here.)

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Perhaps it's just me who is sick to death of that kind of show, Anony. Well, to be honest, I never cared for that sort of program in the first place, and I guess I never will.
Although I have no stats on this, Im fairly certain there are quite a few others who share my views, but alas I am equally certain there are many who don't. So I'll concede that point. But I stick to my beliefs that just because something is popular, it doesn't make it good. That's why KFC is still going strong.

It's been fun debating this with you though. Come back any time and we can swap views some more.

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