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CBC Centre Toronto

Let's reinvent the CBC

In recent weeks the Polish national broadcaster TVP has been liquidated due to a dispute over the future of publicly-owned media in Poland after the pro-European coalition party under Donald Tusk took power. For a decade TVP was controlled by the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party and became their mouthpiece. Many Canadians believe that the CBC has become the mouthpiece of the Liberal Party and some are pushing to close it down.

The writing is on the wall. The CBC has failed as a generalist broadcaster. It has become a spectacularly bloated and politicized network, and there appears to be no plan as to how to go forward. Supper-hour viewership on the CBC is down below 230,000. Less than 1% of Canadians watch it. Meanwhile, its partner organization, the French Radio-Canada, is a very successful generalist broadcaster with strong support from francophones from coast to coast. Radio-Canada has a market share of 23% compared to CBC's share of only 4%, even though the size of the English market is four times greater than the French market. Radio-Canada programming has had huge rating successes such as the vulgar and not-so-funny Bye Bye 2023 show which raked in some 4.3 million television spectators on New Year's Eve. So what should the government do to reduce the financial burden on taxpayers and stop throwing good money after bad?

Here it is. A back-of-the-envelope plan to relaunch the CBC and make it a success story while reducing the financial burden on taxpayers. Note: I am not a disgruntled CBC employee or supplier. I am a Quebec-based film producer, writer and director who has worked in drama production for over thirty years. I am a disinterested party with no attachment to the CBC or Radio-Canada.

1- Get rid of AD revenue

Get rid of all the ads on both CBC and Radio-Canada. There will be a significant loss of revenue, but viewership is already declining in both languages due to the incursion of social media and Netflix. Not only is CBC Television suffering from reduced ad revenue but also the private networks are suffering and they don't get any government support. By making the CBC/Radio-Canada ad-free, the government will automatically increase the ad revenue for the private networks which are struggling, in particular, CTV and TVA which are shedding jobs.

2- Launch a new CBC PLUS broadcast network

The CBC gets $1.2 billion in government finance. Maintain the one-third or $400 million that goes to Radio-Canada and reduce the $800 million that goes to the old CBC to under $100 million for a new arts network (CBC PLUS) similar to Knowledge Network, Télé-Québec, TVO or PBS. Knowledge Network has a 4% market share and a budget of $12 million financed by the BC government; Télé-Québec has a market share of 8% and a budget of $100 million financed by the Quebec government; TVO receives $50 million from the Ontario government and PBS has an operating budget of some $465 million and operates in 50 states with support from viewers. 100 million Americans watch PBS each month and among them are a large number of Canadians who appreciate their distinctive programming.

A successful CBC PLUS network would have a market share of 4% similar to the old CBC but would only cost the government $100 million, saving the Canadian taxpayer a total of $700 million. There would be no cuts to the government financing of Radio-Canada which would continue as a generalist broadcaster in its present state but remain ad-free.

3- To convert the hugely expensive and wasteful CBC into an arts and culture, ad-free network, the government will need to shut it down, fire all its staff and start anew. It is called starting over and you do this when there is nothing of value left in the old network. It will take a minimum of two to three years to relaunch a more modest network without the news media stars and the fat cat administration honchos. The CBC would sell off all of its regional stations while keeping only production offices in Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax and Montreal. CBC PLUS would have a low-cost news operation similar to "The News Hour" on PBS, but there would be no more sports programming: hockey and the Olympics gone forever. Concerning radio and digital services, the budget for CBC radio would be downsized in the same proportion as the television arm.

4- CBC PLUS would emerge as a new, attractive broadcast entity with great programming. Here's a quote from Knowledge Network about its programs: 

"KN provides programs that educate, challenge and inspire. Our public mandate is supported through commercial-free programming that meets the diverse and evolving needs of viewers. This includes educational content that fosters learning for young children and their caregivers and thought-provoking documentaries, dramas and performing arts programs that connect viewers to their province, Canada and the world." 

This quote resumes what CBC PLUS might aspire to, not the bloated, bureaucratic, over-politicized CBC whose priority often seems to be indigenous rights, racism, and LGBT sexuality issues. The CBC has lost its way and its market share will only get worse over time with a woke agenda. And finally, let's not forget that any broadcast entity can improve its ratings by improving its programming. Télé-Québec recently increased its market share from 6 to 8% by buying up large numbers of British and European TV series. As an anglophone in Quebec, I watched the best of British TV in French on Télé-Québec over the last two years. That's how you build ratings.

There you have it in a nutshell. There is a future for a CBC with a smaller footprint and better programming, without the news media stars and the fat cat administration honchos. But to do so, it will require a firm commitment for change from Heritage Canada and the Canadian government. CBC/Radio-Canada has some 9,000 employees and contractual workers working for it. The new CBC PLUS will function with a fraction of this work staff so the government will have to face a lot of unhappy union employees to get this done.