By Deni Verklan
The current CBC business model is going to die, according to its president.
The public broadcaster is currently facing issues with funding and keeping viewers, listeners and readers engaged and needs to find new ways to do both, said CBC President and CEO Hubert LaCroix during a discussion on public broadcast’s future, hosted by the RTA School of Media on March 5.
Currently, the CBC receives funding from the federal government and through television and radio advertisements. The government has cut its funding to the CBC by $115 million over the past three years in the 2012 federal budget. Radio and television ads on CBC and Radio-Canada stations were estimated to bring in $15 million to $20 million but failed to actually produce that much revenue.
With 657 jobs eliminated last year alone due to budget cuts, and having eliminated its competitive rights to broadcast professional sports except those of national significance like the Olympics or the upcoming PanAm Games, the CBC and Radio-Canada need to find a new source of revenue.
“The funding model of receiving a cheque from the [federal] government and lobbying like crazy so that your cheque is not weaker or smaller than the one that you got the year before is not the best funding model,” LaCroix said.
“Not only do we [have to show] great content, we [have to] justify in the eyes of our citizens that we are actually a benefit to the economy.”
In 2011 and in 2013, the CBC paid Deloitte, an accounting firm in London, U.K., for a study that found that for every dollar allocated to the CBC by taxpayers generates $4 in jobs, taxes, creative industries and investments.
“We fuel the economy, we’re just not an expense. People think, ‘Oh geez! I’m giving 29 bucks to CBC/Radio-Canada for these programs!’ No. You’re giving 29 bucks to get the programs, plus [a] reinvestment of close to four bucks in the Canadian economy,” said LaCroix.
The CBC’s $913-million budget this year makes it one of the most poorly-funded public broadcasters in the world. The average worldwide funding of a country’s public broadcaster per capita is $82 per year. The CBC only receives $29 per capita annually, which is then further divided by time zones and broadcasting in Canada’s two official languages. Compared to top players like the BBC, which receives $97 per capita annually to broadcast in one language and one time zone, the CBC has eight to nine times less funding, but is expected to produce the same amount and quality of content, said LaCroix.
Creating engaging content across multiple platforms is another issue the CBC is tackling.
LaCroix said the Internet is a new source of search and display but not of advertising revenue for the CBC. With 90 per cent of Canadians watching live television for about 28 hours a week, LaCroix said it’s now a question of how to maintain the public’s interest with those who still watch by-appointment television and those who are accessing content from multiple screens, like phones, tablets or laptops.
“The challenge that we have is to try to make sure the content we create is relevant,” LaCroix said, adding that people expect each platform to have unique content.
CBC anchor Charlsie Argo, who co-hosted the discussion, said that there has to be a change in storytelling because people are being “bombarded” with social media all day and the CBC needs to keep their interest for the 6 p.m. news.
“What do you want to see at six o’clock? And how can we tell it to you in a way that’s going to keep you watching, when chances are you already know the facts?” Argo said.
LaCroix said that the challenge is connecting with Canadians one-on-one because now they are more likely to trust social media rather than a news anchor.
Argo said that “in an age where people are following people, literally, on social media, it’s even more important [to have hosts or anchors] to guide you through that sea of information.”
To cater to this, the CBC and Radio-Canada are going to offer news in a variety of digital platforms. Lacroix said that television news would be more geared toward millennials who use different platforms. Radio-Canada is already experimenting with this on its evening news program, where it goes in depth for three to four stories instead of 20-second clips of the day’s news events.