Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More CBC Math

Just some more number crunching in terms of the realities of CBC TV:

I said in the previous post that according to Richard Stursburg it costs 1 million dollars an hour to make original Canadian comedy and drama. I also said that, to the best of my knowledge CBC Radio 3 costs about 1 million annually: Full disclosure, that's the best number I have. Someone told me that once but I don't remember who or in what context so until I get a better number it's the one I'm going with.

That means that Radio 3 costs about the same as a single episode of Heartland. In exchange for that money Radio 3 provides 24/7/365 programming and several podcasts via the web and satellite radio. It falls firmly under the umbrella of 'arts and culture' (Canadian music) and provides airplay to artists who frequently get airplay nowhere else - or only on university radio. It's true that some of those artists go on to get airplay on commercial radio but that is a sign of Radio 3's success, it does not mean that they provide a service already provided commercially. If anything they provide a service to commercial radio. New Music Canada (a part of radio 3) houses music from over 10k Candian artists. Radio 3 filters it, tests it on the audience and allows some of those artists to gain a following - and then they are picked up by commercial radio. It makes it easy for commercial stations to know which new artists to play. The only downside to Radio 3 is it is not available on broadcast radio and is therefore threatened to an extent.

Now back to the television numbers. The cost of original comedy and drama is about 1 million, we're told. Now bear in mind that the CBC does not sell advertising on radio (so far) or during it's children's programming. So it gets no revenue back from those. As far as I know the only CBC (comedy and drama) programs that draw a million viewers are Rick Mercer Report and Little Mosque on the Prairie. Each of those is a half hour program which means that in Mercers case it costs 50 cents per viewer per episode to make, same goes for Little Mosque. That also means to break even the CBC needs to sell 50 cents worth of advertising per viewer per episode.

Now last year there was outrage when jPod was cancelled. (I was outraged) but the reality is that it was drawing between 2-300 thousand viewers per episode and it was an hour long show - which means it was costing $3-5 per viewer per episode to produce and the CBC would have to somehow get advertisers to pay $3-5 per viewer per episode to break even. The same can be said for Intelligence (which also caused unrest when it was cancelled.) People will say 'but the CBC is subsidized so they don't have to break even.' But as I demonstrated in the previous post most of the CBC's government subsidy goes to operating costs, beyond that it has to pay for commercial free radio and children's programming plus news and documentary - which rarely break even. So in terms of prime time programming there really is no 'subsidy' left at least not enough to cover shows that don't draw an audience. Prime time CBC shows need to break even, or almost, in order to stay on the air.

There is some evidence to suggest that some CBC programs get a number of viewers via bittorrents and the internet, but they don't really have a way to measure the number of viewers and so can't really include them in the totals when selling advertising.

It is true that things like Hockey Night in Canada make money for the CBC. Advertisers flock to that one, but the CBC also covers amateur sports and less popular sporting events that do not break even so sports doesn't really contribute money back to the overall fund. If people like our completely irresponsible Heritage Minister want to see more Canadian programming then Parliament needs to find more money for it.

Also, for anyone who missed it after a lengthy study the Heritage Committee last year release a report and a list of recommendations that would have addressed many of these issues but Stephen Harper dismissed it in total.

I'm not saying that the CBC doesn't need to make changes. It's a new world in terms of media and the CBC is going to have to adapt to it. What I'm saying is that in it's current situation the CBC does not have alot of options. Their government mandate and their financial situation do not give them much flexibility in terms of how they operate or what they do. Until Parliament decides to address the situation all the CBC can really do is try to do more with less annually and I think later this year, whatever that budget they passed contains, Canadians will really notice how much less the CBC can do in the situation they are in.

A few more little bits of info for you in case it comes up:

The CBC has said that it's budget for next year will not include advertising for radio.

There was some talk in my previous posts about all of those transmitters the CBC has to maintain for the few people that still watch/listen over the air. The total number transmitters the CBC maintains is 600!

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