Wednesday, March 18, 2009

An Overview of the CBC and its Current Situation

Trying to defend the CBC is largely a thankless task. Since the financial crisis at the CBC became known I have encouraged people to write their MPs and sign petitions and to write the CBC and sign petitions in defense of Radio 3.

Obviously there are huge obstacles. First there is the Government itself which is opposed to just about anything to do with arts and culture. Second alot of people have strange ideas about how the CBC operates, how much money it has and where that money goes and third the CMG and Friends of Canadian Broadcasting who have staff, resources, could both help educate the public, gather support for the CBC and who (in theory) exist to do the kinds of things I've listed above have been relatively silent on all of this.

So whatever cuts the CBC has decided to make are now set and unless something miraculous happens those cuts will go ahead. Whatever they have decided I can say that I won't take gripes and complaints about the decisions very seriously if they come from people who didn't try to prevent the need to make cuts.

But for those of you who think that the CBC is bloated and could use some trimming let me lay out a few facts.

First with Radio 3 there isn't any fat to trim: "Radio 3 has less than 25 people and we have less than one producer per on air host. We have one senior producer of editorial and one music director for the entire network. There are zero engineers working on our radio shows - the hosts operate the boards themselves."

Now, on the CBC more generally the CBC via it's mandate must be available on television, radio and other platforms (such as the web). They have to be available on all these platforms all over the country - so the CBC has to do all it can to make sure that small, northern communities for example have access to TV and Radio over the air. They must also be available in English and French in all of those places (even if there is no one who speaks French in a given area). To do all of this the CBC gets 1.1 billion annually from the federal government and, in good times, generates about another few hundred million in advertising from television.

So let's say that they have a budget of about 1.5 billion. Sure, that sounds like alot of money. But

  • About 1/3 of the budget goes to SRC to provide French programming for Quebec.

  • The CBC must maintain over the air transmitters across the country - although very few people get television signals over the air anymore.

  • The CBC maintains local bureaus across the country and a number of foreign bureaus to gather international news.

  • The CBC broadcasts in English and French (to all of Canada), in 8 aboriginal languages (largely in the north), and in multiple foreign languages (in select areas for the benefit of new Canadians) and, of course, there is closed captioning and descriptive video for individuals with vision or hearing problems.

  • So, it is a safe guestimate that 2/3rds of the CBC's budget is spent just making sure that everything is available to everyone - TV, Radio and Web. So let's say there is 500 million (in good years) left over for programming
    according to Richard Stursburg (Vice President of English Services) original comedy and drama costs about 1 million dollars an hour to make: That means that if the CBC wants to provide 5 hours a week of original television shows (beyond news and documentary) it would cost 260 million dollars, if they wanted to provide 10 hours a week it would cost 520 million (and would leave nothing for Radio, Web etc.)

    As an aside, the reason they carry American game shows and British Soap Operas is because people watch them, and they bring in more money than they cost. If the CBC drops these the overall budget of the Corp actually goes down. They will be able to afford fewer Canadian programs, not more. So that's the situation.

    The CBC is preparing for 150-200 million in cuts. Because they have to, under their mandate, do all of the stuff they do to make sure that the CBC is available to everyone all they can cut is programming and/or local bureaus - and if my guestimates are close to the mark it will mean cutting 30-40% of their programming (and not the profitable foreign programming).

    The CBC is not bloated or over-funded. Much of the CBC operates on a skeleton crew to begin with and has been cutting corners wherever possible for years to try to come up with a little more money to do more in terms of programming. It is also not true that Canadians pay alot for the CBC
    "Measured per capita, Canada had the third lowest level of public funding of 18 Western countries in 2004, according to a 2006 Nordicity study commissioned by the CBC. Our $28 per inhabitant was ahead of only New Zealand and the U.S., and far below the $80 average across 18 countries. Canada's funding was about one-fifth of the level of the leading country, Switzerland."
    And bear in mind that in most of those countries the public broadcaster covers a much smaller geographic area and operates in only one language.

    So this is the situation as it stands. This is the situation that your MPs (of every party) have created and allowed to stand. Personally I will be very upset with the CBC if it cuts Radio 3, which I feel is the most forward looking thing the CBC does and it costs from what I understand (this is unverified) about 1 million a year. Beyond that though, when the cuts are announced don't get upset with the CBC. They are doing a remarkable amount of stuff with the resources they have.

    Get mad at your Members of Parliament, the Harper Government and the opposition parties. Get mad at pundits and members of the public who spread false information (through malice or ignorance.) You can even get mad at the CMG and Friends of Canadian Broadcasting for staying largely on the sidelines as the crisis unfolded.

    But rather than get mad at anyone it would be far better if you write your MP, talk to your friends, educate yourself and work toward fixing the CBC for the long term so that next years budget doesn't look like the current one.

    1 comment:

    appaloosa said...