Does Canada still need the CBC?
Ottawa Citizen, Oct 4th 2012
Andrew Coyne’s position on public broadcasting and the CBC wins my vote versus the views of Mark Starowicz, but there is another option to consider. By altering the funding model to what occurs in other countries, the public broadcaster could become a less controversial topic. This option would see the public broadcaster funded entirely by government and carrying no commercials.
The ABC in Australia only receives funding from government. By not competing with commercial broadcasters, this gives rise to none of certain criticisms of the CBC, which in today’s world becomes a type of specialty channel. Public broadcasting is a vestige of the past, like the typewriter in an era of word processing. Today, specialty channels and the internet fragment audiences from public broadcasting, one of the reasons for declining audiences for public broadcasting.
In the UK, the BBC receives income from a levy on households approved by government; the world services of the BBC do carry some commercials. PBS in the US is a quasi public broadcaster which gets some government funding (unless Romney is elected), but also funding from advertising revenues at the start and end of programs, and from an annual program of high class begging.
Issues to consider about TV in Canada include the following: in response to Coyne’s support for the CBC to offer specialized services for which viewers pay, Starowicz states, “But we’re not going to abandon the 19 million people who turn to us each month and fragment ourselves into a hundred tiny, private and tollgated entities that don’t serve Canadians equally.” But what is the viewership of the CBC in the different markets it serves.
CBC radio and CBC television face different markets, as do each of these markets in French and English. CBC’s share of radio markets in both languages has declined, but not as much as CBC’s share of television markets. For TV viewers, CBC’s share has fallen, especially in the English language market. The CRTC annual monitoring report (available online) shows the CBC’s share of the English language market fell from 13.2% in 1994 to 7.5% in 2000 and to 4.9% in 2010, rising to 6.4% in 2011. The long run trend is clear.
Over part of the same period, public funding for the CBC, which has remained around $1bn in recent years, has risen from about $800 million in 2001-02 (see CBC Annual Reports). So, while public funding has risen, audience share, especially for English language TV has declined. It costs more to reach an individual viewer.
CBC may broadcast much of its TV programming from 8pm to 10pm, as claimed its supporters, but this fails to indicate how many people are watching it. Cultural sovereignty, another position taken by Starowicz supporters is a fuzzy concept. It is usually measured by the nationality of inputs and where the money is spent, rather than whether people can identify what is Canadian, and whether the content produced is watched by Canadians.
It is argued that Canadian music flourished due to content policies on radio, but few listeners can tell whether a piece of music is Canadian by the criteria established. Many Canadian musicians and performers want to and do perform and succeed in the global, especially the US, market. Canada has produced some world-class comics, but these have flourished by competing outside of Canada. They include Dan Aykroyd, Sandra Bee, Jim Carrey, Michael J.Fox, Jason Jones, Rich Little, Lorne Michaels and Mike Myers. Artists have been successful when they have looked outwards rather than inwards.