CBC’s audience flow across platforms at different times of the day during the Sochi Winter Olympics

Canada’s public broadcaster unveils plan to ‘reimagine’ PSB

CBC/Radio-Canada has released an ambitious strategy for transforming the public broadcaster into a leaner, more agile, digital-first operation, in the face of media convergence and successive waves of budget cuts.

“In the past seven years, the most painful and frustrating task for me has been to implement one round after another of reductions to respond to a changing environment and balance the budgets,” said Hubert Lacroix, CBC’s President and CEO.

“We need to find a path to sustainability. This time, these changes – and some of them will be difficult – will allow us to end up in a better place.”

The strategy, called “A space for us all” broadly proposes prioritising content for mobile consumption across all genres and platforms; preserving the broadcaster’s geographical reach, by making savings in programme length in some cases, such as newscasts; selling off real estate and production facilities; and, inevitably but incrementally – reducing the number of staff.

Sally-Ann Wilson, CBA’s Secretary-General, said: “We can no longer ignore the fact that the pace of change in the media landscape means – out of necessity – that we will need to reimagine the shared public media space in the months and years to come… CBC has just taken a significant step to open that debate – not just within Canada, but globally.”

The broadcaster set out two key targets to reach by 2020: doubling digital reach to 18 million Canadians (more than half the population) using its digital services each month; and that 75 per cent of  Canadians would express that CBC or Radio-Canada is very important to them personally.

As at the last quarterly report this financial year, CBC was 55 per cent government-funded, with the rest of its budget coming from advertising and subscription revenue, and financing.

“Advertising revenues are shifting to global internet players like Google and Facebook,” said Lacroix in a video statement, “conventional broadcasters are not eligible for subscription revenues. And public financing – whether to the industry as a whole or direct support for public broadcasting – has decreased substantially.”

He added that “conventional private broadcasters are not profitable” either, and that CBC had been forced to downsize three times in the last five years.

On the need for rapid and radical change, he continued: “We’re actually moving from a conventional world whose model is declining, towards a new world that cannot yet pay its own way.”

However Lacroix also reported that many people continued to consume radio and TV in the traditional way, with TV viewing hours rising from 23 to 28 hours per person, per week, in the past decade.

Other changes will include significantly cutting in-house production, except for news, current affairs and radio. The plans put the broadcaster’s lauded documentary production unit under threat of closure, a move which has been criticised by prominent broadcasting personalities such as David Suzuki.

The broadcaster also plans to cut its real estate ownership by 50 per cent. It has also estimates it will shed 1,000 to 1,500 jobs over five years. About 1,000 employees are eligible for retirement, and the CBC loses about 300 through attrition every year, it said.

Broadly the broadcaster looks to be prioritising content in a country which is becoming more diverse, but with more content production being outsourced. Lacroix said: “What builds community and shared values and shared goals remains the work of storytellers – our plan is to focus all of our resources and and creative energy on bringing those stories to life.”

Pictured: CBC’s audience flow across platforms at different times of the day during the Sochi Winter Olympics

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