The Role of the CBC

Publication, Disruption, Roland Renner

Technological change is challenging traditional broadcasters, including the CBC. The status quo just will not fly. It is always difficult to start talking about changes to the CBC because of the political dynamic around the institution. In this case, technology is driving change, not government budget cuts or political interference. 

The growth of Over-the-Top (OTT) or online video has been hitting broadcasters’ revenue and smothering the growth of cable and satellite packages.

Some have called traditional TV “appointment TV.” One has to watch the program when the broadcaster or cable company decides it is on. Although VHS, then DVDs, PVRs (personal video recorders), VOD (video on demand) and multiple channels of the same network from different time zones have been eroding this characteristic for a long time, the whole point of OTT is that one watches what one wants, when one wants. What, then, is the point of having a broadcaster in the way, selecting a program schedule for viewers?

As the Olympics were starting, CBC president Hubert Lacroix announced to employees that tough times lie ahead for the CBC.1 The loss of Hockey Night in Canada to Rogers accelerated changes across the board. Rogers will show hockey on its specialty channels, and the CBC will lose an important revenue-generating program category as well as the audience share.

The Senate Standing Committee on Transportation and Communications has been holding hearings on options for the CBC, and this has provided a platform for some of the commentators who are joining the discussion of what role the CBC should play in the future. 

Michael Hennessey, president of the Canadian Media Production Association (CMPA), sees the need for change. “I think there is an opportunity, in all of this, to rethink the CBC.”2 Hennessey wants a review of the CBC mandate to concentrate on what the private broadcasters do not deliver. This implies a reduction in the CBC’s broad mandate. Hennessey proposes that the CBC take the risk of concentrating on Canadian dramatic productions, some of which would be done by CMPA  members.

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