Industry leaders sound the alarm in wake of CBC cuts

With financial hardship ahead, industry leaders question what the cuts will mean to Canada's biggest CanCon programmer. (CMPA president, CEO Michael Hennessy pictured)
MichaelHennessy

The latest round of cuts at the CBC has some industry leaders raising the alarm as cuts and funding constraints threaten the role the public broadcaster plays in supporting Canadian-created content.

On Thursday, the CBC announced it would cut $130 million from its budget, resulting in the loss of 657 jobs. While the challenges the CBC now face are immense, it is important the pubcaster remains a viable alternative to private broadcasters in Canada, stressed ACTRA national executive director Stephen Waddell.

“I think CBC has to focus on distinctive, high-quality, Canadian content,” Waddell said.

In theory, showcasing unique Canadian content is how CBC can attract viewers and distinguish itself from private broadcasters, who rely on U.S. content to bring in advertiser dollars, Waddell said. But in reality, ACTRA and industry advocacy group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting both express fears that the opposite could occur.

“It can’t be good when one of the largest CanCon investors finds its wallet empty,” Ian Morrison, spokesman for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, told Playback Daily. 

On Thursday, the CBC also stated that it will need to focus on increasing its ratings in the 25-34 demographic. If ratings in the demographic cannot be raised, the broadcaster may have to reduce its budget further.

That statement indicates a greater focus on more “commercial” programming and less of a focus on distinctively Canadian programming, FCB’s Morrison argued.

Just how this new direction will shape programming remains to be seen: in a conference call for press late Thursday, head CBC programming exec Heather Conway said the pubcaster will be moving away from popular “shiny floor” reality formats like Battle of the Blades, which, while popular, have also been criticized as having little cultural value.

Canadian Media Production Association (CMPA) president and CEO Michael Hennessy reaffirmed the organization’s support for the pubcaster, but noted the hardships ahead.

“As an industry partner, we will do whatever we can to help contribute to ideas about how they can meet a very challenging future,” he said. “If all of this creates focus on the CBC being a leader when it comes to really some of the most innovative programming around, that would be a good thing. But I think that the challenges are going to be immense.”

The CBC’s woes are symptomatic of an entire industry facing a fundamental shift in its business model, Gregory Thomas, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, told Playback Daily.

There’s no reason the CBC should be immune to the pressures facing traditional broadcast media today, despite their role in the public sphere, he argued.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s any of the other over-the-air networks…there has just been a tremendous amount of cost cutting throughout the media,” Thomas said. “With the decision made by the NHL to go with Rogers for its broadcasting, this was inevitable.”