Tuesday, August 24, 2010

CBC-TV At The Crossroads


The recent abrupt departure of Richard Stursberg, former Head of English Services at the CBC, has led to buckets of online virtual ink being spilled to praise or pillory his time at the top. He changed things for the better. He made them worse. Nothing is any different than it always has been.

The perspective depends on what part of the "rats’ nest of ego, bickering, backstabbing, rumour and sour dislike", as Globe and Mail critic John Doyle describes the corporate culture of the place (and perhaps the vested interests of others) is offering an opinion.

Wherever you stand, perhaps its time we all took a hard, objective look at what the CBC means to Canadians these days, where it's come from, what it has become and what possible futures might lie ahead.

For the next three days, "The Legion" is proud to put itself in the capable hands of Barry Kiefl of Canadian Media Inc. in order to provide you with an in-depth assessment of both our perceptions of the CBC and its realities.

I hope you find it useful.

Barry, over to you…


For decades CBC has played an important role in the lives of the majority of Canadians. Despite today’s media-saturated world, most Canadians are exposed to CBC in one form or another every day.

Personally, I couldn’t function without the CBC weekday morning local radio program in Ottawa. I’d be so grumpy and disoriented my wife and two cats would probably leave me, if I had to live without CBC Ottawa Morning.

The cats get fed as I listen to host Kathleen Petty and the excellent team of journalists around her, who keep me informed about our community.

It’s a demanding job, especially given the early morning hours, something I learned when I did the early morning shift at the CBC radio station in Churchill, Manitoba 40 years ago. I replaced Peter Mansbridge, who also started his career in Churchill.

On weekends, it’s a different story as far as local radio content in Ottawa is concerned but I will leave that for another article. Suffice it to say that CBC radio misses an important opportunity on weekends.

Importance of CBC

I am not the only Canadian who feels that the CBC is important. For the better part of the past decade my survey research company, Canadian Media Research Inc., has been monitoring how people feel about CBC TV and radio and other stations.

The annual surveys we conduct use a national, representative sample of roughly 1,500 Canadians each year, well in excess of 10,000 respondents since we began tracking. The CBC is not a sponsor of the survey, although a number of other networks purchase the results to monitor how the public reacts to their services.

As shown in the chart below, about 9 in 10 Canadians have said consistently that CBC TV is important or very important to our culture. The percentage saying very important is slightly less today than in the early part of the decade but the results are still impressive.

But how much of this is a ‘halo’ effect, the tendency for people to think positively about something because they have thought that way all their lives or it’s thought to be the right thing to say, like supporting libraries without ever using one?


The percentage of Canadians saying that CBC radio is important to our culture is quite similar, which is somewhat surprising given that not as many people are regular users of CBC radio (first chart below).

However, when we isolate just CBC radio listeners, the results are overwhelmingly positive, actually well above those of CBC TV (second chart below). Not a single CBC Radio listener in our 2009 survey said CBC radio was not at all important, something quite rare in survey research involving large samples.



And, it’s important to recognize that when we compare CBC radio or TV to the National Gallery, the NAC, Telefilm or the NFB, none is considered to be as important to our culture as the CBC.

None of these other arts organizations physically reach as many Canadians as CBC TV and radio and it is reflected in public perception.

Satisfaction with CBC

When it comes to TV generally, Canadians are pretty satisfied with the experience. What about CBC TV?

Our annual TV/Radio Trends Survey has shown that only a tiny percent (2-4%) said they were very dissatisfied with CBC TV over the past 8 years. Another 10% or so said they were just dissatisfied.

However, just as there has been a long term decline in the perceived importance of CBC TV, the percentage of Canadians who said they were very satisfied with CBC TV has steadily declined and hit a new low of approximately 24% in fall 2009.


Another way of testing the value of CBC TV is whether people are willing to pay for it. The chart below tells us that fewer people today say that CBC is worth paying a $1 a month to receive.


At the beginning of the decade almost 40% said CBC TV was worth $1 a month but this declined every year to less than 30% in 2008 and remained under 30% in 2009, when we changed the question to $.50 per month.

To be fair when we ask the same question about another hundred or so TV networks, no station gets even 50% agreeing to $.50 or $1 a month. But the trend in the CBC results is a notable finding and should be of concern to CBC managers and its board of directors.

Tomorrow: Part Two -- How we got where we are…

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