Thursday, April 10, 2014

CBC’s Enemies Are Not Without


It’s supposed to be the sinew that ties our nation together, the mirror that reflects us to the world while having as much local appeal as our own version of bacon.  But it’s not.

This morning –- or at least what passes for morning in my world -– the CBC announced major cuts to staff and programming, as well as completely opting out of Sports broadcasting.

In the official press release, management blamed slumping television advertising, disappointing program ratings and the National Hockey League’s decision to sign a multi-year broadcast deal with Rogers Communications.

There was also a reminder that their annual stipend from the Federal government has been reducing on an annual basis, no longer even assisted by the pretty much regular top-ups for budget shortfalls.

It’s the kind of perfect shit-storm few corporations could weather without severe damage. And doubtless, in the next days blame will be apportioned to everybody from evil, heartless Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the even more evil ghost of Ted Rogers and the beyond evil, completely heartless and Canuckaphobic NHL head honcho, Gary Bettman.

The blamers will just as doubtlessly be supported by various supposed “Friends” of Canadian broadcasting, creative guilds and all those who use such crises to further their own ends.

But the enemies of CBC do not lie without its maximum security walls. The true villains in this tragic turn of events occupy some of the most well-appointed offices inside the fortress. And either in person or in mindset, they’ve been there for decades.

Yes, the Harper Government has not been helpful in making sure the corporate coffers were always full. But neither have governments of all stripes going back as far as aged mofo’s such as myself can recall.

Back in my thespian days, let’s say 1982, I was doing a two-hander in a drafty Toronto alternate theatre during one of those “CBC’s Broke” periods. Their head of casting dropped by and came backstage afterward, gushing about the performances and how much she wished they were casting something.

I asked when production might kick in again and was told that they hadn’t held a single casting session in the past year and unless things changed soon, she might have to let someone on her multi-person staff go…

It might’ve been the moment I understood that what those more experienced in the business constantly opined –- the real problem with the place was that the people running it didn’t have the first clue about what they were doing.

Anybody who has ever pitched or gone through a fruitful or otherwise development period with the CBC has reams of stories about the confusion, the constantly changing goals and agendas, and most often -- the indecision. Indecision often comfortably cloaked in an acceptance that this is the way the world works.

I don’t think I can fully describe the impact on my life and attitude of the day I made my transition to working for an American network, walking into the LA offices of CBS and realizing ten times the primetime programming output plus development of the next season’s potential multiple of ten was housed on a single floor of far from impressive low-rise offices.

Development time there was calculated in weeks, not years. And individual executives supervised three, four, even five shows per season –- jobs on the line if but one of those should tank.

Okay, the scale’s different here. I understand that. But some things are the bedrock of any successful operation. A clear plan for the future and consequences for lack of achievement to name but two.

I don’t know that those have ever existed at CBC. They can’t when under-performing series with visibly declining ratings are regularly renewed. They can’t when “five year plans” are rebooted every 12 months. And they definitely can’t when the people at the top can’t clearly articulate their goals to those designated to carry out the orders.

As late as this far from happy morning, CBC President Hubert LaCroix was quoted as saying, “As the media landscape changes, CBC/Radio-Canada will also need to re-imagine itself.”

No, buddy. That needed to happen long, long before now.

Everybody knew a Hockey-less landscape at CBC was coming. They’ve known for years. But nobody focussed on that reality. A reality that has been faced repeatedly in the Sports division.

When they lost CFL Football, the CBC promised to refocus on Soccer and curling. They didn’t.

When they lost curling, they promised to make up the difference with leagues like the hugely popular and far more pervasive in Canada WHL and OHL, as well as University sports. They didn’t.

Those games, often pulling better numbers than CBC Prime Time programming, are still most often found on the local cable access station, if they are available at all.

So much for a commitment to tying the country together.

Why didn’t they make those changes? My own theory is that while still being the top dog in the country’s biggest sports draw, NHL hockey, anything “other” was BENEATH them.

It’s the same vibe many Canadian artists feel –- that they’re somehow BENEATH those who toil for the CBC.

The same way Canadian musicians have realized their remuneration from CBC’s online Music Service is far BENEATH what’s paid to the American artists who are the primary draw.

Today it was reported that far from unique service alone had a loss last year of $13 Million. Combined with some $50 Million siphoned from CBC Radio to cover TV’s failures, and TV’s record of only securing 5% of our viewing hours, we clearly have a management team failing to deal with the resident issues.

And, for me at least, that 5% figure further represents that the audience itself feels BENEATH those who manage the CBC. Perhaps that’s why so few of them get too exercised when Stephen Harper refuses to hand out any more Public money.

Perhaps its why CBC Management itself didn’t bother to divest any of the corporation’s vast real estate holdings to support their core business. I mean making TV is kinda BENEATH having large and lucrative land holdings.

Yesterday a good friend laid his blame at the feet of the unholy Cons, wondering how much could’ve been accomplished if the $400 Million spent on their Economic Action Plan commercials alone could have made to a struggling CBC.

It didn’t seem to dawn on him that the majority of such commercial budgets goes to purchasing airtime, the bulk of which flows to the broadcaster with the greatest audience reach.

In the physical world that’s the CBC. In audience numbers, it’s not. But either way it would seem that neither the option of giving the CBC more money nor allowing them to earn it in ad fees results in any improvement in programming.

Two final examples from this morning…

Right after making its unhappy announcement, CBC News broadcast a press conference during which Aboriginal leaders expressed their hope that the Federal government (after years of consultation) was today introducing a bill to solve decades of problems with First Nations education.

Now this is something I know a little about since one of my neighbors just got home from being part of the First Nations negotiating team and seemed pretty satisfied with the bill.

But CBC News immediately followed the press conference with a First Nations educator who admitted not knowing what was in the bill, but made it clear SHE had not personally been consulted.

She then went on to list some of the short-comings of her  own Northern Saskatchewan school, including her inability to Skype or watch Youtube, despite having a net connection that sounded a whole lot better than my own.

The interviewer admitted to not knowing much about Tech herself and continued to press for negative responses to a bill whose contents the woman had already said she didn’t know.

And there you have it, I thought.

Why bother eliciting facts or informed insight when you can just get somebody to bitch about how they “personally” weren’t getting what they wanted from the bad old government.

That seems to have become a regular feature of CBC News, which serves only to further under-inform an already uninformed audience.

Minutes later, on the way to a meeting, I tuned in CBC Radio, hoping for some expanded coverage of the CBC dilemma. What I got instead was a “Q” interview with a couple of well known Canadian artists –- recorded in 2007.

And these are the people who want me to think they are offering a RELEVANT and ESSENTIAL service I need to rally behind saving?

I think not.


"The Book of Don" said...

but...but...but what about STURBERG's "vision"? I have his damn 30-dollar book RIGHT HERE and he says: "If they'd only have listened to me all would have been well...". What of his legacy now? (Seriously however, I assume the pointed reference to low ratings is a Lacroix-approved shot at RS).

Joe Clark said...

CBC announced they were permanently out of the business of professional sports. Then they ambiguously claimed that only amateur sports that break even would be aired, without bothering to list them.

Also, you’ve got the wrong its at one point.