The Conservative Party of Canada won't elect a party leader until May 27. So the Canadian news airwaves are filled with stories of how potential party leaders want to gut the CBC. Since there are many vying for one post, they have to sound more extreme than the next candidate.
Their "solutions" for the CBC fall into a pair of categories: don't accept advertising revenue and don't accept funding for taxpayers. The CBC now has a plan to deal with the former request.
The CBC argument is that increasing the funding from $34/person per year to $46/person would allow CBC television to go without advertising.
If that sounds like the BBC model, factor in that the proposal notes that the United Kingdom spends $114/person. The Canadian funding is 3rd worst among countries with a public broadcaster. And yes, the United States, along with New Zealand, are worse off than Canada.
So for less money than a single half chicken dinner at Swiss Chalet, but more money than a quarter chicken dinner at Swiss Chalet, Canadians can get an ad-free CBC. Even at $46/person, the CBC would be spending less than half of the UK allotment. Of course, the CBC does a lot more and covers more ground than the BBC.
What an ad-free CBC would look like
- Kids programming is already free of commercials. Promos and other programming run outside the shows
- News programming would have time for more news. The National would truly be 55 minutes before the weather break. CBC does run newscasts from the CBC News Network: assuming CBC News Network can still run ads, promos could run in commercial breaks. If $46/person gets CBC News Network to be free of ads, then even more time for news.
- Rick Mercer Report/This Hour Has 22 Minutes/Marketplace/The Fifth Estate would likely run promos in between the segments. Same would likely apply to sitcoms and dramas, especially if they might find a home south of the border.
- Documentaries can run with more content. CBC can run more arts programming and yes, Canadian films uncut.
- Hockey Night in Canada would run into issues not so much during the breaks, but the pregame and game coverage often has in-programming ads. The CBC already doesn't get money for those ads, so they might be an exception since the CBC doesn't get that money.
- Weekend sports coverage could be more extensive. If the CBC were to keep showing the Olympics, the ad-free coverage would be incredible but commercials could still run on cable coverage on TSN and Rogers Sportsnet.
Taking away part of the conservative argument
The conservative argument is that the media in Canada lacks a level playing field. "For Canadian democracy to thrive, we need to hear from the different voices in the press," Conservative Party leader candidate Kellie Leitch said in a statement. The Conservative MP argues that "so long as the CBC continues to distort the market by consuming advertising revenues and having its operations underwritten by the taxpayer, the market is uncompetitive."
The proposal from fellow Conservative Party leader candidate Maxime Bernier makes the CBC advertising-free and transitions toward a PBS/NPR type funding model.
Leitch claims in her argument that CBC is at an advantage over CTV, Global, and City TV, even though the revenues from the commercial outlets are gigantic compared to the CBC. She says we should hear from different voices in the press, but not the CBC. Bernier knows his proposal will destroy the impact of CBC's news gathering capabilities. The PBS/NPR model is about money but also influence. The financial concerns prevent them from doing a better job in bringing Americans the news.
Understand too that the conservative argument about funding isn't really about money. They want the CBC to do fewer investigations into how government works, especially when the party is back in power. This was part of Stephen Harper's strategy of defunding CBC and his insistence that he favored American news over Canadian news. These people want to make Harper look like Justin Trudeau in comparison.
If there is no advertising revenue, the conservative argument is cut in half. Sure they will still whine about taxpayer funding but the overall argument is significantly weakened.
More money for Canadian private broadcasters
The idea of the CBC having an advantage over CTV, Global, and City TV is rather laughable since the private broadcasters can charge ads for American programming and have the power to simsub Canadian ads over that programming. The private networks are able to count newscasts as Canadian programming. The CRTC is making things easier for private broadcasters to not carry Canadian content.
Shifting the ad revenue the CBC draws onto public broadcasters would be a subsidy to the private broadcasters. The calculation of $158 million stems from the policy and economic consulting firm Nordicity. So Canadian taxpayers would pay more for the CBC but the end result would be Canadian taxpayers subsidizing private broadcasting companies. Canadians should get more actual Canadian content for that money.
The drawback for the private broadcasters, on paper, is that Canadians would watch more CBC programming if they didn't have to watch commercials. Given Canadians' love for things American, we'll see if that scenario even comes close to happening.
Canadian arts programming could flourish
CBC programming decisions could stem based on artistic merit. Ballet, plays, film, dance: the possibilities are truly wonderful to imagine.
The Tragically Hip final concert could be more the norm rather than the exception.
The network can experiment with shows that need to build an audience. A late-night talk show. Short films in a 30-minute or 60-minute block. Music concerts from up and coming artists.
Besides the obvious artistic advances, Canadians might feel like the CBC is truly serving Canadian interests. British miniseries instead of Canadian dramas. Let the CBC show the roots of Canada.
photo credit: me