How to Kill the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Here’s a sure-fire way of killing off the CBC.

-Have them stop selling advertising on CBC Television.
Have them stop doing sports.

The recent suggestion that CBC TV do both those things is the quickest way to kill the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. And if CBC Radio thinks this isn’t about them, they’re dead wrong.

If you say “CBC” to most Canadians, their first reaction will be “Hockey Night in Canada”. There’s just no contest – that’s what the network is known for, and that’s what brings in the big numbers, consistently year by year. 4.7 million people watched the last Stanley Cup game on TV.

Hockey Night in Canada also brings in the big bucks. Now, CBC TV doesn’t survive on advertising alone, it’s only part of its budget – the rest comes from the government. And if anyone seriously thinks the government is going to toss the CBC an additional 400 million dollars to make up for lost ad revenue, they’re definitely inhaling.

It’s totally naïve to think that somehow we can create a pristine Public Broadcaster that doesn’t carry ads and doesn’t carry mainstream popular programming, like sports.

This isn’t the 40’s. Viewers have options, hundreds of channels. No one, and I mean no one, is going to watch programming that’s ‘good for them’ because it’s being created by their public broadcaster.

Whether you like sports or not, CBC is renowned for its excellent sports coverage. Hockey Night in Canada attracts the very best live television production crews on the planet.

The irony is that killing advertising on CBC TV equates to killing sports – they won’t be able to afford the rights to any sports without the ad revenue.

And here’s the dilemma for CBC Radio, a network that’s been advertising free for decades, and loves to lord it over their TV counterparts.

The survival of CBC as a whole is entirely dependent upon CBC Television. CBC TV is a mammoth part of the organization, and CBC Radio is totally dependent upon the mammoth infrastructure that surrounds it.

CBC Radio is a relatively small media player in this new converged world, but it leverages its association with the larger TV network to its advantage in many business critical ways:

-Goods and services costs – like research, public relations, technology.
-Brand recognition.
-Talent and talent agreements.
-Physical space – like prime office space and studios.
-International associations.
-Cross promotion – most CBC Radio ads are carried on CBC TV for free.

So while The Friends of Public Broadcasting are busy lambasting CBC TV about bumping The National once a week (in some times zones) for a new US TV show, they should be focusing on the real threat to CBC – relevance in a competitive marketplace.

Of course, CBC doesn’t help itself much. The timing of the announcement regarding the bump to the The National is a classic communications blunder. And bragging in the Toronto Star about how they’ve got new media all figured out doesn’t help their credibility any. Particularly when they whine about never having enough money but in the same breath mention they have 160 staff working on their web site, and take the time to ridicule one of their own, a former Vice President who actually pushed new media to the fore at CBC.

Is CBC TV having trouble? Sure. Every ‘traditional’ media organization in the world is having trouble in this fast paced, technology-volatile world. Have they got new media figured out? Not by a long shot.

But the biggest threat CBC faces by far is the idea of axing one of its main sources of revenue, and killing its most popular programming.