The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday announced it was “out of the business” of competing with private broadcasters for professional sports, and cutting 657 positions in the face of a $130-million revenue shortfall projected for the 2014-15 broadcast year. It is a truly pivotal moment for the national broadcaster. So The Globe reached out to creative and cultural thinkers across the country and asked them, how would you re-imagine the CBC?
Dan Mangan, Juno-winning musician, based in Vancouver
If I had a magic CBC button, I’d focus on allowing CBC television to execute its mandate as a public resource, rather than trying to compete with private broadcasters at a game they’re better and more hawkish at.
I’d put a nominal tax on all new televisions sold in the country and eliminate advertising on CBC television. I’d cull television to one channel – a 24 hour resource dedicated to news, sports, documentaries, children’s programming, comedy, mini-series and specialty programming.
I’d stop trying to compete with big-budget American dramas by producing crappier, lower-budget versions of them. I’d take funding saved from the new television platform and give much of it to radio. I’d make sure that every remote community in Canada had access to radio, and that their local programming was relevant to their community. The CBC would be even more daring, weird, funny, intelligent and articulate. I’d move further away from old-school terrestrial broadcasting and incorporate forward thinking online resources into both television and radio.
In short, I’d like to see CBC thrive as a unique access point between all Canadians. It shouldn’t need to compete with private broadcasters because it should be playing a different game.
George Jamieson, former CBC programmer/producer
When I started working at the CBC the place was rich enough for this: Producers and managers would suggest programs that didn’t fit existing molds. Bosses would say “we’re not sure, but we like the idea, the imagination, the energy. Here’s a budget, give it a try.” Together, they reinvented the CBC of the 1950s and 1960s. They created what we call “the radio revolution.” They brought television into the world of multi-channels, colour, and cable. They made a CBC that nobody had seen or heard before. They were bold, because they could afford to be.
These days I hope the CBC is poor enough to do the same. Try new programs, measure them by imagination and energy, not by whether they fit a mold. Make a CBC that hasn’t been seen or heard before. Be bold, because you can’t afford not to be.
Some qualities of the CBC I worked in have been ground down recently. It would cost little to restore them, and it would pay big dividends.
For example, rebuild what has been denigrated as “unit culture.” The people who’ve tried to kill this think programs should not have individual identities and loyalties; instead they should be parts of a service, swapped in and out as required. They don’t notice that Coaches Corner is the alpha and omega of unit culture. So is The National. So were the George Stroumboulupoulos programs. So is any program involving Kevin O’Leary or Michael Enright. It’s a good quality. Give it oxygen.
Also, embrace “creative disobedience.” Creative people sometimes have an excess of this. Let them say “shit” now and then, or piss off somebody with a title, or tell a boss to get out of the way. If they’re smart programmers, the CBC will be better for that. If you don’t believe me, check out the work of Allan McFee and Peter Gzowski.
Stop telling programmers what they can’t do, and ask them what they can do. Then help them do it. The German poet Friedrich Hölderlin wrote a line, generally translated as, “where there is danger, that which will save us also grows.” Makes sense to me.
Richard Stursberg, former head of English-language services at the CBC, 2004-2010
There are a number of principles that should guide the CBC’s future.
1. CBC should offer – to the maximum extent possible – only Canadian programming.
2. The corporation should focus on making popular shows. It is financed by the taxes of all Canadians and should serve as many of them as it can.
3. CBC should not duplicate the work of the private sector. There is no point spending public money on things that are already being well done without it.
The application of these principles leads to some broad conclusions about programming strategy:
1. The Corporation should abandon local television newscasts. The private networks do this very well and the CBC is typically third in the markets it serves. The CBC should focus instead on national and international news to let Canadians better understand their place in the world.
2. The Corporation should focus its prime-time strategy on the creation of popular, distinctively Canadian dramas, comedies, documentaries and reality shows. The private networks cannot do this because their deep prime-time schedules are inevitably dedicated to U.S. shows.