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Charged with supervising the launch of Katie's (Sarah Gadon, right) new book, Erica (Erin Karpluk, left) turns into a complete control-freak on CBC Television's BEING ERICA.
Charged with supervising the launch of Katie's (Sarah Gadon, right) new book, Erica (Erin Karpluk, left) turns into a complete control-freak on CBC Television's BEING ERICA.

The Happy Gang revisited: charting the future of the CBC Add to ...

The CBC dodged cuts during a similar Treasury Board exercise in 2009, when the government decided “reallocations were not necessary as programs delivered by [CBC/Radio-Canada]are aligned with the priorities of Canadians.”

That’s a lukewarm statement of support and a larger problem for the CBC is a persistent sense in Ottawa that despite polls that show a majority of Canadians support the CBC, public broadcasting is not on the government’s agenda.

The CBC suffers under what it tactfully refers to as a “market-oriented” regulatory regime: When the CRTC ruled the broadcasters could start negotiating payment for their signals with cable and satellite distributors last year, it simply left the CBC out of the deal. Similarly, the Canadian Media Fund, which doles out subsidies to Canadian TV producers based on their success with audiences, used to reserve a set percentage of its money for CBC projects, recognizing that the public broadcaster should not be judged by ratings alone, but it has abandoned that policy.

Today, eyeballs are the only measure of success.

“I hope government will make its decisions based on what the broadcaster has proved in recent years,” said CBC CEO Hubert Lacroix, pointing to recent ratings. “Radio, TV, and Internet services – we have never seen numbers like this.”

And yet it is precisely that message that some observers fear will fail to win the CBC a unique position in a future of global choices, fragmented audiences and minority tastes. This fall, when Being Erica goes head to head with House on Global and Two and a Half Men on CTV, there is no prize for guessing which show will come last. And yet, in another neck of the digital woods, Being Erica is a very popular item in the iTunes store: New technology represents an opportunity not to gather millions of Canadians around The Happy Gang campfire, but to reach them in a more diffuse way, on multiple levels and multiple platforms.

The broadcaster's strategic plan stresses it will offer something for everyone – but not all things to all people. Yet, the reality is that the CBC measures its own performance largely by the numbers and externally its entire record is all too often judged by the perceived success or failure of a handful of high-profile shows on the English-language television network.

“Everybody wants to play programmer for the CBC; everybody thinks they can program the network,” said Prof. Wagman, who argues we should all just let the corporation’s 9,000 employees get on with their jobs. “It’s better to think of it in a different way. Because it is a public broadcaster, the CBC has to imagine what the country should be. What it needs is to imagine again.”

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BY THE NUMBERS

2:1

Ratio of government funding to self-generated revenue, including advertising, in the CBC’s total budget

$970-million

The amount independent producers spent creating Canadian dramas and comedies for public and private broadcasters in 2009-2010.

25 %

Percentage of that money raised through federal and provincial tax credits.

18 %

Percentage contributed by government’s Canadian Media Fund.

24 %

Percentage contributed by broadcasters’ licence fees, divided equally between public and private.

Sources: CBC 2009-2010 annual report; The Canadian Film and Television Production Association’s Profile 2010

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