Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

How Canada’s public broadcaster stacks up


Canada's national public broadcaster operates English and French-language radio and television networks, specialty channels and various Internet sites, as well as offering radio and television programming in eight aboriginal languages. It places ads on television and Internet sites, but its radio has been commercial free since 1974.

Revenue from taxpayers: $1.02-billion operating grant plus $125-million capital from Parliament in 2009-2010.

Story continues below advertisement

Revenue self-generated: $567-million from advertising, as well as commercial revenues and subscriptions for specialty channels.

Cost per citizen: $34


With a population almost twice the size of Canada's, the U.K. boasts the best-known and wealthiest public broadcaster in the world, funded by a licence fee on every TV set in the land. The BBC is recognized globally for its high-quality news coverage and dramas such as the iconic Doctor Who, but favourites with Britons also include a raft of reality programming such as the cheeky test-driving show Top Gear and daytime hits such as Homes Under the Hammer. The BBC, which does not run ads on either radio or television, raises billions in international program sales and is about to launch its iPlayer internationally.

Revenue from taxpayers: $5.6-billion from the TV licence in 2010-2011.

Revenue self-generated: $2.4-billion, mainly from its commercial arm, especially BBC Worldwide.

Cost per citizen: $91

Story continues below advertisement

ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

With a population about the size of English Canada, Australia maintains an ad-free public broadcaster with multiple television and radio services. Its television networks specialize in news, documentaries, children's programming and the occasional high-end drama, operating alongside commercial television networks that provide Aussies with their versions of popular reality formats as well as their famed soaps. It also has a strong reputation for comedy and often finds hits such as the sitcom Kath & Kim stolen away by the private networks.

Revenue from taxpayers: $937-million from Parliament in 2009-2010.

Revenue self-generated: $189-million, mainly from its commercial arm.

Cost per citizen: $42


Story continues below advertisement

The ad-free American public television broadcaster operates on a different model; it receives some government operating funding but also depends heavily on direct government, corporate and philanthropic sponsorships of programs, and on subscribers' contributions. It has a strong reputation for news and documentaries but, in a nation with the world's most successful commercial television market, it relies on foreign imports, such as Downton Abbey or Hercule Poirot from the U.K,. for most dramatic programming. It is also structured differently, as a loose network of independent member stations, and these numbers do not include all the members' programming activity. (A 2009 Nordicity study, which also included National Public Radio, pegged American public broadcasting at a cost of $4 per citizen.)

Revenue from taxpayers: $97-million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and other federal grants to PBS directly. (The CPB also pays about $200-million as operating grants to the member stations.)

Revenue self-generated: $467-million from subscribers, commercial activities, and program underwriting (which comes from corporate, charitable and government sources but is paid directly to producers.)

Cost per citizen: $1

All figures have been converted to Canadian dollars.

Kate Taylor

Report an error Licensing Options
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.