The crisis facing the CBC offers the public broadcaster a chance to refocus and separate itself from private stations, making it less reliant on ratings, the network's former chairwoman says.
"Because we have reached a bit of a crisis point with broadcasting in this country, it is an opportunity for CBC and the whole country to think about what public broadcasting should be," Carole Taylor said yesterday. "For me, my preference is to go for broadcasting that is different from what the privates do, that is not going for ratings but is providing a service that cannot be found anywhere else."
Ms. Taylor is a former British Columbia finance minister and head of a federal economic advisory council.
The CBC's board of directors this week approved an austerity budget for the coming year as the public broadcaster faces a $60-million shortfall in advertising revenues, primarily from television. No information was available about the size of the cutbacks. Employees will be notified about the details of the budget at the end of the month.
Speaking in Vancouver yesterday, Ms. Taylor said she had no inside knowledge of layoffs at the CBC. She said she is opposed to U.S. game shows being aired on the CBC, and expressed concern that ratings are becoming too much of a focus for management.
"I think there is a danger people, in discussing public broadcasting, look at ratings numbers as a measure of success," Ms. Taylor said. "If you do that, that inevitably draws public broadcasting into straight competition with American shows."
In a speech to the Empire Club in Toronto last month, CBC president Hubert Lacroix defended running U.S. game shows, saying they generate profit and attract viewers who stay tuned through the evening.
"... It costs 10 times more to make one hour of high-quality Canadian programming like The Border than it does to buy Wheel of Fortune - and these game shows generate a significant profit that we can then pour back into producing Canadian programming," he said.
"Further, Jeopardy! attracts over a million viewers each evening, and we carry many of those viewers into our entirely Canadian 8 to 11 p.m. prime time, thus increasing the impact and the revenue of our Canadian programs."
The CBC has asked the federal government for an advance in its regular funding to cope with the downturn. Heritage Minister James Moore has refused.