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opinion

Catherine Tait is the president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada.

You may not have seen it, but for Canadians interested in the future of their public broadcaster, the recent CRTC renewal of the CBC/Radio-Canada television and radio licences represents a groundbreaking decision. For the first time, Canada’s regulator has recognized how we serve Canadians today – not just as a linear television and radio broadcaster but as a multiplatform streaming service as well.

The big takeaway from the CRTC’s decision of June 22 is the regulator’s long-overdue recognition that CBC/Radio-Canada has successfully and appropriately transformed itself into a modern public media service to better address the changing needs of Canadians. And that both digital streaming and traditional linear services will now be reflected in our regulatory obligations.

The other big takeaway is the demand for more diversity and representation in both our content and workforce. The public broadcaster’s relevance to future generations of Canadians rests in how we reflect the country. We are changing – in fact, we have been changing for years – to ensure that we reflect a changing Canada.

Probably not many Canadians read a regulatory decision of more than 270 pages that covers 88 radio stations and 32 TV stations and considers the future of public broadcasting in its delivery of services to all Canadians. A few, who had filed submissions during the public hearings, are focused on one question only: on whether a type of advertising commonly known as “branded” or “paid” content should be permitted at CBC/Radio-Canada.

In its decision, the CRTC recognized that commercial revenue is critical to the public broadcaster’s ability to deliver its current suite of services. The CRTC also underlined the importance – as do we – that when it comes to branded content, it must be abundantly clear to people what is paid content and what is news. It said it expects CBC/Radio-Canada to “maintain guidelines on branded content and make them available on its website for Canadians and the broadcasting industry to consult.” We have already provided those guidelines and published them on our site.

As the CRTC said: “In the Commission’s view, the revenue-generating activities of the Tandem initiative are onside with the general approach that has been taken with the CBC in the past and consistent with the context in which the CBC currently finances its operations. This overall approach remains pertinent, particularly in light of the CBC’s funding model. As such, the Commission finds that it should not limit the CBC’s commercial activities any further than they already are.”

We agree. Canadians’ trust in us depends on knowing that we are truly independent – both from Parliament, which provides our appropriation, and from the companies that pay to advertise on our platforms. Most public service media around the world depend on some form of commercial revenue in their financing models. Many include sponsored or branded content as part of their advertising offer. For public media like us, it is critical that our viewers, readers and users understand the clear line between news content and advertising content. To this end, we have strengthened our guardrails around branded content and continue to monitor whether any confusion arises from this type of advertising.

To be clear, CBC/Radio-Canada earns approximately $480-million in commercial revenues each year – and of that, about $230-million comes from advertising. This revenue funds many thousands of hours of TV, radio and digital news, information and entertainment programming. To eliminate it would impoverish our services profoundly. Remember, today we are a public media service delivering traditional TV and radio services as well as digital news, streaming video and audio services – all within the same budget as 20 years ago.

That is how we serve all Canadians. The CRTC renewal decision recognizes how the media world is changing – and how CBC/Radio-Canada is changing too. This decision will help make us better: more reflective of all Canadians we serve, on all the platforms they use.

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