Canada's broadcast regulator has cleared the way for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to transform itself over its next five-year licence term, in a ruling that allows for changes across much of the broadcaster's operations.
The licence, the first renewal since 2000, runs until 2018, and covers a time when the broadcaster is under financial pressure thanks to a $115-million reduction in the amount of money it receives from the federal government.
"All Canadians will continue to receive the quality services they expect from their national public broadcaster," said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, as he announced the renewal last week. "In the ever-changing media landscape, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will continue to play a key role for the vitality of Canada's French- and English-language culture, throughout the country."
Here are five highlights from the renewal.
The biggest change to CBC's licence allows the broadcaster to put ads on Radio 2 and the French-language Espace Musique. The request wasn't altogether new – CBC was allowed to advertise on the radio until 1975 when its licence was renewed and asked the commission to allow sponsored ads at its last renewal (it was denied).
The CBC said adding advertising could help it make up to $25-million a year by the end of the five-year licence.
The CRTC decided advertisements wouldn't ruin the services, but didn't share CBC's enthusiasm. It only gave the broadcaster three years to experiment with advertising, and limited it to buying national ads (which only account for about 30 per cent of all radio advertising in Canada).
It also decided that musical quirkiness was at the heart of both services, and that it didn't want to see that change as the services tried to make themselves more attractive to advertisers. So it wrote some conditions into its new licence: Espace Musique must "broadcast a minimum of 3,000 and Radio 2 a minimum 2,800 distinct musical selections each broadcaster month."
"The commission's research demonstrates that a key measurable characteristic that distinguishes the programming of Espace Musique and Radio 2 is that they broadcast a far greater number of distinct musical selections than commercial stations." the CRTC wrote. "This practice helps ensure that these services contribute to the diversity of programming available to Canadians."
While almost two dozen television channels appeared in front of the commission in late May to ask to be included in basic digital cable packages across the country, commissioners were already considering a similar request by CBC for its English and French language news networks.
Mandatory carriage means that a channel is broadcast into every home. It is a highly coveted designation because it comes with subscription revenue and the ability to charge more for advertising because of the potential number of viewers.
The two networks, RDI and CBC News Network, already enjoy this privilege, but only in certain markets – the French-language RDI is mandatory in English markets and CBC News Network is mandatory in French markets.
The CRTC decided to leave this as-is, something the CBC likely made easier by not asking for an increase to subscriber rates. (RDI costs English-market subscribers 10 cents a month, CBC News Network costs French-market subscribers 16 cents a month).
No digital disclosure
One of the broadcaster's major shifts by 2015 will be doubling its investment in digital media to 5 per cent of total revenue, in a bid to complement its traditional broadcasting. That means a focus on its news-providing websites that compete with daily newspapers, as well as its free CBC Music service that competes with private companies that provide similar services at a cost.
These competitors worry the broadcaster is overstepping its mandate and competing where it should not – late last month the CBC pulled ads promoting Postmedia Network Inc.'s subscription websites because CBC executives felt it was an online competitor to the company's newspapers.
Several groups asked the CBC to provide more information about how it was spending its money online, something the CBC rejected. The CRTC backed it up, saying it didn't have to add any new information to its financial disclosures outlining how the money is being spent.
Canadians can expect to see at least one Canadian feature film on television each month, as well as a special summer program it would use 10 Saturday nights in the summer to broadcast Canadian feature films.
The broadcaster warned that it didn't want to show the movies during prime time, and would rather show them on weekend afternoons or late at night depending on the amount of mature content. But as the commission commended CBC for adding a movie a month, it added that it "encourages the CBC to maintain a regular timeslot in primetime for the monthly broadcast of Canadian feature films."
"The commission does not accept the CBC's argument that it is difficult to air Canadian feature films in prime time due to mature content," the filing stated.
The broadcaster has two ombudsmen, one for English services and one for French. These appointees respond to viewer and listener complaints and ensure that the broadcaster follows its own codes of conduct.
The CRTC said it was good that these positions exist, but asked for some changes. It asked that the ombudsmen's reporting structure be clarified, and that they report bi-annually to both the president and the board of directors (who must then publicly respond to any recommendations made by the ombudsmen).
It also wants to make it more difficult for an ombudsman to be fired for stirring things up. The only time one should be sent packing, the CRTC said, is when there's been "gross misconduct or instances where the ombudsman's actions have been deemed to be inconsistent" with corporate conduct policy.