How do you solve a problem like the CBC?

With the internet age in full swing, it isn’t uncommon to hear stories of broadcasters struggling to compete with each other and the internet. The CBC isn’t immune to any of that, especially considering they have to face many of the same problems private broadcasters do, but also issues unique to them such as the drastic budget cuts from the federal government. The CBC reached out to me and a few select others to discuss, A Space For Us All, their plan for the year 2020.


Their Plan:
In short, the CBC wants to be a more innovative, edgier broadcaster with a deeper connection with us individually and as Canadians on a whole.


The CBC doesn’t want to think of what they’re doing as a cost cutting measure (or even a response to budget cuts and the loss of Hockey Night in Canada), but rather a “transformational change” that’s “part of a complete picture” in hopes of making the CBC “financially sustainable.”


While they don’t plan to exit TV and radio, the focus is now on the web and mobile. The programming is going to be Canadian (duh), but also creatively ambitious and risky.


Part of their plan is to sell or convert “bricks and mortar” (spaces devoted to producing in-house programming) and using the savings to create high-quality content. Scrapping some “bricks and mortar” also means cutting jobs and working collaboratively with others.


The CBC is also going to aim at providing multi-platform sports coverage with the focus being the Olympics and amateur Olympics sports between games.


My Thoughts:
While the CBC has a good plan overall, there are some problems. I wasn’t able to address all of them during my time with the CBC, but thankfully I have this blog and I can really flesh out what I think about their plan here.

One of the things that concerned me was CBC’s desire to be edgy, risky, ambitious and more cable-like. While that sounds good on paper, from what I’ve seen, that rarely if ever works on conventional TV, at least in Canada and the United States.


Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays is a prime example. That show felt more like a cable program and it was smart, tackled a taboo subject (mental health) and was different than everything else on TV, but it bombed miserably (like losing to YTV’s That’s So Weird miserable).


Hannibal on NBC is something people who love cable TV rave about, but the ratings are pretty sad when you compare it to the biggest hits on network TV, even if you take into consideration that it airs on Fridays. NBC seems to begrudgingly renew it every season, basically saying it’s a good show, we just don’t know why people don’t watch, but we’ll keep it around hoping people discover it.


I don’t want that to happen to the CBC. My concern is we’re going to end up with more shows that critics and TV geeks love, but the general public will ignore. Then the CBC will be out of touch with Canadians, not to mention that the ratings will be lousy or lukewarm at best.

I think the CBC should be looking for more shows that appeal to a wider audience (like Dragon’s Den) opposed to shows that are more like what you’d come across on cable (image via CBC Media Centre)

The CBC should be looking for its next Murdoch MysteriesDragon’s Den or Battle of the Blades—something with mass appeal that’s distinctly Canadian, not a Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays or Sensitive Skin, which, yes are distinctly Canadian, but will only appeal to a sliver of the population. Let’s leave those to the HBO Canadas of the TV universe.


The CBC’s plan also has an emphasis on music on radio and online, so why not bring more music content to TV? With Much abandoning music programming as much as possible, there’s an opportunity available to create a music program showcasing the best in Canadian talent that mainstream radio doesn’t play (or play enough of). They should cross promote this show with CBC Radio 2, CBC Radio 3 and CBC Music, to bring fans of those services to CBC television. Conversely, they should promote those services during this new show so those who happen to watch TV and aren’t familiar with their online and radio music services will tune into them after seeing the TV program.


CBC Sports has taken a hit. While the CBC no longer produces Hockey Night in Canada or makes any money off it as of the upcoming season, the CBC still broadcasts the show. Regular viewers at home might not even notice it isn’t a CBC production anymore considering Strombo is going to be part of HNIC now. Instead of giving up on hockey, couldn’t the CBC produce a hockey talk or magazine show and advertise it during HNIC to attract viewers?


The CBC also wants to do more sketch comedy/satire, but I’d suggest they refrain from adding additional political satire to the schedule. Between 22 MinutesRick Mercer Report and the Air Farce specials, the CBC has plenty of political satire and if they were to do anything it would be to strengthen those shows (perhaps with more funding). If the CBC were to add more sketch comedy or satire, I’d say focus more on pop culture. There’s a ton of good pop culture satire/parodies online, but aside from some Comedy Central shows and Saturday Night Live you rarely spot that type of content on TV these days.


The CBC also estimates that 50 per cent will still watch conventional TV in 2020, but I’d bet even higher than that if they play their cards right. I think the CBC still knows it’s important to have a strong primetime schedule. To get more people to watch TV live I’m hoping they’ll do as much as reasonably possible to encourage a second screen experience and live-tweeting. This may include putting hashtags on screen, encouraging viewers to download the CBC app and have a discussion with other viewers there or having celebrities live-tweet the show and asking viewers to follow along on mobile devices.



Cable TV

Can the CBC live without ARTV? (logo via Wikimedia)

When I was looking at CBC/Radio-Canada’s assets, there are a few that I thought were unnecessary. There’s Ici ARTV (think Bravo before it lost its focus and exclamation mark), Ici Explora (think Discovery) TV5 Quebec Canada (owned in a consortium with other broadcasters). On the English side, Documentary seems to be of questionable value. Why not sell them all to the private broadcasters? That would leave us with CBC Television, CBC News Network, Ici Radio-Canada Television and Ici RDI.


An All-New CBC
They can go much further than that though. They can sell or dissolve all existing TV properties (I bet they could get a pretty penny for some of those over-the-air affiliates), and in their place launch regional cable networks. It’s a similar idea to Sportsnet in how it has different feeds across the country, yet it’s still a cable network. This new CBC television service would be a hybrid of the conventional network and the CBC News Network.


During the day, (6 a.m.-5 p.m.-ish) this new service would be reminiscent of CBC News Network as it would provide rolling news coverage of the day’s top events—something along the lines of CBC News Now. From 5-6:30 p.m. it would air local news just as CBC does today, however depending on how many regions the CBC would split this new service to it may have to divide the time into separate newscasts for different regions (i.e. 5 p.m, Calgary, 5:30 p.m., Edmonton and 6 p.m., Regina, if Alberta and Saskatchewan were to share a feed). After the news, it’s Coronation Street of course, cause if you know Corrie fans, you don’t want to mess with Coronation Street ever. The 7 p.m. hour might be a good home for a reformulated Steven and Chris considering daytime is going to news. 8-10 p.m. would be a combination of reality shows, dramas and, comedies. At 10 p.m. it’s The National and at 11 p.m. they could air a documentary and from midnight to 6 a.m. they could air reruns as the main CBC network does now.


However, if the CBC were to do something so radical, there are a few things they’d have to consider. By selling the conventional stations and moving to cable, they’d lose that high-profile spot on the dial amongst the other major US and Canadian networks. If the CBC did shut down the CBC News Network though they could put this new service in its place, which may not be that bad as it’s a basic cable service and likely has a decent spot on the dial. If this new CBC fails though and they want to go back to the way things were, that would be nearly impossible, which maybe why something like this may never come to fruition. Oh, and there’s the CRTC to consider, they’d likely have more than a few things to say considering such a dramatic change.


Then you’d have to consider if people would be okay losing the CBC News Network. I don’t think it would be a problem as the 6 a.m.-5 p.m. block is where the majority of the channel’s original programming is and this new CBC would be identical to the CBC News Network then. Past 9 p.m., CBC News Network is a bunch of reruns, so that’s not much of a concern, especially if viewers have access to other CBC feeds through digital cable/satellite and online. Power and Politics and The Exchange do run past 5 p.m., but its possible to cut them to an hour and run them earlier in the day on the new network.


Kids’ CBC

Kids’ CBC (logo via Wikimedia)

Another problem with this new CBC idea is that it eliminates Kids’ CBC. While I doubt Kids’ CBC means much to youngsters today considering the number of children’s shows on the provincial educational broadcasters, PBS, Family, Teletoon, YTV and their spin offs, apparently the CRTC is forcing the CBC to air kids’ programming for whatever reason.


The reasons seem obvious to me why kids and families wouldn’t bother with the CBC for kids’ programs as most of the big name shows are elsewhere on the dial and most are on channels that serve children exclusively opposed to a few hours a day like on the CBC.


The CRTC seems oblivious to that and the people forcing the CBC to air kids’ programming may in fact be the same people who grew up watching children’s programming on the CBC and don’t realize things have change dramatically since they were young. Actually, forget kids’ TV on TV, it becomes the Wild Wild West when you factor in the internet.


If the CBC wants to continue with kids’ TV and the CRTC is still on them for it, perhaps the best bet is the consider launching a separate service for kids. (The CBC actually planned to launch a kids’ network but cancelled it as part of Strategy 2015.)


Let’s say they went with the hypothetical option above where the CBC sold the conventional owned-and-operated CBC stations to the private broadcasters and relaunched a new hybrid of the conventional CBC and the cable CBC News Network. Then if they had enough money saved over from selling the “bricks and mortar” and what else they were considering to save cash, the CBC could create a national kids service (I’ll call it CBC2) that would air preschool programming from 6 a.m.-3 p.m., school-aged programming from 3-9 p.m. and young adult programming from 9 p.m.- 6 a.m.


They could try to partner with The Hub in the US to get exclusive access to all or some of their programming to fill in any holes until they work on getting/producing more Canadian programs. While I know at least one of The Hub’s shows airs on Treehouse and another airs on YTV, if Corus doesn’t have exclusivity to air all their shows, this would be an opportunity to swoop in and build a network on top of that. Otherwise, the CBC could team up with CBBC/CBeebies, PBS Kids and ABC (Australia) for programming, which I’m sure they’re doing already for the Kids’ CBC block.


At night, this would be the perfect place to experiment with edgier programming geared to young adults if they really wanted to and bring over the hits to the main network.


CBC2 seems to be the most logical way to do children’s programming, as kids tend to turn to channels geared exclusively to them. This channel helps to create a lifelong bond between Canadians and the CBC. CBC2 would take them from preschool, school age and perhaps young adulthood, where they’d then graduate over to the main CBC service. Currently there isn’t much or any content geared to school-aged kids or young adults on the CBC, which might pose a problem. However, that demo is very competitive, especially when it comes to school-aged TV shows, so a CBC2 would likely need a big advertising push behind it to get people watching.
Live Streams
When it comes to CBC today, I don’t understand why I can’t watch CBC live over the internet on the CBC website or on my phone or tablet through the CBC app. I have access to a bunch of shows, including some past seasons and shows that are long gone, but no live streams. CBC News Network is available online as a live feed, but at a $6.95/month fee, which seems ridiculous considering the CBC is the public broadcaster.


Having freely available live streams of the CBC online is going to be essential in the future. Will cable companies like this idea? Probably not, but then again Rogers, Bell and Shaw not only own a good chunk of the country’s cable and satellite services, but they also own many TV channels themselves and they’re also ISPs. So they might come around eventually.


Having these live streams are going to be vital if the CBC ever did sell those over-the-air affiliates to the private broadcasters because it gives those who don’t subscribe to cable another way to access the CBC. Possibly having the CBC as an Apple TV app or an app on video game consoles would be another way to reach cord cutters.


New Identity

The CBC needs to play with its logo to make it a bit more modern. This is a start, I suppose (image via YouTube)

The CBC logo, while recognizable, is quite 90s corporate looking (same goes for NBC’s) and feels a bit dated. It doesn’t have the timeless quality of CBS’ or ABC’s and it isn’t quite as simplistic and modern as Global’s (a checkmark turned sideways that doubles as a greater than sign).


I think it’s time to consider a new logo or at least a more modern way to use the CBC logo. For example, MTV essentially cropped their old logo to create a new one and CNN took a lot of the sheen, gloss and light out of their logo and simply plopped it in a square box.


The CBC YouTube icon is a start. You see a large logo off to the side and a smaller one in the corner. It’s more interesting than looking at one giant logo centred.


Another colour scheme could be a good idea as well since red is used in CTV and Global’s logos. You know, I always wondered if the CBC’s logo would look better if it was created with a diamond shape as the basis instead of a circle.


The Future:


The problems that the CBC and the rest of the industry are facing are challenging and there really isn’t a quick fix. There’s probably going to have to be some trial and error, to see what works and what doesn’t. Perhaps advertising on Radio One, creating a YouTube-like service or a radically different approach to television, like my “All-New CBC” idea, might work, or might not, but I’m glad that at least the CBC is reaching out to Canadians to hear what they think so we all have a say in the future of our public broadcaster.