I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

Leadership Vacuum: The CBC in 2011

While I am one of the dwindling number of Canadians who believes the CBC should not only exist but it should be helped to prosper, I must admit I was shocked by the recent spate of CBC’s self-congratulating PR missives patting themselves on the back for the massive amounts of dollars the national broadcaster generates for the Canadian economy. The study, paid for by the CBC and done by Deloitte and Touche LLP, claims that for your billion dollar investment, the Corp creates 3.7 billion dollars in economic activity.

I have no idea whether this is a reasonable figure but like all numbers and statistics I find it questionable. Two facts jump out at me. First that CBC paid for the study, and second that the BBC paid Deloitte Touche for the very same kind of study in the United Kingdom and came up with almost the exact same results. The BBC it seems generates just over three times its taxpayer supported subsidy. Coincidence? Would the CBC have paid for such a study if the BBC’s results were different, say if the Beeb wasted one third of the money it gets? I suspect not. I also wonder what is the norm for a corporation that employs over six thousand people and buys product and materials from other Canadian businesses. I suspect every company that is not going bankrupt generates at least similar, and in most cases far more dollars for the economy of the country.

The real story, and it is one the CBC is not talking about, is the cultural benefits that are accrued to the country. These you see, are priceless. How do you put a dollar value on the understanding Canadians have for each other from coast-to-coast? How much is Opera Atelier or The Royal Winnipeg Ballet worth to the Canadian soul? What about the value of k.d. lang or Leonard Cohen?

The reason the CBC is not talking about all this is because culture has just about disappeared from the CBC channels. In fact, in the rush for great ratings, high quality drama and comedy have all but disappeared for CBC viewers. Today, in the post Stursberg CBC the Stursberg philosophy lives on: go light, get numbers, avoid depth and at all costs don’t allow serious culture anywhere near the line-up.

As if to prove my point both InSecurity which may be the worst comedy on North American Television and Little Mosque on the Prairie, which specializes in comedy that would have been passé in the early sixties are returning to the CBC schedule. There’s more reality and double episodes of that all Canadian soap opera, Coronation Street. You want Canadiana, how about Camelot? To be fair, there is a new series called Arctic Air and the historical series John A: Birth of a Country…on the other side, there’s also a sequel to the Don Cherry biopic that ran a couple of years ago.

From this perch it looks to me like there is no serious planning going on at the CBC, just a bunch of folks guessing at what will bring in the numbers. That’s okay for a private network, but I question whether that’s the way a national network should work. I would love to see some leadership from the top at CBC. The President, Hubert Lacroix may be the most invisible president the CBC has ever had. Do you know what his vision for the CBC is? I’ve never seen it, heard it or read it. Kirstine Stewart, once Stursberg’s leading yes woman, is surprise, surprise carrying on as if Stursberg were still telling her what is what.

You know the CBC did an internal survey this spring. They have managed to keep the results relatively quiet. Perhaps it wasn’t difficult because there were few surprises in the poll results. Little that was really newsworthy.

Let me sum up a few things about the survey. There were 65 questions in 12 categories. They organized them by favorable scores. As an example, employee engagement got 85%, while Leadership and Direction got only 31% approval. That last score is pretty amazing, by far the lowest of any category. Essentially, more than two-thirds of employees believe CBC management is incompetent.

Operating efficiency approval was at 33%. What does this say about the vast amounts of money the CBC is generating? Perhaps the CBC needs that money to overcome the internal waste and inefficiency. Keep in mind, these are figures for the CBC as a whole. Apparently, they are considerably lower for News and Current Affairs. For example, Leadership and Direction for all of CBC is at 31% approval, while for News and Current Affairs it was around 20%.

The CBC does need more dollars to do the job it is mandated to do properly. But I for one am not in favor of giving them one extra penny until they begin to serve all Canadians, to show leadership in culture and Canadian affairs and until the corporation hires leaders with a vision for the future that is based on more than numbers as well as leaders who can be trusted to do their jobs by more than fifty percent of their workforce.

Call me when you can give me a reason to care.

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5 Responses

  1. heywriterboy says:

    Howard, you know I am loathe to contradict anything the great man says but the fact of the matter is that this is one of those cases where you start from the premise of the CBC as everyone’s punching bag and just go to town.

    First, let’s take your way in to the story — the Deloutte report. It’s fashionable for everybody to poo-poo a report like this but the question I have to ask is, “why?” If it was a made-up, breezy, poorly researched thing then doesn’t the company put its reputation on the line for producing such a nose-stretcher? Isn’t this why polling firms take on elections — to advertise for their key business, the reports that will never be released?

    Is it just possible that Occam’s Razor is in play here, and that the simplest explanation — that the BBC and CBC have similar effects because they do similar work — is at play?

    You want to be down on the CBC and so you go in looking for the negative. In this case that puts you much closer to the right wingers who reflexively want it abolished.

    It’s all well and good to use that report as a news hook to lead into your true saw about cultural relevance, but you’re not dancing to the tune being played. I think many of these armchair quarterbacks do not really understand just how violently disinterested in the cultural argument — ANY cultural argumnet — the current government is. The lights go off in their eyes when you talk about it. They simply do not care. To make an argument about the CBC’s place in the culture isn’t just a losing proposition these days — it’s proof you’re the out of touch liberal they’re fighting against.

    If the discussion is now to be framed (at least for the next few years) around economic impact and reach, then that is not the CBC’s fault. That is the agenda the government has set and let it be known that it is all they will consider.

    Though I’m on the other side of the culture/news/tv line now, desperately scrabbling to produce and write the shows you and the news partisans so vehemently decry, I do share your desire for balance. I wish, as a public broadcaster, CBC was a bit bolder in promoting true cultural events and news and doc content in Prime Time. The Pendulum has swung too far, I think. But the Howitzer you’re using to attack the problem by damning any and all actions to justify survival — including the current report, has the effect of smearing up the glass so much one can’t see through to the truth underneath.

    It would be nice to restore some balance. The agitation for that fight can happen without questioning every single move, including the steps taken to frame the discussion in terms the current reigning overlords will accept.

    (By the way, this is where I point out the Liberals cut the CBC too.)

    Your report of the internal survey is actually much more interesting — especially the idea that news ranks even lower than the dismal leadership results across the board. That should be of concern to everyone. What do we do about that?

    • hlbtoo says:

      Hey Denis…it’s always great to hear from you. And, you know how much I love it when someone disagrees with me. Two basic points I want to make. First is that the Deloitte Touche Report is a red herring. All businesses generate much more economic activity than their direct profits and expenditures reflect. The BBC is a vastly larger enterprise than CBC. It produces far more of its own content. It spends more per program than any other network in the world. Any comparison is phony. I believe a study of most successful companies would produce the same or better numbers. More important, I don’t think Canadians and their government support or hate the CBC based on the money they generate. It’s the product they generate that garners support, and right now that product is sadly lacking. Check out Susann’s post because I think she hits the nail on the head…fewer and fewer people care anymore and that’s a direct result of the poor programming. That in the end allows right wing governments to make any cuts they want.
      Second, and more important, CBC viewers and listeners are richer, higher educated and older than any other radio and TV outlet. They are the people who do want culture. They do want depth. They do want quality news and current affairs. They are being turned off and they are not being replaced by the highly sought after young audience. Worse, these folks have more power and access to power to fight for the future of the CBC. Ever go to the ballet or the opera? When you do you will run into more Conservatives than Liberals or NDPers. That isn’t to say that I want all culture and news all the time. I want to see a mix of quality programs that include culture, comedy, drama, sports, and even reality for those that love the genre. What I crave more than anything, and I know you agree with me here, is quality. InSecurity is nobody’s idea of quality. If the CBC wants to survive they will have to do better. I want that. You want that. CBC viewers want that. I don’t give a damn what the government wants.

  2. Susann says:

    Talking about cultural value of CBC and k.d. and Leonard in the same sentence? As is often said, even a broken clock is correct twice each day.

    It took decades before CBC learned about viewer inclinations by putting on even a low budget post game sports show…to retain viewers. Seeking Stanley worked!!!

    Normally of course Vancouverites are breathlessly waiting for the CBC’s supperhour news….all 6,000 tuned in. Surely. Many of those TV’s were likely just people forgot their TV’s were even on. (even a broken clock…..). CTV supperhour roughly has about 10x the viewers of CBC and Global has 8X more daily viewers than what CTV has.

    CBC continues to get a free ride because very few of us care.

  3. Joe Clark says:

    I defend InSecurity, which dares to be silly and adeptly uses a light touch. I find the show much less asinine than Corner Gas, an unwatchable bore.

    InSecurity, Wipeout Canada (shot, like all of them, in Argentina), and some parts of Republic of Doyle represent an unabashed lightness that actually works. I do find that male TV critics, which nearly all are, consistently misunderstand the intent and execution of programs like these (also of Being Erica).

    But is it not fair to say that nothing at all will satisfy you except for the reinstatement of Opening Night?

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