I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

Gifts from the CBC

I have always been amazed at the greed of the very rich. Occupy Wall Street and all the other occupy groups around the world are right to be more than a little upset at the folks they call the “1%” who now seem to own a large percentage of the world’s wealth and with a few exceptions, reject the idea of paying more taxes on their incomes even though our governments are building up huge debts.

What though, does this have to do with broadcasting?

In the past few days I was shocked to hear that the CBC has joined the people who pander to the ultra rich. You all know of, or have at least heard the stories about very rich performers, athletes and celebrities being wooed by television awards productions with amazing swag. The producers arrange to have a room on site that they fill with expensive gifts and toys for the ultra rich who have everything. The gifts are supplied by the manufacturers at no cost to the production just to get them into the right hands. The right hands means the Madonnas, Paris Hiltons, Brad Pitts, George Clooneys and the like. The theory is that if we rabble see Brad or Paris with a certain shirt or bag, we will want one too.

When a celebrity shows up for an appearance, he or she is led to the swag room where they can pick out anything that they want. Generally that amounts to just about one of everything on offer, whether they need the items or not.

These are people who can easily afford to buy the products. Why buy when you can get the swag for free?

Well it seems that the CBC now has a swag room. It was created, as I understand it, just for George Stroumboulopoulos’ guests. I can only jump to the conclusion that this was considered by George’s producers as a necessary way to keep the big stars coming to his program. I just don’t know why. Most if not all the A-list guests George gets come on his show to publicize something…a new movie, a new CD or DVD, a new tour, a new book. The guests need George as much as George needs the guests. I believe they will show up whether George bribes them with swag or not. Perhaps they think the swag will put the guest in a better frame of mind for the interview. I suspect not. These folks are so used to the idea of free stuff I am not even sure they notice it. Just one more swag room in their world of never ending swag, the Christmas list taken care of without ever having to shop.

Is it just me or does this practice look more than a little unseemly for a network owned by the people of Canada, in fact a network that cries poor at every opportunity and is looking at a ten percent cut in their endowment from the government?

I know the swag probably doesn’t cost them a penny, well other than maintaining the room, stocking the shelves, getting on the phone to arrange for the swag and then the replacement products when the room begins to look a little bare. There must be a staff who are paid to maintain the room and the flow of products. You wouldn’t want to have an embarrassing swag room that has too little on offer or products that no respectable celebrity would want to be seen wearing. So there must be some cost.

Worse though is the message it sends to the folks who pay the CBC’s bills. The millionaires and the billionaires are welcome to get all the free things on offer. The taxpayer gets the benefit of an interview with Sting.

I suppose it’s not relevant, but all of this is going on for a show that has never caught on with the CBC viewing public. The numbers remain miserable even after years of the program being on the air and getting some of the best promotional time and money from the corporation.

I think we would all be a lot more forgiving if the swag was given out Oprah style. That is, openly and to the audience rather than the wealthy guest. But alas it isn’t so. George and his team, as well as CBC brass have done everything they can to keep the swag room a secret. They had to know it would not play well to the masses.

Oh, and in case you think CBC management may not like the idea or have second thoughts, not a chance. It seems among the first people to inspect the swag room, and by the way, leave with one of everything on offer, was none other then the boss, Kirstine Stewart. Her significant other Zaib Shaikh joined her at the trough. They, unlike the rest of us, didn’t even have to be a guest on George’s show to get their gifts.

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Filed under: Media Commentary, , , ,

14 Responses

  1. Kay says:

    Yet another reason Kirstine Stewart should be dumped as a CBC boss – of course if she was, there’d be another huge bill in the form of severance..

  2. Markus from Oakville says:

    Howard,

    For those who have ever worked at the CBC, this is in no way surprising.

    There has long been a double standard when it comes to sponsorships and backroom bling. Ordinary employees (which is to say, anyone on the CMG pay scale) are forbidden from accepting gifts, promoting products, working out corporate sponsorships, etc.

    Behind the scenes though, we all know it goes on. Management turns a blind eye when it comes to someone higher up. Ask any of the higher profile CBCNN personalities how much they pay for their bling, and what kinds of discounts/freebies they receive. The irony here is that these are already people who are given very generous clothing allowances (upwards of $10K a year in many cases, on the taxpayers dime) to “compensate” for not being able to work out sponsorships. So the irony is, they (and management) can (and do) accept lavish free dinners, theatre tickets, advance screenings, etc. while at the same time, turn around, buy a $100 pair of socks and charge it to the Corp.

    And yes, the socks thing does happen.

    There are even occasions when the coziness with corporate sponsors can influence news coverage. Cirque Du Soleil signs an advertising deal with CBC to promote its latest show, and lo and behold, Keith Boag is “assigned” to do a story covering it from LA, presumably as a “news story.” His story runs several times a day on CBC NN, and local markets across the country. Make of that what you will.

    It would be fine if the CBC were a private institution. But it’s not. And since they are blocking so many FOI requets, there’s no way to hold them accountable. I guess we should all just take Hubert Lacroix’s word for it.

  3. Joe Clark says:

    When you say you were “shocked to hear” about the swag-bedecked green room, you are telling us you have a confidential source with direct knowledge of the matter?

    Or is this just a rumour you’re repeating?

    You didn’t describe your sources.

    • hlbtoo says:

      Joe you never fail me. This time I want to thank you for being you. It gives me the opportunity to tell everyone that I double sourced the story and in fact much of it was also in the Toronto Sun and Toronto Life. I guess I came late to the story. That doesn’t make me any less shocked by the facts.

  4. empirella says:

    Hey there! Here’s my insight on your question of “why swag rooms” for CBC shows…

    If we look at the one created for the TIFF season by the George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight team, I don’t think it helps the show or the celebs but more so Canadian business owners who get to be a part of it. That’s the point of swag, from a PR perspective.

    The show has all these super famous people coming through their doors during TIFF – people with the power to really help the sales of a small business that makes art or t-shirts or beauty products or whatnot, if ever they were to mention or wear those products in public or to their celebrity friends.

    By offering Canadian companies a chance to place their products in that room, the CBC is giving them a huge (free) marketing opportunity and a chance at free endorsement by a celebrity. This is, of course, at no cost to the CBC, so shows like George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight are simply creating and facilitating an opportunity. You’re right, it’s not like stars wouldn’t come to the show – or to TIFF – if there wasn’t any swag. They’re here to work and promote films. But it’s a darn good opportunity to put some Canadian product in their hands and try to spread the word.

    On that note, I personally really like that the room that George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight created for TIFF was all-Canadian and featured many small companies and artisans. Matt & Nat weren’t part of their swag room but they’re a great example of a Canadian company whose business has really grown based on celebrities being snapped wearing their eco friendly and vegan accessories. It would normally cost companies big PR dollars to get their products in the hands of those people and it’s nice to see them get this opportunity – not to mention how awesome it is to introduce the work of Canadians to some big international stars.

    Finally, both Strombo.com and cbc.ca/live did give away hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise from that swag room to audiences as well.

    All in all, I think it’s a really good thing.

    • hlbtoo says:

      Hi Empirella…that is in fact the best explanation I have received…and that includes calls to the CBC. Thank you.

  5. Max says:

    ” The guests need George as much as George needs the guests.”

    “I suppose it’s not relevant, but all of this is going on for a show that has never caught on with the CBC viewing public. The numbers remain miserable even after years of the program being on the air and getting some of the best promotional time and money from the corporation.”

    So you’re saying that the guests need to promote themselves on a show nobody watches? I really think the second point invalidates the first, and in fact, strengthens the argument for needing a swag room.

    • hlbtoo says:

      Hi Max….two things: 1 the celebs who come to town book on to many, many shows. Seldom do they ask for audience numbers and demographic breakdowns. They are here to sell their latest project and their publicists fill out their dance cards. George has no competition for his time slot in Toronto thus he bags all the stars. To further explain, he is not getting better or worse guests since he opened a swag room.
      2. The audience numbers are in fact dismal, they seldom rise to above 100,000 and often drop to as little as 15,000.

  6. Max says:

    Here’s an article from last year that gives some detail on what the swag actually is. After reviewing, it’s pretty obvious we’re not talking Academy Award calibre swag.

    http://www.torontolife.com/daily/hype/tiff-talk/2010/09/09/the-swag-series-george-stroumboulopouloss-celeb-guests-take-ketchup-chips-and-clamato-back-to-the-u-s/

  7. George says:

    Empirella,

    Who benefited from the party that Kirstine Stewart and CBC hosted at TIFF for/with George? How much did it cost the taxpayer? It was at Toronto’s One restaurant in Yorkville, one of the priciest in Canada.

    http://www.torontolife.com/daily/hype/tiff-talk/2011/09/10/george-strombo-party-at-one-tiff-11/

  8. Cathy says:

    While Empirella’s argument for a swag room is pretty convincing, this scenario still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It means our public broadcaster is promoting certain products or entrepreneurs, when they should be keeping a distance from them, regardless of whether they are small independent businesses or large corporations. This whole practice of giving gifts to celebrities – that 1% who do make so much more money than the rest of the population – is disgusting. Stewart and her beau’s spree in the green room is just plain tacky. But I would expect nothing less from them.

  9. Max says:

    George-

    Are you seriously asking how much a party cost the tax payers out of CBC’s government funding? Is that after any corporate sponsorship?

  10. JeffK says:

    CBC swag.
    On their budget I can only imagine….A Roots toque, maple syrup….maybe a snow shovel.

  11. JeffK says:

    I just read the Toronto Life article and imagine my surprise. Not so much that they ARE giving out tuques and maple syrup but that they’re not handing out snow shovels.

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