Broadcasting, the less we watch, the more they want us to pay

By ANGELO PERSICHILLI (The Hill Times)

Dec. 5, 2016

The dispute between the CBC and the private broadcasters over the right to collect advertising looks like the fight between tired old dogs around a shrinking bone.

Private broadcasters believe their revenue shrinks because of the CBC’s “unfair competition,” being publicly subsidized and, at the same time, selling commercials. The reality is that they lose advertisers because they lose viewers.

The CBC, however, pretending to buy into that argument, is willing to become commercial-free, asking in return to be fully subsidized by taxpayers. The price tag is extra $400-million. Basically, the government would take money from the taxpayers, give it to the CBC, and that money would turn into funds for private broadcasters as advertisers returned.

The typical question asked by CRTC is: what’s the benefit for the taxpayers who would foot the bill for this operation?

Nothing. Real money against a promise to do better in the future from organizations built on a structure that has no future. Broadcasters are unable to run their businesses that are losing customers and have no plan to turn things around.

Whenever private broadcasters have a problem running a profitable business because viewers leave them in droves, it is never their fault. Sometimes they blame American competitors, new technology or, in this case, the CBC.

Again, broadcasters are losing advertisers not because the CBC lures them (it has little power to lure aside from a few good radio programs), but because they lose viewers. They should know that advertisers follow viewers, not the other way around.

But they avoid this debate because it would question their ability to run their businesses in this new era of technological changes. Being unable to successfully go after the viewers, they go after their money.

As previously mentioned, the CBC’s proposal to become commercial free is nothing more than an indirect way to funnel public money into private broadcasters’ coffers. It is not a coincidence that the $400-million the CBC is asking is the same amount it is presently raising from commercials.

To increase the pressure on government, the CBC mentions polls showing Canadians are in favour of a fully public-funded CBC. Without questioning the credibility of the polls, lately unable to even predict what day Christmas will fall on, we also know that most Canadians are pro-environment—but don’t ask them to pay for it.

So instead of talking about the new era of broadcasting, we fall back into the old habit of asking for new public money to fix old problems. To circumvent taxpayers’ reluctance to finance private activity, they camouflaged the debate with the noble issue about the existence of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., not as a provider of an effective service, but as a Canadian icon like the flag or the loonie.

I am not against a national publicly financed broadcaster, I am against the CBC using moral blackmail to get funding rather than simply proving its capacity to do its job.

In conclusion, CBC would let us believe that with Canadians giving them $400-million more, it would solve its transition to the digital era, eliminate the problems in the private broadcasting, and improve Canadian programming. Wow, they just solved a lot of problems for this country’s broadcasting industry.

How? Aside from a mention of the BBC model almost impossible to import in Canada, no details. They will probably cover American elections better than CNN (ignoring party leadership races in Canada), send their anchors to Cuba to broadcast the news live from Havana for Castro’s funeral, broadcasting more American shows than NBC during prime time and encouraging our talents to migrate South of the border to develop their skills.

Ladies and gentlemen, with the affordable expense of $400-million, all problems will be solved.

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