CBC President and CEO Catherine Tait said more and more Canadians are turning to streaming, while CBC “stays here faithfully broadcasting on the air.” Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail
CBC chief says he’s preparing to end traditional TV and radio and go all-digital as audiences switch to streaming, but that’s unlikely to happen in the next decade.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Catherine Tait, president and CEO of CBC, said the network is eventually preparing to put all of its content online just “to stay relevant.”
She said more and more Canadians are turning to streaming as the CBC “sits here loyally broadcasting on the air.”
“If we want to be audience first, we have to be digital first,” she said. “We get up every day and say, ‘What does our audience want and where is it?’ And they are increasingly digital. So if we are not there, we are no longer relevant.
She also criticized the Conservatives’ call to defund the CBC, calling it a “slogan” and expressing hope that Heritage Secretary Pablo Rodriguez would reject a Senate amendment banning the CBC from accepting sponsored content.
Ms. Tait said: “The core of the TV audience is 55+, or around 65+, so there are young people and various newcomers to Canada…they’re online.
His comments followed the revelation in December by BBC Director General Tim Davie that the British public broadcaster was preparing to become an online-only service within the next decade.
Ms Tait said change is unlikely to happen anytime soon in Canada, as it requires “broadband ubiquity” to ensure that all Canadians – regardless of where they live or socio-economic status – have access. an adequate Internet for viewing programs and programs for streaming films.
Ms Tait hit back at the Conservatives’ campaign to remove CBC funding from public grants, saying her “defund the CBC” campaign was a tactic to solicit donations.
“They have an online fundraiser that specifically says, ‘We’re going to save you $1 billion, please send $20.’ “In 2022, CBC received $1.24 billion from the government, or 66% of CBC/Radio-Canada funding.
She accused Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre of launching attacks on the channel, saying: “There’s a lot of CBC bashing – somewhat fueled by the Leader of the Opposition.
“I think they feel that the CBC is the mouthpiece of the Liberal government,” she said.
On Friday, Mr Poilievre took questions from reporters in the House of Commons on gun control and accused a CBC reporter of trying to help the prime minister.
Ms Tait said CBC/Radio-Canada was operating on the same budget as 30 years ago – “it’s a third less in real dollars”.
“Thirty years ago, we were doing linear television and linear radio. And today we do those two things plus Gem streaming, streaming radio and digital platforms that we do,” she said. “So we have completely tripled our performance, and with less money.”
Besides CBC Gem, which includes drama, there’s also CBC Listen, which streams audio; explore CBC News; ICI TOU.TV (Radio-Canada streaming video service); and Radio-Canada OHdio, a French-language audio broadcasting service.
“We don’t want to drag Canadians into the digital world. They take us with them,” said Ms. Tait, who founded digital content provider iThentic before taking on the top job at CBC. “We’ve seen it in the pandemic, streaming subscriptions are blowing up and these people aren’t going back to conventional TV.”
The Broadcasting Act states that the CBC must “provide radio and television services,” so such a change may also require a change in the Act.
“We are the only station in the system committed to serving all Canadians,” she said. “So that means rural audiences may well have their televisions – we’re not going to let them down.”
She said some shows are doing better on digital platforms even now. She urged producers approaching the CBC wanting to “edit TV shows” to think differently and maybe “edit a podcast” instead.
Ms Tait said CBC scored a “big win” when its broadcasting license was renewed last year by the regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Communications Commission, in terms of recognition of Canadian content in the CBC digital domain.
“The CRTC has declared for the first time in history that we will count your Canadian content commitments on your streaming platform,” she said.
She says she is watching closely this week to see if Mr. Rodriguez accepts a Senate amendment to Bill C-11 that could affect Radio-Canada’s revenues.
The amendment stated that the CBC could not “develop or broadcast on behalf of an advertiser any advertisement or announcement designed to resemble journalistic programming.”
The CBC already has paid content on some digital pages, but no national news, and it’s labeled as such.
Ms Tait said the Senate’s change on paid CBC content was “odd” because Bill C-11 is “not the place for that conversation”.
“Do I think there should be a conversation about the ultimate model of the public broadcaster? Of course,” she said. “But this is not the place.”
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