Six days of interventions at the CRTC’s CBC/Radio-Canada licence renewal hearing kicked off Monday with Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) President Kevin Desjardins stating that a market-driven public broadcaster negatively disrupts an already challenged private broadcasting sector.
Desjardins opened addressing both the massive shifts in consumer behaviour and the impact of COVID-19 on broadcasters, while pointing out that according to regulator data, private local TV stations outspent CBC/Radio-Canada on conventional television news programming three to one – $374 million to the public broadcaster’s $122 million.
With private local TV broadcasters suffering $681 million in accumulated losses between 2015 and 2019 and estimates they’ll be down another $200 to $300 million by the end of this year, at the heart of the CAB intervention is a desire to see the public broadcaster be held to its expenditure and local programming requirements.
“The crux of our concern with the proposals put forward by CBC/Radio-Canada through this process is a growing emphasis on the public broadcaster being market-driven rather than mandate-driven,” said Desjardins. “As a result, we believe that the Commission will need to play a vital role in determining what CBC/Radio-Canada should do, and what it shouldn’t.”
With local news now threatened in some markets, the CAB argues that the public broadcaster must play a “more distinctive and complimentary role,” focused on local and regional news in underserved markets, like the North.
“What concerns us is we’re seeing the public broadcaster looking for less oversight and fewer conditions of licence and fewer exhibition requirements and stretching those exhibition requirements out to platforms where we’re not entirely sure that they would intend to quantify what amounts to exhibition,” said Desjardins, who added that expenditure requirements for the public broadcaster should at least meet, if not exceed those of private broadcasters.
The CAB argues that CBC/Radio-Canada’s increasingly market-driven strategy comes at a significant public policy cost and disrupts private broadcasters’ ability to meet their regulatory obligations.
Desjardins cited decreases in Canadian content on television and more commercial TV programming, noting Family Feud and Notre vie (the French-language version of This is Us) as examples. Desjardins also questioned the public broadcaster’s move to establish Hamilton as a new local digital market, while already well-served by CHCH-TV and The Hamilton Spectator, in addition to controversial in-house branded content initiative, Tandem.
“At minimum, CBC/Radio-Canada should be prohibited from selling local TV and online advertising in markets where local private radio and TV stations are present,” said Desjardins.
“A mandate-driven public broadcaster can complement our shared broadcasting system well. A market-driven CBC/Radio-Canada negatively disrupts an already challenged private broadcasting sector, and undermines all of our ability to appropriately serve the public,” he added.
Other intervenors set to appear individually Monday include Société nationale de l’Acadie; St. John’s, NL gender activist April Halley; and public broadcaster watchdog FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting.
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