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The CBC, and some politics, and some thoughts. | Wired Cola

The CBC, and some politics, and some thoughts.

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Honest, I love the CBC, I guess, sort of. They had me on the radio once, and it was fun, and before that, they flew me to Toronto to be on a game show, so they've been really nice to me. But I've got thoughts....

So this week news washed over the transom that the CBC, along with many other Crown corporations, faces more direct Treasury Board intervention in its union bargaining.

Now, I have experienced exactly this at the bargaining table, from the union side, because of how bargaining was done with provincial post-secondary institutions. There was a rep at the table who was not from the college, but from the Public Sector Employer's Council, a special group that effectively ties the employer's bargaining mandates to the desires of the government.

Bargaining like this is about exerting control over sectoral bargaining and wage mandates. The government doesn't want wage rises in one part of the public sector to set precedents in other parts (there may also be a big helping of no-confidence in the ability of the organization's managers and directors to run within their budget. If so, this is a heavy-handed but pragmatic way to manage a huge portion of the operating cost in as apolitical a fashion as possible (it's only money, ha ha)).

This is probably mostly good for taxpayers. It limits wage rates about as well as possible. Of course, as the guy trying to get a raise (and from a college that had done a good job of its finances and enrolment levels), it sucked because we were tied to a pretty brutal mandate (not to mention the fortunes of other colleges, some of which were in pretty dire financial straits).

Some of my friends got pretty excited about the CBC news, thinking it was a grasp at the autonomy (!) of the CBC in some way. I think I've described the relatively apolitical goal of this power-grab, but let's talk CBC as an institution for a moment.

Name a CBC TV show you actually watch. Great! Now name something other than Hockey Night in Canada. Hm. I can no longer do so, since the uneven spy-com "Insecurity" went off-air (and let's face it, that show was pretty stupid, but I loved it, if only for the episode where NISA (a CSIS stand-in) went up against the Dutch intelligence service. Watch it if you dare, Canadians.

As a person who actually did loyally watch every episode of a recent CBC drama (or indeed any other non-sports show on the ceeb), I may have a leg up on everybody reading this little story. Indeed, even in the world of the famous slow-motion death of mainstream over-the-air television, CBC's TV ratings are not just a little bad, they are cover-your-eyes awful in every way. You can see in that snapshot (picked as just the recent weekly (April 8-14) ratings report, there's lots and lots of nearly identical ratings reports; this is representative. Out of the top 30 shows in Canada, CBC has four: "Hockey Night in Canada (East)", "Dragons' Den", "Murdoch Mysteries", and "Hockey Night in Canada (West)". CBC's news broadcast is murdered by various CTV news shows (CTV's early, late, and weekend news shows are all top-30; no CBC news show is top-30).

Also, Canadians love "The Big Bang Theory" like crazy. The new episodes are higher rated than HNIC, and the daily reruns of the show beat every CBC show except "HNIC (East)".

I could say more snarky things about the CBC, but I already have. In 2006, I observed nearly the same ratings patterns. I also had a notable debate that same year about the existence of CBC TV in which, among other things, my prime antagonist (a sincere and decent man who was not arguing disingenuously) admitted that he didn't watch anything on CBC TV.

In several of those previous notes, I professed my conflicted but devoted love of CBC radio, even as I trashed the TV service. Returning to local radio ratings again, the story is again the same: CBC Radio One is a player, behind only QM FM in audience share, (and again, I believe CHQM's ratings profile is a result of their status as the official radio station of work places that want inoffensive ambient music). The also-rans are a diverse bunch, and I don't know enough to interpret the interestingly divergent "share" and "cume" numbers, but it looks like CBC listeners tune in and stay tuned, while CBC non-listeners avoid it like the plague. Many stations don't have that pattern: CHQM has massive cume as well as share, and the all-bass music station "The Beat" (CFBT) has a respectable share but nearly triple the cume of Radio One. CBC Two is interesting, with nearly the cume of CBC One, but less than half the share. I think this marks them as a relative bit player in the market: they're ninth-ranked in share, and 12th in cume.

As to why the radio station is important, it may be this: I might have a philosophical objection to the existence of a taxpayer-subsidized radio station (even as I love the commercial-free format, hypocrite me), but if the grand bargain was to shed the monstrous TV broadcaster while protecting the remarkably competitive radio service, I'd jump at that, with its promise of freeing up the vast majority of the billion-odd dollars that the federal government puts into CBC services. I don't see substantial synergy between the radio and television networks, either; in Vancouver they share a common building, but radio stations are much smaller affairs than TV stations. And I think it's worth crediting the CBC Radio staff for putting out content that Canadians actually like!