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CBC Budget Cuts

June 3, 2012

I’ve been a loyal CBC radio listener for many years.  I change back and forth between Radio 1 and Radio 2, depending on what is on at the time.  I don’t watch television of any sort.  I’m sure that makes me unusual.  Most people only think of the CBC as one of the television broadcasters.  When the recent cuts to the CBC’s budget were announced, I was concerned that some of my favorite radio programs would disappear.  Of course, this depends on what areas the CBC would decide to cut.  They have a whole variety of options.

The obvious response is to minimize the effect on the audience, by cutting mostly behind-the-scenes activities.  This is often called `cutting the fat’.  If they were completely successful in this method, they would also be demonstrating that the cuts were beneficial.  The result might even be further budget cuts.  This can’t be desirable.

Maybe then they should attempt to maximize the effect on audience.  Cut services that are highly visible.  This activity might lead to cries of anguish from the audience, and may even lead to a restored budget.  Is it worth the risk?  Is it responsible?

A different response would be to migrate to new technologies for delivery of their programming.  This is a way to keep up with changes while saving money at the same time.  They risk losing some of their existing audience for the chance to gain a new audience.  They might want to eliminate all on-air broadcasting but make all their material available on cable and on the Internet.  To accomodate such a radical change in delivery, they would certainly have to change the nature of their programming as well.  There’s a risk here too.

Maybe the CBC should simply emulate the commercial broadcasters and compete directly with them.  This means the same programming and the same commercials.  Clearly, this option would result in complaints of unfair competition  from the commercial broadcasters.  I, for one, would stop listening to CBC radio because I hate commercials.  I’d have to find some other way to get the music and local news that I enjoy now.

On the other hand, perhaps the CBC should broadcast only in markets where the commercial services are not economic.  This option would certainly please the commercial broadcasters, as it would get the CBC out of their lucrative markets.  It would also be contrary to the mandate of the CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster.

This is their mandate.  Perhaps they should respond to budgets cuts by adhering closely to it.  The main points are to promote Canadian identity and production, maintain coverage across Canada, and to use efficient technologies.  There is plenty of room here to introduce changes.  Perhaps the mandate could become an opportunity instead of a restriction.  Of course, many broadcasting activities could be fit within the mandate, some with a bit too much squeezing.  It does bring the force of law to their activities.

The usual response of an organization to an economic threat is to retreat to their core competencies.  For the CBC, these would be news gathering and presentation, and high-quality national programming.  They do this in the hope that they can expand again when economic conditions improve.  It’s a protective measure, not necessarily one that takes account of the changing needs of the customers.  Going too far in this retreat can only lead to the organization becoming irrelevant.

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