Notes for remarks by Mr. Robert Rabinovitch, President and CEO, CBC/Radio-Canada, to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage: Study on the Future of the Canadian Television Fund

February 15, 2007


Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with you today about the Canadian Television Fund. As you noted, I am here today with Richard Stursberg, Executive Vice-President of CBC Television and a former Chair of the Board of the Canadian Television Fund, and Sylvain Lafrance, Executive Vice-President of our French Services.

Together we would like to talk with you about Canadian television production and the success of the Canadian Television Fund in building the independent production industry that makes those Canadian programs. First I'd like to say a few things about what the CTF means to the national public broadcaster.

I note that in order to examine the CTF you have delayed your review into the mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada. We look forward to coming back to this Committee when that review is underway, but these subjects are all interconnected.

An essential part of our mandate is to offer Canadian programming to Canadians. Last fall when we appeared before this Committee we talked about the importance of advertising revenue as one of our pillars; our Government Funding is another and in particular the $60M in additional funding we have received in each of the past six years for programming; the third is the Canadian Television Fund. Remove one of those pillars and you fundamentally alter the ability of CBC/Radio-Canada to fulfil its mandate.

Think of programs like The Rick Mercer Report, Et Dieu créa… Laflaque, Rumeurs, and Little Mosque on the Prairie. We are the only ones who offer so much Canadian programming because we are the only ones with the space in our prime-time schedules to offer these programs when most Canadians are watching television. But I would add we do not have nor do we want to have a monopoly on Canadian content. That is why an independent funding agency is critical to the health of Canadian broadcasting.

You have in front of you, two charts which show the evening television schedules for Canada's broadcasters in both the English and French markets. Canadian programs are in red. CTF-funded Canadian programs are indicated in green. Take away those programs and as you can see you're left with a lot of holes. What would you fill them with? More American programs?

Recently, some have said that the CTF is dead; that nobody watches those programs anyway. In fact that's not true. Canadian audiences to CTF-financed productions are increasing across all genres. In English, television audiences are up from 32 per cent in 2003 to 34 percent in 2005. On French television, they are up from 32 per cent to 56 per cent for the same period.

Is every show that gets CTF funding a hit as measured solely by audience numbers? Certainly not. Like any program on television, some succeed, some fail. For every success like Little Mosque on the Prairie, The Rick Mercer Report or Les Bougon there are others like René Lévesque or October 1970 that attract much smaller audiences. But does this make them less important? Our goal at CBC/Radio-Canada is not always to get the largest audience; it is to offer Canadians significant Canadian programs.

Why there is an Envelope

This brings me to the envelope. 37 per cent of the CTF is dedicated – not to CBC or Radio-Canada, but to independent producers who make programs that our two networks commit to broadcast. To look at that another way, approximately two-thirds of the Canadian Television Fund goes to programs that run on private commercial networks. There has been a lot of confusion recently about the CBC/Radio-Canada envelope, so I'd like to take a few minutes to talk about it.

First, the envelope recognizes that CBC/Radio-Canada is the only broadcaster with the “shelf space” to offer mostly Canadian programs when Canadians are watching television, that is during prime time – which is one of the key objectives of the Fund. The stability of having an envelope also helps ensure we have the ability to plan long-term for the Canadian productions on our airwaves.

The envelope also recognizes that the mandate of a public broadcaster is different – that it should not simply offer the programs that can chase the largest audience in competition with private broadcasters but instead, offer high-quality Canadian programming as per its mandate. Programs like St. Urbain's Horseman, The Englishman's Boy, Barney's Version, all part of the literary adaptation series, From Page to Stage, and Minuit le soir, Grande Ourse and Les hauts et les bas de Sophie Paquin.

Dedicating a portion of the Fund to programs on CBC and Radio-Canada is not new. In fact the 37 per cent envelope also reflects the average proportion of CTF-funded independent productions on CBC and Radio-Canada over the last ten years. When the CTF was established in 1996, 50 per cent of the CTF was dedicated to programs destined for the public broadcaster.

Last week, a former Minister of Canadian Heritage wrote in Le Journal de Montréal and in the Ottawa Sun that when she created the CTF, she considered simply giving the Government's portion of the Fund – $100 million dollars – to CBC/Radio-Canada. Instead, 50 per cent of Fund was dedicated to ensure that the public broadcaster teamed up with independent producers. And that is what we did. As a result, CBC Television has moved away from an emphasis on in-house production, and an independent Canadian production sector is flourishing in this country.

One final point: while the most recent CTF data predates the formal envelope, it is clear that CBC and Radio-Canada are delivering audiences to Canadian programs. If you look at the Canadian drama category, for example, CBC Television received about half of the CTF-funded programs made by independents yet it delivered two-thirds of the total audience to CTF-Funded drama. In other words, investing a portion of the Fund in projects on CBC and Radio-Canada is paying off with Canadian audiences.

So you can see what I mean by the CTF envelope being an important pillar for CBC/Radio-Canada. Take that pillar away and those programs disappear. And in fact there is no good reason to get rid of the Fund – it's working.

The Fund is working

The CTF objective is to preserve and build Canadian culture and identity. Canada's small market cannot in normal business terms support the high cost of quality television. Without the support provided by the CTF, there would be very little Canadian television which would capture Canadian experiences, sensibilities, perspectives and showcase actors, writers and directors who are Canadians. In English Canada more precisely, we would be a nation entertained almost completely by the stories, experiences and stars of other nations, primarily the US.

On the French side, the Fund affords the maintenance of a public-private balance, and diversifies the television offer, whether it is in drama, documentaries, or children's television; in keeping with the spirit of the Broadcasting Act.

Because of the CTF, there now exists a vibrant television production sector across the country employing over 16 thousand people and creating 2300 hours of prime-time Canadian programming.

It is fair to say, Mr. Chairman, the CTF is a central financial element of Canadian programming.

Room for improvement

Is the Fund perfect? Even representatives of the CTF told you last week there is room for improvement in the way the Fund operates. In response to Auditor General and Departmental reviews, the Board of the CTF continues to improve both the management and the objectives of the Fund. And all the Board members have been involved in this work.

The current situation

We believe that the current crisis in the CTF was triggered by two companies stating that they would withhold their contributions to the CTF. These are rules that the industry agreed to in return for an increase in cable rates equivalent to double their contribution to the CTF.

We are very grateful to see that the Government of Canada has shown leadership and renewed its contribution to the Canadian Television Fund for the next two years. It not only guarantees the stability of the Government's portion but it sends an important signal about the Government's commitment to the Fund. We also agree with the Minister's statement earlier this week that all stakeholders in the broadcasting system must play by the rules and respect their regulatory obligations. The opposite would have a devastating impact on the industry.

Faced with the threat of regulation by the CRTC, Quebecor has now signalled it will resume its monthly payments. And that is a good thing. However the stability of the Fund must be assured for the future. I would only say that, given the significance of the CTF to the broadcasting system, it is vital that CBC/Radio-Canada as well as independent producers be part of any discussion which may affect support for Canadian production and the opportunity for Canadians to enjoy these productions in prime time.

We would be pleased to answer your questions.

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