Transcript of a speech by Sylvain Lafrance, Executive Vice-President, CBC/Radio-Canada, French Services, and Richard Stursberg, Executive Vice-President, CBC/Radio-Canada, English Services, at the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television

June 2, 2009

Public Television in 2010 (PPT - 2.6 Mb)

Transcript of speech delivered

Sylvain Lafrance

Thank you, Mitsou. Thank you very much. First of all, I would like to thank Charles for the invitation. Charles, thank you for being a part of this exercise to see how French television and English television compare.

I can tell you that I have been working with Richard for the past four or five years, and we have initiated several very interesting experiments involving joint productions. Both of us are also trying to understand the market a little better. We have understood why our strategic approaches are different, and I hope that we can explain that to you here. I think, at the end of all of this, we will conclude that we are operating in very different environments, so we need very different strategies; yet the solutions that I would qualify as being structural solutions to industry problems are often the same for both French and English television. So we will be talking to you about those issues.

First, let us look at the Québec model. I’ll take ten minutes to convince you that it is a good model – and when I say “the Quebéc model,” I really do mean “the Québec model.” As you all know, Radio-Canada broadcasts its programming from coast-to-coast-to-coast, but when we discuss models and want comparable foundations, we often end up talking about the Québec model, which is a success – a recognised success. I think that our television industry is a success story that is recognised everywhere. The quality of our television, and especially our television’s power to attract audiences, is extraordinary. It is a widely envied model. I think that Richard must sometimes envy the Québec model’s power of attraction. He will explain why himself.

Now, why is that the model we use? There are a number of reasons. First of all, there is the audience, which is extremely loyal to our shows. We need to thank our audience, because for decades it has been viewers who have made Québec television such a mainstay of Québec’s cultural identity. Another reason is, no doubt, the talent of Québec television’s creative artists, and the stars who have captured the viewers’ affection to such an extent. It is extraordinary.

Yet another reason is, no doubt, yourselves – the independent producers – who have injected so much dynamic energy into the industry in recent decades. That energy is so important, and broadcasters, all broadcasters who have brought genuine diversity to the offering in the Québec television industry, have played a crucial role. Specialty and conventional services have combined to collectively generate genuine diversity in the offering. If we did not have that diversity, if it were not available on our channels, Québecers might be seeking it elsewhere, for example on US channels.

The final reason for the success of the Québec model, I would say, is legislation – statutes and regulations that bring public and private interests together to create a new kind of diversity in available programming and that support Canadian production. That is why we now have a healthy system, a system that provides genuine diversity. That is why we have organisations like Radio-Canada and Télé-Québec on one side of the equation and independent networks on the other, combining to deliver the kind of television of which we can all be tremendously proud.

The problem with this, of course, is that these days the model is under some pressure. There are real economic issues undermining it, and sometimes it seems as if the model may be cracking, or going off the rails. If we look at it in purely economic terms, there is some truth in that.

When it comes to conventional television, the model does not work any more. I often say that the greatest revolution is not that people are watching things on their computer screens, but that their expectations have changed. They have different expectations even for conventional television, and that is leading to a complete revolution in how programs are broadcast.

So how is Radio-Canada going to tackle these issues? I will discuss three different kinds of issues that, in my view, are extremely important. First, I will talk about program issues. What are our program issues at Radio-Canada? Let us start with our efforts to become a global media organisation, something that is extremely important to us.

We are not heading that way for economic reasons, or for technological reasons. First and foremost, we are doing it for our brand. In this slide, you can see a pie chart showing a breakdown of the television industry in Québec, in which we operate.

If we want to be recognised, and, as a broadcaster, if we want to rally our audience around our brand, then our brand has to be strong. Here is what I would like to see in the long term: whenever you receive a broadcast from Radio-Canada, be it on a mobile device, radio, television, the Internet, or by any other means, you will recognise the strength and personality of the public service Radio-Canada provides – in other words, you will recognise the brand. I consider that essential. Our public service convergence will be achieved through a convergence of strategy and brand. That is vital.

When it comes to programming, we in Québec must continue creating distinctive material, and making distinctive television. It is very important. Fortunately, I can reassure you on that score: we do indeed make distinctive television. When you add up the hours of current affairs programming on Radio-Canada television, look at the number of new variety shows and specialty programs, and look at the kind of variety we deliver, you will see that there is no question we make distinctive television.

I would go so far as to say that Radio-Canada television is now more distinctive than it has ever been. Think back to what we used to air: just pick any year, and I will pull up the prime-time schedule . . . what were we watching in 1975, 1980 or 1985? Bewitched and Marcus Welby, M.D., dubbed into French. Now, it is Providence and Sophie Paquin, or Tout sur moi . . . so no one can argue that our public television is not distinctive.

Another very important factor is the production of Canadian content. Take a look at the chart on the screen: at Radio-Canada, 86 per cent of the programming consists of Canadian shows. If we translate that into audience figures, we can say that 89 per cent of Radio-Canada’s audience is watching Canadian shows. We have always believed that 100 per cent is not the ideal target, and that we should also focus on showing the best television programming in the world. But Radio-Canada broadcasts a lot of Canadian content, and we are now working on a very promising line-up for the fall.

We have even had a few scoops for next season. Many people believe that we will be showing a lot of reruns in the fall . . . but you will be amazed at the quality of our programming. Our programming team has worked extremely hard, particularly with you producers, and we are preparing an extraordinary season for next year.

So, first, we have looked at program issues. Second, we have revenue issues. The conventional television model is worn out; it is at the end of its rope – no argument there. Let me give you an example to show you why that is so: go back to 1962 . . . do you know how many people watchedL'heure des Quilles off prime time on Radio-Canada? 2,600,000 people. And to make the program, all we needed were two cameras, two bowling alleys and two families. We even sold advertising on it . . . the cherry on the cake. It was a fabulous conventional television model. And at the time, it worked well . . . very, very well.

Nowadays, you can still draw 2.6 million viewers, but not very often, and certainly not on a Saturday afternoon. So it is not hard to understand why the conventional television model is not delivering anymore. That example says it all. If I were to list the 20 programs that drew the largest-ever audiences, all – or at least most – of them would date back to pre-1990, before fragmentation.

The picture looks totally different now. We want to take a new approach. Robert Trempe has joined the team, and heads the new Revenue group that we have established. We want to look at our revenues in a comprehensive manner, examine what we are doing from every angle, to ensure that we capture and diversify all revenues to support our economic model.

On that subject – since I have been talking so much about producers – I would like to say that we are, to some extent, bound by a common destiny . . . we will succeed together or fail together. So it is by working together with producers that we will be able to build this model successfully, and we will have to find win-win solutions to set up revenue-sharing formulas, and rights-sharing formulas, which in the future will preserve the Québec model for what it is. Our ultimate goal is to protect the success of the Québec model. That is extremely important to us, and it is something that we will achieve together.

We have looked at program issues and revenue issues. Third, we have organisational issues, and there are quite a few of them. We are well aware that we need to change our organisation and adapt it to the environment toward which we are moving. But can we change? Well, I can tell you one thing: I have been with Radio-Canada for 32 years . . . and the Corporation has been around for 74 years, so that is over half of its life. In 74 years, we have gone through a number of crises, and we have always managed to adapt. So let me assure you that we will adapt to these new circumstances; we will successfully adapt the organisation to the current crisis.

In our view, if we are to preserve the Québec model and the place of public television in it, we will need four extremely important winning conditions. The first winning condition is royalties. Not everyone agrees with me, but I feel that conventional networks that make the major news programs, operate regional stations and make significant dramas and drama series, for example, should be entitled to charge royalties. The current system makes no sense. Tying our hands and not letting us charge royalties makes no sense. And to all those who maintain that we have not proved that conventional television is in trouble, I would just say: read the papers, only the papers. Get your news and keep up with current affairs just by reading newspapers for a week or two, then tell me you still do not believe that conventional television is in trouble.

The second winning condition is the Canada Media Fund, which grew out of the Canadian Television Fund. The Media Fund is an excellent initiative, but we feel that it is vital that its guidelines promote diversity. We cannot just use program success as the benchmark, because that would not generate diversity. If we all set out to create popular programs, we will all end up creating the same program. Diversity within the offering must be encouraged, that is very important to us, and the Media Fund guidelines must encourage it.

The third winning condition is the Local Programming Improvement Fund – the LPIF – a regional production fund established by the CRTC. We do not say much about regional productions[???], yet they are very important. The LPIF is an excellent initiative by the CRTC, but the money will have to go into conceiving and making programs for regional audiences, and not into constructing buildings and transmitters, or into marketing activities. The money must be used to make programs in which people see themselves reflected, because that is what the regions need. This is extremely important.

The fourth winning condition is multi-year funding. At Radio-Canada, we have often said that multi-year funding would make it possible to manage the organisation with more predictability. We need to establish a contract with Canadians; some day, we will have to have the multi-year funding we need to manage our organisation properly.

If those four winning conditions are fulfilled, then Radio-Canada will continue to play its role in providing a public service in the 21st century. I am convinced that, when it comes to protecting cultural identity and democracy, our role in the 21st century will be more important than it ever was in the 20th century. But if the Québec model – which is founded on a balance between public and private interests – is to survive and continue, we need to achieve those winning conditions. I hope you will support your public broadcaster in our efforts. If we succeed and maintain the Québec model, Richard Stursberg will continue to envy me and we will all be very happy about that. Richard.

Richard Stursberg

Thank you, Sylvain, and a big thank you to the Academy. It is a great pleasure for me to be here in Montréal with so many longtime friends – friends from Telefilm Canada, friends from APFTQ, members of the Academy, and Mitsou, who put on a show for us on CBC Newsworld. It was a very interesting exploration of Québec culture for English speakers.

I will be saying a few words about the English market. The strategy we apply in the English market is completely different from the strategy in the Québec market. Let us go to our first slide.

There is the problem! It is as simple as that! All of the most popular English programs in Canada are foreign. It is strange. Even when we look at other cultural industries in English Canada, we find that the problems are different – basically, English Canadians read almost only Canadian newspapers and Canadian magazines, and like to listen to Canadian music.

Television remains the cultural sector most heavily dominated by foreign products, and that has been a historic problem for decades now. The CRTC and the Federal Government have developed a series of instruments to improve things. You know those instruments as well as I do: they include the Canadian content regulations, the Canadian Television Fund, now known as the Canada Media Fund (they changed its name), tax credits, and other measures. Yet these measures have not led to success in the English market.

The problem persists . . . and it is fascinating to see that, among industrialised countries, it is almost exclusive to English Canada. The Germans, French, Americans, and even Québecers – everyone else, in fact – would rather watch their own television programs. But not English Canadians.

Because the CBC is the largest cultural institution in English Canada, we believe that it is our responsibility to address English Canada’s most significant cultural problem. That is why our top priority is to work with independent producers in order to develop and make distinctively Canadian shows . . . shows that will draw English-Canadian audiences. We measure success by the size of our prime-time audiences.

Let us go to the second slide. Over the past four years, our schedule strategy has been radically different. We decided to put the focus on developing distinctively Canadian series. We abandoned our previous strategies, which were based on mini-series and MOWs – movies of the week – and have chosen to develop programs that fall within North American television conventions, and not to use European models.

At the same time, we have established and created a division – a production group – that focuses on what we call factual entertainment. Factual entertainment includes reality shows, game shows and so on. For reasons that I cannot fathom, in the past CBC had decided never to make reality shows. Why not? I have no idea . . . especially since probably the most significant trend in the television industry over the past 20 years has been the development of reality shows. But for reasons unknown to me, CBC decided it was not interested in reality shows.

With our shift in strategy, we have had some success. Here we have the 20 most-popular Canadian programs and, as you can see, 14 of them are CBC series. What is even more interesting, however, is the market share that CBC is capturing at present.

When we started reworking our schedule and changing our strategy, CBC had 6.7 per cent of the prime-time market. This season, we captured 8.7 per cent of the market and – a real first in English Canada’s history and a spectacular success – we attracted more viewers with our Canadian schedule than Global did with its wall-to-wall US line-up. So now we will be able to prove something really interesting: that you can, in fact, produce shows that draw English Canadians.

Let us go on to the third slide. There is something that we should note, something that is very important when it comes to the cultural strategy for English Canada. When we look at this slide, we can see that Canada's greatest cultural problem will never be solved by the private sector. The program schedules are dominated – and will continue to be dominated – by US shows.

That approach is fundamental to the economic strategy of the private conventional networks. Their business is to put US shows into their prime-time program schedules, using simultaneous substitution to bring in those revenues. That is the business that City, Global and CTV are in. There is no place for Canadian programs in their prime-time schedules. And there is no way to change that strategy, that approach, because it is based on economic realities.

When the economic crisis, which Sylvain spoke about, hit English Canada at the same time as it hit here, in French Canada, the first thing that the private networks asked for was permission to reduce the Canadian content they had to broadcast. In English Canada, only CBC has any real interest in Canadian content. And clearly, only CBC is able to meet – and wants to meet – the Canadian content challenge.

As Sylvain explained at the beginning, our problems are different. The French and English markets are different. But the winning conditions that we need for Radio-Canada and for CBC are the same. Sylvain outlined four winning conditions that need to be met and fulfilled. First and foremost, we need continued access to the Canadian Television Fund – now called the Canada Media Fund. This is crucial, both for CBC and for Radio-Canada.

Second, we need the Local Programming Improvement Fund, which supports regional programming. When the economic crisis started taking hold in English Canada, the second thing that independent broadcasters decided to do was withdraw from their regional responsibilities. But having solid roots in the regions is a crucial aspect of CBC’s strategy.

Third, if the CRTC determines that fees are necessary and that cable companies have to pay us for our programs, then we will also need access these fees as a source of revenue, under exactly the same conditions as are enjoyed by the privates.

And lastly, as Sylvain said, multi-year funding is also very important. A few years go, we suggested that the Canadian Government enter into a contract with CBC – we called it a “contract with Canadians.” In such a contract, we would say: “Here’s what we are going to do,” and the Government would say: “OK, here is the money you need to get it done.” It would be a contract between the Government and CBC. That is how BBC operates. They have a ten-year contract.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I find it ironic, and also quite sad, that English Canada is now so concerned about the financial health of the privates who, from a cultural standpoint, contribute almost nothing. Yet almost no one is as concerned about CBC’s weakened state. I am well aware that here – and that is why I am always so happy to be in Montréal – we can have a conversation about the importance of culture in Québec that is almost impossible to have in English Canada, and for those reasons, I would like to thank you very, very much.

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