Speaking notes for Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO, CBC/Radio-Canada, to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage

December 7, 2010

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Chairman, members of the committee,

On behalf of Kirstine Stewart and Sylvain Lafrance, i would like to thank you for your invitation to talk about the changing media landscape and what it means to the public broadcaster.

Let’s begin with new platforms. For CBC/Radio-Canada they are an opportunity; they enable us to reach more Canadians, and engage with them in more meaningful ways than we could do before.

As we said in our submission to the government’s recent digital economy consultation, CBC/Radio-Canada is becoming a catalyst for both the creation and consumption of Canadian digital content.

I could spend some time giving you the numbers like;

  • Twenty million hits to content on CBC/Radio-Canada’s youtube channel.
  • Seven million unique visitors to our digital platforms every month.

But numbers don’t describe the transformation that’s taking place. CBC/Radio-Canada is becoming more than a broadcaster. It is a meeting place. Every day our digital content is bringing Canadians together, creating new links between the public broadcaster and the public we serve.

Last month, Canadians watched our remembrance day tribute to Canada’s fallen soldiers in Afghanistan with the television documentary “we will remember them” on our French and English networks. Canadians are still connecting with that program on our CBC.ca website, where each soldier has a web page put together by their families and friends. And where audiences can add their thoughts on what that sacrifice has meant.

When we heard last year that the life expectancy of Canadians was declining, we decided to get involved.

In January, CBC will launch “live right now”, a six-month multiplatform initiative to help Canadians live healthier lives. We’ve created it in partnership with eight non-profit organizations like breakfast for learning, participaction and the Canadian diabetes association. It’s built around a new online social network where Canadians can find advice and can inspire each other to reach their goals.

  • They’ll be able to sign up for the million pound challenge; a group pledge to lose a million pounds by canada day.
  • Run run revolution will follow middle school students across the country, training for a long distance race.
  • And in January, “village on a diet” will follow the residents of Yaylor, B.C., who, with the help of nutritionists and health experts, inspire each other to get healthy.

That’s how we’re using multiple platforms to engage with Canadians. But our success depends on that content being accessible. This is where i believe vertical integration poses some challenges.

CBC/Radio-Canada is now the only national broadcaster not owned by a cable or satellite company. We have concerns about the control and distribution of content by these integrated companies: how do we ensure Canadians will have equal access to a diverse range of Canadian content in this new environment?

That’s part of reason why we, at Radio-Canada, created TOU.TV last January. The video-on-demand platform is the only place where Canadians can find an incredible variety of dramas, documentaries, animation, and web series, from francophone public broadcasters the world over. TOU.TV is the new meeting place.

The response has been overwhelming; over eighteen million views, as well as critical acclaim as the best web site of the year.

Think about this; with the important exception of radio, virtually all Canadians now depend on cable, satellite, phone and internet service providers for their information, enlightenment and entertainment,

And, so do we. CBC/Radio-Canada depends on these companies to ensure that our content is available to Canadians. We’ve negotiated agreements with some distributors; Rogers, Quebecor and bell, but we still have problems making our local programming available to Canadians.

Local stations are where our connection to communities is often the deepest. We think it is an essential part of our public broadcasting mandate. Yet satellite subscribers in prince edward island can’t watch their local Charlottetown CBC station because it’s not offered by either bell Expressview or Shaw direct. In Quebec, Radio-Canada has six local tv stations. Bell carries only three of them on satellite. Shaw carries just one.

It’s frankly, counterproductive when the CRTC is trying to increase the amount of local content through the local programming improvement fund but subscribers can’t see the content that’s created.

The CRTC is looking at this situation. We believe satellite carriage of these local stations should be guaranteed.

Even the success of TOU.TV depends on the streaming offered by internet service providers. So what if an ISP feels online video is taking up too much bandwidth on the internet, and starts to throttle the speed of content? How can one ensure that vertically integrated companies don’t give preferential treatment to their own properties?

We believe the only way is through effective regulatory safeguards that ensure Canadians have access to Canadian content regardless of who owns the distribution network.

We understand why these companies are integrating. They are adapting in order to find their way in the digital environment. So are we.

But we also have a statutory responsibility; to provide a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains Canadians. That’s our public service mandate and it influences everything we do, every decision we take.

We’ve told you before about the financial challenges we’ve faced and managed. I won't dwell on those issues today.

We need to look ahead. We need to invest more of our resources in creating content on all media platforms; in ensuring that we can build this public space where Canadians interact. In order to do that, we’ve needed a new strategy; a road map to guide us in the digital environment.

We will be sharing our strategy with Canadians in the new year. For now, i can tell you that three principles guide our thinking;

1. We will create and deliver more original,quality Canadian content;

2. We will reinforce our presence in Canada’s regions;

3. And we will expand how we use our online platforms to engage with Canadians.

The bottom line is this: CBC/Radio-Canada is well-positioned to be a powerful catalyst in the creation and consumption of Canadian digital content. We would appreciate your help in three areas.

  • First, support for stability in our funding (particularly the $60 million envelope that is so crucial to our Canadian programming successes).
  • Second, guaranteed carriage of national and local television signals so that satellite subscribers have access to the local programming we offer.
  • And third, effective regulatory safeguards to ensure that digital platforms bring Canadians more choice and diversity, not less.

Thank you for your time. We would be pleased to take your questions.

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