Licence Renewal – French Services Panel Opening Remarks

November 20, 2012, Ottawa

Steven Guiton:

Mr. Chair, Vice-Chair, and Commissioners,

Hello again. For the record, my name is Steven Guiton and I’m Vice-President and Chief Regulatory Officer with CBC/Radio-Canada. Joining me this morning to talk about French Services are:

  • Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada
  • Patricia Pleszczynska, Executive Director of Regional Services
  • Louis Lalande, Executive Vice-President of French Services
  • Marie-Philippe Bouchard, Executive Director of Strategic Planning
  • Louise Lantagne, Executive Director of Télévision de Radio-Canada
  • Michel Cormier, Executive Director of News and Current Affairs

Behind Michel, you have, in order:

  • Bev Kirshenblatt, Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs
  • Jean Mongeau, Executive Director of the Revenue Group
  • Caroline Lachapelle, Senior Director of Finance and Administration
  • Marie Côté, Executive Director of Specialty Channels
  • Anne-Marie Migneault, Director of Regulatory Affairs

I would like to mention that the Executive Director of Radio, Patrick Beauduin, is unfortunately unable to be here today for medical reasons, so Marie-Philippe Bouchard will answer for Radio, to questions that would normally be answered by Mr. Beauduin.

Now over to Louis Lalande, who will deliver our presentation.

Louis Lalande:

Mr. Chair, Vice-Chair, and Commissioners, good afternoon. I’m pleased to appear before you today.

As you know, our last appearance for a licence renewal was back in May 1999. Catch-up TV consisted of videocassette recordings, conventional French-language networks drew 70% of francophone viewing,[1] talk radio appeared on its last legs, podcasting was in its infancy, and satellite radio still wasn’t on our radar screens in Canada.

Twelve years later, talk radio captures a substantial share of the French-speaking market, while TV has gone multi-screen. Indeed, 35% of francophones watch TV online, while 19% use video on demand.[2] Plus, nearly a quarter of French speakers use TOU.TV, our free on-demand digital TV service. Despite this trend, it’s interesting to note that overall TV viewing hasn’t declined, but has actually risen slightly since 2004.[3]

In short, the French-language mediascape has changed dramatically since we last appeared.

You know, I’ve had the privilege of working in the media industry for forty-odd years, both in the private sector and at Radio-Canada. I’ve worked in news, production and general programming, at the national level, but also for Regional Services. I can state for a fact that the environment we have to work in today is radically different from the one that existed 12 years ago, both economically and technologically, as well as in terms of audience habits and expectations.

I’d now like to cue a short video to give you a sense of what Radio-Canada looks like today.

videoVideo Presentation

Each day, we receive testimonials like the ones you just saw. I personally have had the opportunity to meet with Canadians across the country who, on numerous occasions, have talked to me about the impact that Radio-Canada has on their day-to-day lives. Many testimonials of this kind can also be found in the interventions that the Commission received as part of our licence renewal process.

You already have our proposals in hand. My goal over the next few minutes is to describe the context to which they apply.

TELEVISION

Let’s start with television. Although the number of French-language channels has literally exploded since 1999 and that francophones now spend nearly half of their time watching specialty channels,[4] Télévision de Radio-Canada is still a leader in the industry. Today, it remains the second most-watched French-language TV network in the country, with a 20% prime-time market share.[5] This success stems largely from its ability to innovate and provide viewers with original, distinctive Canadian programming that covers a wide range of genres.

First, we pioneered the transition to high-definition production, which has had a positive impact on French-speaking Canadians’ viewing experience.

Most important, we breathed new life into TV genres such as the prime-time soap. A good example of this is Unité 9, which we launched this fall. This production is nothing like the soaps we aired 10 years ago, neither in its visual style, which has a more cinematographic feel, nor its subject matter, which deals with the lives of female prisoners – a world rarely depicted on the small screen until now. And French-speaking audiences are taking interest – Unité 9 reaches just over 1.5 million viewers each week.[6] Note that these impressive results are for TV alone; they don’t include all the people who watch the show on TOU.TV or the various on-demand platforms.

Conventional television’s days as the only screen are over; we now live in a multi-screen world with multiple delivery windows and platforms. We’ve therefore adjusted our programming strategy accordingly, in tandem with independent producers.

SPECIALTY SERVICES

In the area of specialty television, we’ve launched two new channels since 1999: ARTV, a Category A service, and more recently, Explora, a Category B service whose licence doesn’t expire until 2017, so it isn’t included in the current hearing. These channels are in addition to the all-news network Réseau de l’information, founded in 1995.

The public broadcaster’s specialty services are entirely relevant, because specialty television now figures prominently in French-speaking Canadians’ TV viewing habits. The services are also close to our French-speaking audiences across the country.

For example, RDI devotes over a third of its original programming segments to the four main Canadian regions: Western Canada, Ontario, Atlantic Canada and regional Quebec. For its part, ARTV has a dedicated budget for producing programs outside Quebec.

RDI and ARTV play this role wherever francophones can access them, particularly in minority-language communities, where a French-language private broadcaster could expect only limited commercial success. These services enhance our TV offering for French-speaking Canadians, and allow us to delve more deeply into subjects that are directly related to our mandate.

As you can see, Radio-Canada works closely with homegrown creators to continue providing Canadians with distinctive, engaging French-language programming. In fact, it’s one of the priorities in our Every one, Every way plan that Hubert already spoke to you about.

RADIO

As for radio, I’m pleased to report that we’ve doubled our market share since 1999! Here’s how we managed to achieve such outstanding results.

At the turn of the 21st century, we successfully redefined the Première Chaîne offering by designing a lineup that was more outward looking and more closely aligned with Canadians’ interests.

In 2004, we transformed Chaîne culturelle to create Espace musique, a radio network focused entirely on musical diversity and promoting homegrown talent. We also launched Bande à part, an innovative approach aimed at promoting and supporting the development of new Canadian French-language music on multiple platforms, including the web, satellite radio and conventional radio.

All of these changes helped us bring public radio into the 21st century and have a true impact on the cultural and democratic life of Canadians.

REGIONAL PRESENCE

Radio-Canada’s regional offering and presence have also changed considerably over the past decade. For instance, we recovered or reactivated the licences of five TV stations, in Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Saguenay, Toronto and Rimouski, which enabled us to boost local and regional production. We also completely overhauled our regional strategy further to integrating our services.

Today, Radio-Canada operates a total of 13 TV/radio/web multiplatform production centres, seven of which serve French-speaking minority communities. Added to this are eight radio stations and 26 news bureaus.

Our radio services have strong regional roots. On Première Chaîne, 100% of prime-time content – content aired during the morning and drive-home periods – is regionally produced. As of this fall, our daytime radio newscasts are produced in each station across Canada, so as to accurately reflect local, regional and national affairs, based on each region’s specific priorities. For two years now, Espace musique has also featured a regional slot in 12 parts of the country to better reflect these communities’ arts and music scenes.

On television, our stations produce an average of five to thirteen hours of programming each week. The bulk of this programming is in news and current affairs, but we’ve also expanded and diversified regional production into other genres, including independent production, thanks to LPIF funding.

This strong regional presence also helps us ensure that our national programming better portrays the cultural, democratic and economic life of French-speaking communities across the country.

I could give you many examples of this, but will limit myself here to two. The first is C’est ça la vie, a daily network TV program produced out of Ottawa whose very purpose is to report on life in French-speaking communities from coast to coast. Another that comes to mind is the Prix des lecteurs, an initiative that showcases works of literature by French-speaking Canadian authors outside Quebec.

And, of course, all of our news coverage, which is more rooted than ever in the regions, as well as the essential contribution of RDI and ARTV, which I described earlier.

Capturing all dimensions of the Canadian experience across the country and providing francophones with local and regional programming that meets their needs remains a priority for Radio-Canada. It’s a commitment that I feel strongly about, because I contributed to it significantly over the past six years when I was in charge of Radio-Canada Regional Services. It’s also a commitment for the future, as witnessed in the priority given to regional centres in our Every one, Every way strategy.

DIGITAL SERVICES

Lastly, faced with the surging popularity of digital platforms in Canadians’ media consumption habits, Radio-Canada chose to expand its offering on web, mobile and other emerging platforms.

With Radio-Canada.ca – the most-visited French-language media site in Canada[7] – Espace.mu and TOU.TV, not to mention a host of mobile and digital applications, we’re well positioned to provide French-speaking Canadians with a digital space that meets their needs.

We’re particularly proud of the success achieved by TOU.TV. Conceived, initiated and operated by Radio-Canada, TOU.TV features content from thirty-odd partners. In addition to making our programs available for catch-up on TOU.TV, we’ve developed a compelling selection of original web series, with formats ranging from comedy to science-fiction. This initiative benefits homegrown creators and is sure to influence the whole of the country’s TV production industry. It will actively contribute to building the next generation in this field.

Radio-Canada’s digital offering reflects Canadians’ changing needs, habits and interests. Our role as public broadcaster obliges us to listen to Canadians and evolve with them. This ability to quickly react and respond to Canadians’ expectations is an asset that we need to preserve during our next licence period.

REGIONAL REFLECTION

One of the challenges for French-speaking Canadians in today’s mediascape is finding spaces that offer rich, relevant original content in their own language – content that reflects their interests and tells their stories.

Radio-Canada has a huge responsibility toward francophones living in different parts of the country. In Quebec, Radio-Canada is sometimes the sole media outlet offering local and regional programming and content across all TV, radio and web platforms. In minority-language communities, Radio-Canada is often the only media organization providing francophones with programming in their own language.

At the start of my presentation, I outlined the steps we’ve taken over the past six years to strengthen our regional presence and better reflect the Canadian experience through our national programming.

This topic has been discussed extensively in the last few weeks. The response that we filed with the Commission on October 19 addressed the key concerns raised by certain interveners on this specific issue. I’d like to round out our response with a few additional points.

We’ve instituted a number of mechanisms to help us clearly identify the needs and interests of the people we serve in Canada’s various regions, especially in minority-language settings. We have the Regions’ Panel, which brings together residents who are opinion leaders in their respective region. We also hold regular meetings with national and regional associations that represent francophones living in minority-language communities. Finally, we conduct surveys and studies that help us understand the expectations of French speakers across the country and gauge their satisfaction with Radio-Canada services. This includes the survey whose results appear in our quarterly and annual reports. It should be noted, however, that it’s difficult and often quite costly to obtain a representative sample of French-speaking minorities.

That’s why, when we can, we rely on external surveys, which we contribute to occasionally and which can provide us with more accurate data on these hard-to-measure groups.

The message emerging from these meetings and surveys is that francophones appreciate our services and find programming that informs them about what’s happening in all parts of the country. We also understand that they would like to see themselves reflected more in our services. This was also conveyed in many of the interventions received by the Commission leading up to these hearings.

Given the financial resources at our disposal to deliver against our broad programming mandate, this challenge will be ever-present.

In our Every one, Every way strategy, we made strengthening our regional presence one of the three main priorities. Despite the elimination of the LPIF, we decided to maintain a news presence seven days a week at our stations across the country, even if it means cutting budgets elsewhere in the organization. Our intentions regarding francophones living in different parts of the country are clearly stated in our strategic plan, and are reflected in the proposals we presented to the Commission. We would be pleased to discuss them further with you today.

FINANCIAL DYNAMICS

The shifting media consumption habits that I described earlier are symptomatic of a profound transformation in our industry – one of which the Commission is well aware – and which affects the financial dynamics of the environment we operate in as a public broadcaster.

Our plans for the future are now dependent on a number of economic factors. For instance, even though we’ve diversified our self-generated revenue sources in recent years, we’re still vulnerable to the effects of a potential economic downturn.

The French-language advertising market is also in a precarious position, which we ignore at our peril. We’re currently witnessing a consolidation of ad spending by advertisers in the North American market, part of a worldwide trend in the industry. Advertisers seek to maximize their investment by targeting only the largest markets. We’re obviously keeping a close eye on this situation to assess the potential impact on our ad revenues.

Finally, the multi-screen approach that we’re now adopting to meet our audiences’ expectations also requires that we revisit our business models. In this regard, the funding challenge will be felt throughout the French Canadian TV production industry.

To tackle these challenges, we’ve developed an action plan based on the three Every one, Every way priorities – distinctive programming, regional presence and digital leadership – which guide us in our transformation. In essence, the plan outlines how Radio-Canada intends to fulfill its obligations toward the country’s French-speaking population in the coming years. As part of our licence renewal, we’ve anchored this strategy in a series of solid commitments, while staying flexible enough to adapt to Canadians’ rapidly changing needs and our shifting competitive environment. This need for flexibility isn’t a fad or whim – it’s essential for maximizing our creative resources to better serve Canadians.

We must be able to react quickly to stay relevant. It’s critical for ensuring that the great Radio-Canada brand will remain part of our cultural and democratic heritage for future generations.

We are now pleased to take your questions.



[1] CBC/Radio-Canada 1999–2000 Annual Report, Nielsen data, Sept. 1999–Feb. 2000

[2] Media Technology Adoption – French-Speaking Market, MTM, spring 2012

[3] CRTC annual reports, 2004–2005 to 2011–2012 – francophone viewing

[4] BBM weekly report (PPM), week of October 22–28, 2012

[5] Idem

[6] Idem

[7] comScore, September 2012

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