Op-Ed from Hubert T. Lacroix (Toronto Star): Fighting for a brighter future for CBC/Radio-Canada

July 25, 2014

In the editorial pages of this publication and in many other forums across the country, much ink has been spilled about the future of CBC/Radio-Canada. It’s a conversation I not only follow very closely, but one that I care deeply about, and I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify just what it is we’re fighting for.

This is a transformational moment for the national public broadcaster. Our new strategy, A space for us all, is a plan to modernize the public broadcaster and ensure it continues fulfilling its role and mandate for generations to come. It aims to bring us closer to our audience through focus and investment in content and how we deliver it. Our intent is to be a valuable participant in the daily life of Canadians - on your phone, in your living room, in the car. Much more present, much more relevant. It’s all about content and delivering the publicly owned and public-minded service that Canadians will need tomorrow. We are not a museum to preserve the old. We are a cultural activator that regenerates and evolves with society. That’s what a modern public broadcaster should be.

But the strategy won’t hold if the business model stays broken. As things stand, we’re not sustainable. In fact, the conventional broadcast system as a whole – public and private – is perhaps not viable. The system needs to be fixed.

Currently, 60 per cent of our revenues come from the government. The other 40 per cent are self-generated commercial revenues (mainly advertising). In recent years, both have declined. At the same time, like other broadcasters and media companies, we’ve had to adapt to an industry that is changing daily. This requires major investments. But unlike private broadcasters, we can’t attract capital or borrow for cash-flow purposes. To invest in our future we have to find, within ourselves, the resources to do so. In the recent past, this has meant taking drastic measures to balance the books when the market fluctuates or public funding drops. This can’t continue. We are now faced with – very simply – transforming or withering. I’ve chosen the former.

That’s why in order to support our content strategy, we’ve had to challenge how we do what we do. The legacy of our history and our geography is the largest broadcast infrastructure in the world. Not all of that will be required going forward. Change is everywhere: across the industry and around the world. That’s why every other piece of the strategy – from reducing in-house production to cutting our real estate portfolio to job losses – is designed to turn bricks and mortar into programs. Not to stop delivering service to Canadians, but to change how those services are delivered. Lighter, faster. If we are to be the public broadcaster Canada needs and deserves, we need first to address our sustainability issues.

To be clear, this isn’t a plan to exit television and radio. In fact, the biggest investments will be in prime time television on both CBC and Radio-Canada, and we will continue to build on the incredible and enduring success of radio. But a shift to digital and mobile is inevitable. Where it makes sense, as it does in the regions, we will lead with it. Where it promises a more dynamic, more engaging user experience, we will lead with it. And where it can reach new, younger, audiences, we will lead with it. When Canadians are ready, we’ll be there with a world-class offer, expertise and know-how. I make no apologies for that.

Nor do I make apologies for delivering a strategy that aims to reinvent public broadcasting in a very tumultuous time in our industry. Shaw, Rogers, Bell Media – all have announced restructuring and cut backs in recent weeks. Days after the launch of our own strategy, the BBC announced it is undergoing a digital transformation in news, opening itself to more independent producers and making itself more efficient. Sound familiar?

There is no question that this is a pivotal moment for public broadcasting in Canada and around the world. I am privileged to work with some of the most talented, passionate people in the country, who show up to work every day with the best interest of this place at heart. This is an exciting time, one which presents us with a rare opportunity to shape our collective future and to make our mark. I am fighting for a brighter future for CBC/Radio-Canada. I hope you’ll join me.

Hubert T. Lacroix is President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada

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