Speaking Notes for Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO, at the Annual Public Meeting

September 29, 2015, Winnipeg


Good afternoon and welcome to CBC/Radio-Canada’s Annual Public Meeting. Thank you all for coming this morning.

Welcome also, to those who are joining us online, and a special thanks to Dr. Annette Trimbee and the great people at the University of Winnipeg who worked with us to organize our meeting at Convocation Hall.

As you’ve heard, our theme this year is “Invite. Ignite. Inspire.” which is why I think it’s great that our Annual Public Meeting is here, in the heart of Winnipeg. The transformation happening here is remarkable; a new airport, a new football stadium, the Jets are starting to look like a contender again, the ongoing improvements to Assiniboine Park, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights; it’s incredible. Even the warming hut competition is generating an international buzz. Something is happening in Winnipeg. You can feel the confidence.

I have often said that you can’t have a public broadcaster without a public. Well what’s happening here today, your excitement, your stories, your experiences, your ideas about the future; CBC/Radio-Canada exists to make sure those things live and are shared in a public space for you, and for the rest of the country.

In that spirit, we’re trying something new this year. We’re giving part of the meeting over to this community. You shouldn't be surprised. This is the essence of what we do; bring people together, connect them with others, and see what happens.

So, my remarks will be short.

Deepening our connection with Canadians is what the transformation at CBC/Radio-Canada is all about. You are using your smartphone or tablet to find information about your community and your world, all day long. Our challenge is how to move fast enough to remain relevant to you (remember that 70% of Canadians own a smartphone), while making sure we don’t leave others behind (those who still, every week watch, LIVE, 27 hours of television); and to do it all with shrinking resources.

We launched our strategic plan towards 2020 15 months ago. Our transformation hasn’t been easy. Some Canadians, including many of our employees, worried it was simply a cost cutting exercise that would mean only fewer programs, fewer services, and a smaller, weaker public broadcaster. In fact, it has been about reinventing CBC/Radio-Canada; making sure we can continue to deliver on our mandate in this increasingly connected world, while, at all times, finding ways to maximize the revenues and resources we need to do that. It’s a transformation every public broadcaster in the world is going through. We still have our challenges, but our plan is starting to show results.

Our regional news services are a good example of how we’re changing. On October 5th CBC is launching enhanced news services specifically for digital and mobile users. Instead of 90 minutes of local news on television, we’re focusing on 30 or 60 minutes at suppertime (an hour here in Winnipeg) but adding local TV news inserts every hour, all evening long. Radio-Canada has boosted its regional news with multi-screen digital content up to 18 hours a day, every day. This is one more way we are going to interact, co-create, and engage with you wherever you are.

Now, this wouldn’t be an Annual Public Meeting unless I talked a bit about our financial situation. Because of the election, our Annual Report has not yet been tabled in Parliament but I can talk about our first quarter financial results for the three months ending June 30.

We’ve continued to improve our financial stability despite the industry-wide weakening of television advertising. We’ve done this by reducing our expenses by $105 million dollars, which more than offset the $74 million decrease in revenues, largely due to the loss of hockey. We are keeping a close eye on our financial position given the decline in the advertising market. However, our employees are now starting to see the results of their efforts and sacrifice. In 2015, we were able to reinvest $23 million from our savings into Canadian programs, the first time that we have been able to reinvest in our schedules since 2009. I guess I could say we haven’t been boiled to death just yet.

You might have heard, a lot of people have been focusing on the “boiling frog” analogy I made in a speech to Public Broadcasters International earlier this month. That picture seems to have struck a cord. The point I was making is this one: We public broadcasters have been focusing on managing each crisis; each reduction in funding, each drop in revenue or ad dollars, because that’s what public institutions are expected to do. And, like the frog put in cold water that is slowly heated, we’ve resisted telling people that we risk being boiled to death.

The risk is real, and I think public institutions have a duty to inform the people they serve about the threats they face.

That’s why I’ve been talking about a broken broadcasting system for months now and the need for a new revenue model that can provide the services Canadians need; in our case, that means a modern public space free from government and corporate interests. A space where the ideas and stories Canadians care about; the things that make us Canadians, are shared.

But we can’t do that without you. We’re going to start a conversation about the future, with you; about the changes that are happening in the way you consume content. How we can improve the services we provide to you?

And we all need to decide how to fund it. Do we need to fund it differently? Without a more robust and stable funding model, all the things we are trying to do will be hostage to the need to cut to manage the financial emergency of the moment. Canadians need to be part of a discussion about whether Canadian stories, Canadian local news, is something that matters to them. They need to hear what kind of public broadcaster they could have in the future.

We inform Canadians and we share Canadian stories. That helps build social adhesion. As we watch countries struggling with diverse, multilingual communities, the importance of that role here, in Canada, cannot be undervalued.

I think we’ve been making tremendous progress in managing our transformation at CBC/Radio-Canada. But we need to do more and must do it faster. The connected world is opening up new opportunities for engaging with citizens and for sharing culture. We see the potential in using our digital platforms to share and engage with Canadians in new ways.

We have ambitious goals. By 2020, we want to have doubled our digital reach so that 18 million Canadians, one out of two, will use CBC/Radio-Canada's digital services each month. We also want 3 out of every 4 Canadians (up from 1 out of 2) to tell us, in our surveys, that CBC/Radio-Canada is very important to them personally. Yes, we believe they are achievable. They are what Canadians expect of us.

I want to engage Canadians, and policy makers to make it happen. We want to do more, not less. We cannot shrink the public broadcaster to greatness. So, I want to take advantage of the energy and optimism of communities like Winnipeg.

And now I’d like to hear from you.

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