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Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (CHPC) on October 25, 2016.
Thank you for the invitation to meet with you this morning to talk about the government’s reinvestment in public broadcasting. Heather, Louis and I have met with most of you before. I’m looking forward to our discussion.
Before I begin, a word about the devices in front of you. They are virtual reality headsets. We’ve brought them here because they are an important part of a series of townhall’s we have just launched in four communities to discuss the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. I wanted you to be able to see for yourself what this technology means to the way we tell stories. I’ll talk more about that in a moment.
The past few months have provided some remarkable examples of what public broadcasting can do.
In August, we helped Canadians share a truly Canadian moment: the final concert of The Tragically Hip in Kingston, Ontario. Almost 12 million Canadians gathered together, in backyards, in town squares, in bars, in parks and in public places. In all, more than 190 community viewing parties, here and all around the world. One Canadian told us they listened to the concert on their phone while sitting in their car in Hawaii. Bringing Canadians together, the way we did that night, is exactly what the public broadcaster should do.
There was also the Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janero. Who will forget the wave of emotions we all felt watching 16 year old Penny Oleksiak win bronze then silver, then bronze again, then gold; more medals than any other Canadian athlete at a Summer Olympics in history. Or that friendly rivalry between Andre de Grasse and Usain Bolt. Or the resilience of wrestler Erica Wiebe, winning gold just months after having missed the world championships. Those are Canadian moments.
Thirty-two million people joined us in that celebration; more than 91% of the Canadian population. And 10.2 million Canadians tuned in to our more than 700 hours of Paralympic coverage. Rio 2016 was the most-watched Summer Olympic Games in Canadian history: we had more than 229 million total page views and nearly 37 million video views on our websites and olympic apps. They also found a new way to experience the Games. For the first time, virtual reality allowed Canadians to immerse themselves in the moment.
It’s impressive technology. But we believe it can be so much more.
Many of you know about the leadership role CBC/Radio-Canada has taken on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. CBC Radio’s The Current is hosting a series of town halls on this subject. To help people better understand this issue, when they walk into the town hall, they first experience this story in virtual reality. It puts them on the side of the Highway 16, the Highway of Tears in Northern British Columbia; the place where a number of Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing. This virtual reality documentary – a first for CBC – can be downloaded from our website.
The reaction to this presentation has been nothing short of incredible. In Prince George earlier this month, 200 people came out to experience it. Their townhall was then broadcast on The Current. Here’s a bit of what they thought about it.
Now, with your permission I’d like to take a couple minutes to let you experience it for yourself. Some of our staff are here to help you get set up:
This is why we are in digital. We believe this is what public broadcasting should do; use whatever tools we can, together with great journalism, and spectacular storytelling to deepen Canadians’ understanding, to help engage them in a conversation about important issues.
That’s what our 2020 Strategy has been about.
Our transformation to become more digital, more local, and more Canadian has been challenging at times but the disruption part is over, and today our work is showing results.
We see it in the way Canadians can now engage with us and each other, on mobile devices, social networks, on television and radio. We continue transforming our regional stations across the country to make them more open, multiplatform environments. Halifax, Matane, Moncton and Sudbury are the most recent ones. We are providing more local content, more often, and reaching more Canadians on every device they use.
Over 16 million Canadians now use our digital platforms each month – that’s three million more in the last year alone. Our goal is to reach 18 million people by the year 2020. This is helping us build closer connections with Canadians.
We’re not the only ones in the midst of a transformation. Last month, we hosted PBI 2016 in Montreal, a gathering of 60 public broadcasters from 52 countries around the world. What is clear is that we’re all facing the same challenges, but that CBC/Radio-Canada is further ahead than many and has taken a leadership role in this digital transformation.
The government’s reinvestment, announced in budget 2016, is helping us do this. We are very grateful for that support. It is the first new investment in public broadcasting in over a decade. It represents an important vote of confidence in public broadcasting, the value of our programs, and our vision for the future.
When the government announced its reinvestment, it asked us to develop an accountability plan. We will be sharing that plan with Canadians soon, but let me tell you what we’ve been doing. We’ve been promised $75 million this year, rising to 150 million next year.
Here’s what we’re already doing with that investment.
We are creating new programs around Canada’s 150th anniversary. Programs like Becoming Canadian, a digital-first project celebrating the people who choose canada as their new home. And La grande traversée: 10 people recreating the 1745 voyage from France to Québec in a sailing replica.
This summer, we created a new national radio show, Out In The Open with Piya Chattopadhyay.
We started filming a six-part television drama Alias Grace, based on the book by Margaret Atwood, in partnership with Netflix, a first for us.
We were able to protect funding for the one-hour Indigenous radio program Unreserved with Rosanna Deerchild.
We created a new, one-hour Canadian youth soccer drama 21 Thunder, which will air next summer.
We started work on a new radio station in London, Ontario, previously suspended because of budget cuts.
We created additional digital content for ICI Tou.tv and seven additional programs for Véro.tv, the new web TV chain on ICI Tou.tv EXTRA.
We launched a new project called Next Generation; a space to experiment with new ways of enriching and sharing news and current affairs content, to be created and managed by millenials, talking to millenials.
We created five additional one-hour episodes of the popular maritime television talk-show Méchante soirée, produced in Moncton.
And we’ve added 15 hours of new weekday evening content on ICI Radio-Canada Première, replacing reruns.
That is just a sample.
We will be reporting to Canadians on our progress on this and all of our goals through our Corporate Plan and Annual Reports. We’re proud of what we’ve been able to do to support Canadian culture. We believe a strong public broadcaster is at the heart of a strong cultural ecosystem.
We look forward to showing Canadians what we can do with a reinvestment in public broadcasting.