CBC program boss optimistic about future
TORONTO (CP) – Canada’s private TV broadcasters may be enjoying a cash cow right now by importing top-rated U.S. series like Desperate Housewives and Lost and substituting their own commercials.
But all that could end within five years as technology allows consumers to download episodes directly through the Internet or via podcasts, says CBC Television’s new top programming executive.
And that’s when a public broadcaster, with a prime-time grid packed with attractive domestic content, will become much more important, says Kirstine Layfield.
“This has happened overseas,” she says. “Those technologies are so much more advanced there, there’s much more globalization of programming (and) the public broadcasters got stronger.”
Layfield concedes CTV has done very well for itself while the CBC has suffered ratings and budgetary shortfalls. But the former executive in charge of content for the Alliance Atlantis suite of specialty channels seems determined to put the most optimistic face on her decision to move from the private to the public sector.
She insists that, despite being told by some that she must be crazy, to be the executive director of English programming at the CBC is a “dream come true” because there are no shareholders to take money out of the company.
“Every dollar of revenue that comes in here will be put to a purpose that will show up on the screen,” she says. “This is not a margin business here.”
And with evidence that U.S sources may some day soon be selling a lot more of their content directly to the public through new technology platforms, Layfield heads up a whole new team of programming executives at the CBC who plan to ramp up production on homegrown fare starting this fall. With some 150 hours of prime-time domestic entertainment on the air this past season, the plan calls for 175 hours in the 2006-2007 season and 250 hours by 2008.
“In the end, people want to hear about themselves, and they want to hear indigenous stories and they want to see themselves. So it can be an opportunity to turn it around.”
And Layfield, ever the optimist, dismisses the reality that the CBC’s ratings are in the dumpster after such disasters as a lost hockey season and last fall’s morale-destroying employee lockout, to say nothing of the continued absence of a strong, long-term financial commitment from a minority federal government.
To that end, Layfield and her team have already dumped the keystone strategy of her predecessor Slawko Klymkiw, who believed in a strong emphasis on so-called “high impact” programming, that is, movies of the week and miniseries, not regular series. But with the dismal ratings performance of Trudeau 2, and with the cancellation of highly respected but little-watched series like Da Vinci’s City Hall and This Is Wonderland, it’s natural to wonder about the source of Layfield’s optimism and just what kind of programming is coming down the pipe that will work for a change.
But she seems to agree with the unions that represent TV actors and crews that it’s series, not one-shot dramas, that will draw in and hold the viewers.
“I think that kind of tentpole strategy of big events is a great strategy to have. It worked at the time when it was being implemented. But eventually when you have such tight resources as we have here you have to populate the rest of the schedule.”
The CBC will unveil its new season at a media event June 15 and, apart from a new series from Da Vinci creator Chris Haddock called Intelligence, and Marc Starowicz’ much-talked-about epic history of hockey, Layfield is revealing little of her programming plans till then.
She won’t indicate whether three potential series, Cheap Draft, Rabbittown and This Space For Rent, will make the cut, but she is clear that a previous practice of airing pilot episodes of such shows to test the public’s pulse is out the window. The trio of pilots aired in January.
Layfield also believes the CBC has been getting a bum rap in the media for the way it handled recent cancellations.
“West Wing in the States is sent off with a fond farewell,” she notes. “Here it’s “CBC AXES Da Vinci!”
Meanwhile, how will the CBC produce and finance so many promised hours of Cancon?
Part of the strategy involved Layfield and company embarking on a recent 2 1/2-week, 10-city tour of the country during which they talked not only to regional staff but private sector producers. Although one prominent producer dismissed the endeavour as a ‘dog and pony show’, Layfield says meeting with 1,600 potential production partners was a great reaching-out experience.
“We’re saying we’re a new team, we have a different attitude. It’s a different time,” she explains.
“I think producers, although skeptical because I think they always will be, in the end have told us ‘We’ll give it a shot’.”
Joining Layfield on the new program executive team are Fred Fuchs in charge of A&E content, Sally Cato as creative head of drama and Starowicz as head of documentary programming.
CBC program boss optimistic about future