CBC VP makes impassioned plea to Cdns
TORONTO (CP) – There have been some bright spots on CBC-TV’s fall schedule this year – “The Rick Mercer Report” is a prime example – but overall, ratings at the public broadcaster have been in a free fall.
The dismal performances of such highly anticipated fare as “Hockey: A People’s History” stand in stark contrast to the cash and viewers that private broadcasters are ringing up on the strength of the wildly popular American shows that Canadian viewers crave – programs like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Desperate Housewives.”
Richard Stursberg, executive vice-president of CBC English television, is endlessly frustrated when people laud the success of CTV and Global compared to the struggles of his network.
“You hear people say ‘Wow, CTV’s doing great!’ ” Stursberg said after a speech Tuesday to the Economic Club of Toronto. “But how can CTV lose? They go down to the U.S. and go shopping for the highest-rated shows on American television.”
American TV is great, Stursberg is quick to point out. But the networks that buy it don’t have to pay to produce it, and they make hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour in ad revenue with each broadcast.
And, he adds, American shows have “nothing to do with our Canadian life, values, mores and culture.”
Stursberg’s speech to a business crowd of about 150 was a clarion call to Canadians to give home-grown television a chance.
“While English Canadians enjoy more choice in television programming than almost anyone else in the world, millions of Canadians tune in weekly to foreign – essentially American – content,” he said.
“The result is that English Canadians are the only people in the industrialized world who seem to prefer the content of another country to their own. We believe this is the most important cultural challenge facing English Canada.”
The CBC is crucial to winning that battle, Stursberg said, saying the public broadcaster “plays many roles in the public life of our country” while having its budget slashed repeatedly by the federal government.
Some in attendance were impressed by Stursberg’s impassioned appeal to Canadians to start taking pride in the CBC.
“It’s been many years since a CBC executive publicly defended the cultural importance of the network,” said Patrick Gossage, head of the public relations firm Media Profile, which handles much of the publicity for CBC shows. “It’s great to see.”
Canadians listen to Canadian music and read Canadian novels and newspapers, Stursberg pointed out.
“But when it comes to the most popular forms of narrative – television and feature films – Canadians overwhelmingly prefer the stories of another country.”
In an effort to buck the trend, Stursberg said the CBC is making more programming by, for and about Canadians.
“Canadians will watch home-grown programming when it is beautifully made, engaging and designed for them, when it is rooted in their sense of humour, their values, their lives and their history,” he said.
The network is also cutting back on the number of specials and miniseries, and instead focusing on longer running series.
Hiring a new executive programming team and conducting a massive audience study is helping the CBC achieve its goals, he said.
But Stursberg acknowledged that turning the situation around is a tremendously difficult battle given that Canada is third-last – just ahead of New Zealand and the U.S. – in the lowest rank of per capita taxpayer support for public networks. At $33, that’s less than a third of the $124 per capita that the BBC gets.
“How do we do it? By hiring the cleverest and most creative people we can and see if we can get there by being smart, because we sure can’t get there by being rich.”
CBC VP makes impassioned plea to Cdns