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CBC's new tune on ads

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/12/2016 (1279 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Advertising does not detract from the CBC’s mandate and there is no good public policy reason to eliminate advertising from its television services.

At this point you’d be forgiven for thinking that this column is about to pick apart the CBC’s request to the federal government this week for a massive increase in funding — $318 million more to be exact — so it can broadcast all its services free of ads

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Hubert Lacroix, president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada</p>


Hubert Lacroix, president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada

"We recommend removing advertising from CBC/Radio-Canada," the public broadcaster said in a news release. "This would allow the broadcaster to focus squarely on the cultural impact of our mandate. It would also free up advertising revenue to help private media companies transition to a digital environment."

Okay. Now stop and think about this fact: the first paragraph did not come from me; it came from a news release issued by the CBC in 2011.

Yes, the same CBC now arguing it should be free of ads once said — just five years ago — there was no good reason to eliminate advertising.

"The elimination of advertising revenues would seriously compromise the Corporation’s ability to fulfill its mandate," CBC President Hubert Lacroix said at the time.

I can’t take credit for noticing this somewhat astounding about-face. It took Ken Goldstein, a Winnipeg media consultant with an eagle eye and encyclopedic knowledge of the Canadian media industry, to pick up on it.

Goldstein operates Communic@tions Management Inc. and knows media economics inside out. He has written extensively on how media is changing. His work can be found at media-cmi.com.

His predictions are sobering — by 2025 there will be few, if any, printed daily newspapers in Canada and their digital formats will not match their current scope in print. There might be no local television stations. Both developments pose serious issues for the future of local journalism.

So how does this explain why the CBC has changed its public position on advertising?

It seems the corporation’s leadership is feeling the pressure from private media companies that are pointing out the impact the CBC is having on their efforts to transform in the digital age, and suggesting that at least some government resources could be better used elsewhere to accomplish the goal of keeping Canadians informed.

Private broadcasters have long questioned CBC activities when the taxpayer-subsidized network does the same things they do and still competes for advertising. Lately that chorus has been joined by newspaper executives, including myself, who have questioned why the CBC is turning its digital service into what is essentially the country’s largest newspaper, competing with existing newspapers for audience and advertising.

Last week, Lacroix shot back, sending a letter to the House of Commons Committee on Canadian Heritage in which he said, "The challenges facing media in Canada are many but they are not being caused by the public broadcaster."

He went on to say CBC’s presence is more important than ever because of reduced content and smaller newspapers. And he noted the CBC generated only about $25 million in digital ad revenue last year.

The problem with his response is that it proposed only one solution to the massive disruption in the media world and the impact it is having on providing news to Canadians — the CBC.

No one ever said the CBC caused the problem. We just said that the solution is not to have a single publicly funded media company take over the roles that newspapers, radio and TV have long played providing news and information.

The CBC is now trying to carve out a unique space, saying it will be the media outlet that has no advertising and it will leave the ad dollars to private players.

Personally, I think an ad-free CBC would be great. But it is not enough.

The CBC also must stop disrupting the market by moving into areas where there are perfectly good providers already operating. The latest foray is a new opinion section     (cbc.ca/news/opinion) that looks very much like the opinion sections that newspapers have long published.

If the CBC stops doing what private operators already do, then there would be every good reason to eliminate advertising.

Bob Cox is the publisher of the Free Press and chairman of the Canadian Newspaper Association.

Bob Cox

Bob Cox

Bob Cox was named publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press in November 2007. He joined the newspaper as editor in May 2005.

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Updated on Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 10:04 AM CST: Adds target

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