Good morning, everyone.
It is my pleasure to be able to fill in for our chair, Hedy Fry. I am Vice-Chair Larry Maguire. I will be chairing today's meeting.
I want to welcome our guests here from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to start with this morning. We have an hour and a half for your presentations. Because of the time we have today, we will do a couple of seven-minute rounds and then, as time permits, we will do one or two rounds of five minutes each. Those include the questions and the answers, as my chair always informs our guests, and members as well.
With that, I would like to introduce Mr. Cochran, Ms. McGuire—welcome to the family name—Mr. Cormier, and Mr. Dubé. It is a pleasure to have you with us this morning.
A voice: It is a family name, but it is spelled differently.
The Vice-Chair (Mr. Larry Maguire): Oh, no, the other side of the family spelled it that way as well when we left Ireland.
Thank you very much for being here this morning and taking time out of your busy schedules to appear before our committee. We are dealing with rural and remote areas of broadcasting and media, not just television and radio. We want to have your input into this very important topic to make sure that we provide as much news into those areas of Canada as we can. Of course, we are very interested in the models you work with.
With that, I will turn it over to you for your presentation, 10 minutes, and then we will proceed.
Thank you, members of the committee, for inviting us here today.
We welcome this opportunity to meet with you to talk about local services. Canadians have told us, as you have heard through the CRTC hearings, that local news is of utmost importance to them.
We're somewhat unique in the ecosystem, so we thought we would begin by talking about CBC locally and what's going on in the country for us right now.
In Newfoundland and Atlantic time zones, the day is well under way. About 80 of our news gatherers are already chasing stories. They'll file them across platforms for mobile, desktop, radio, and television. Soon our radio noontime programs will connect neighbours with issues in their community. Our other teams are preparing for our afternoon shows on radio and our six o'clock television supper hours in every province.
In the digital world, our deadlines are continuous. On our site and on other social channels, stories are being posted, published, tweeted, broadcast, telecast, and updated all through the waking hours. When breaking news deserves immediate attention, it goes first as a push alert. Here in the eastern time zone, daily story meetings are getting under way right now. Every day is different, yet every day is in some ways the same. There are always more stories than reporters we have to cover them. Or as the case may be, uncover them.
Local editorial choices are always a balance of dealing with breaking news and, particularly for CBC, leadership in stories that no one else is doing. These for us take two forms, what we call enterprise stories, which are generated from the native curiosity of our reporters and staff; and investigative stories, probing for facts and patterns, asking questions previously unasked, and if need be and often, holding principles to account. I am proud to say that we have more than 70 CBC journalists dedicated to investigative reporting today. This has grown. They're based in cities across the country.
To the west of here, in the central time zone, our Winnipeg morning show just wrapped up. It's the most listened to morning radio program in its market. Canadians across this country wake up to CBC Radio. We're number one in 13 of the 23 markets where ratings are taken, and we're in the top three in almost every rated community in the country. Ratings are not the driver for a public service broadcaster, but they are an indicator of our relevance to Canadians.
Over the next hours, about 150 more CBC news gatherers will be at work across our four western provinces. In the north, our day takes on many more dimensions. We broadcast in eight aboriginal languages from stations across 3,500 kilometres of Canada, from Whitehorse eastward to Iqaluit and Kuujjuaq.
I've used a lot of numbers. Let me gather the math for you. Altogether we have 350 news gatherers in our local stations, who work alongside 650 writers, editors, producers, and hosts. All of them work in an integrated way to present our radio and television programs plus our continuous publishing of digital content on all of our platforms and other people's platforms.
Our local programming across the country exceeds 8,000 broadcast minutes a day, Monday to Friday, plus digital, plus additional content all weekend long, on all platforms. We originate from 33 stations including one all-digital station in Hamilton and three in the north.
To do this we have about 1,150 people working today in local services to cover this large country that we live in. This is fewer than before. We've made reductions and faced the same pressures others have. We have taken difficult but considered steps we thought were important to ensure sustainability in the long term.
We have re-imagined everything. It's led to the largest transformation ever in local broadcasting within CBC/Radio-Canada. Today our local services are central to our long-term corporate plan, strategy 2020. Local is at the forefront of the digital shift for the whole company and is key to us being able to deliver more local services, where audiences are moving, at lower cost, on mobile, desktop, radio, and television.
Many of our reporters will end the day after doing a story that doesn't even exist, or that they don't even know about right now. We resource our stations and train our people for many eventualities, among them the ability to stream or broadcast live from anywhere at a moment's notice, through satellite technology or through their smartphone.
We have a brief video to show to you today, that started that way about two weeks ago.
That was a sizzle reel and not a newscast. You saw from the tape, our coverage of Fort McMurray in the midst of the fury of the fires. CBC provided up-to-the-minute coverage in both official languages that residents needed, including survival information through the early hours and continuing through the evacuation, details on where to get help, ways to lend a helping hand in contributions to charities, expanded local footprint in the local service we were providing, and of course, the local programming was supported by the network and vice versa.
On our website we were continuous. People were able to reach us with timely information they could rely on. CBC was there giving essential information, helping the community navigate its choices, challenges, and causes for relief or celebration in service to the local community, but as important, sharing those local stories across the country. That's what we do every day.
Thank you for your attention. I look forward to our discussion afterwards but now I would like to introduce my colleague from Radio-Canada, Michel Cormier, general manager of news and current affairs.
Thank you, Ms. McGuire.
Mr. Chair, we are pleased to be here with you today. With me is Marco Dubé, executive director of regional services, French services. This is an important part of the information we offer.
Radio-Canada's local and regional news, like the news sector as a whole, is accelerating the digital and mobile content it offers in order to develop a more constant and continuous link with its audience. Our audiences today want to consult our content online, on their preferred platform, and when they want it. That means we can no longer simply offer programming at set times. That is why, in the regions and elsewhere, we offer more than news programs at the end of the day or radio news at set times.
This approach, which seeks to establish a more direct link with our local audience, reflects changing consumption habits. It is at the heart of Radio-Canada's Strategy 2020. The principle of this new relationship with local audiences is simple and can be summarized as more local, more often, and on more screens.
In concrete terms, Radio-Canada's regional services have trained hundreds of people across the country on the new digital tools that are necessary for this important shift. When teams go out in the field, they still produce news for television and radio of course, but above all their efforts focus on digital access and mobility. Our promise to local audiences is to serve them 18 hours per day, seven days per week. This is a fairly substantial commitment.
This increased presence has enabled Radio-Canada's local and regional stations to multiply contact points throughout the day with the communities they serve. Our journalists are constantly updating news through seven new regional websites: two in Ontario, two in eastern Quebec, and three in the Atlantic region, for a total of 21 across the country. They provide a digital presence on Facebook, to be sure, and on the other digital platforms.
For their part, news anchors are active throughout the day on the various platforms and make targeted appearances on television and radio to keep audiences up to date and to maintain this link all day long. Our work is already paying off. Visits to our regional web pages increased by 21% in the first three months of 2016. This is a substantial increase.
Radio-Canada is committed to being closer to its local and regional audiences. I will show you a short video highlighting the shift in our local coverage over the past year. This shift has allowed us to better respond to daily news events and to follow developments on all platforms throughout the day. This is how one of our journalists, Martine Laberge, covered the failure of the Nipigon River bridge, this past winter.
You can now watch the video.
A few years ago, we would have covered an event like that very differently. We would have done radio reports and a feature for the Téléjournal at the end of the day. Now, we cover the story as it unfolds. We are on all platforms. We make sure there is maximum outreach on the web using key words, and then incorporate all of that into a national story.
As the journalist said, the bridge failure cut the country in half. This is the new way of covering events.
We could also look at the events in Fort McMurray. We provided massive coverage of the developing story. We connected local journalists and the local machine with the national network, with very compelling results.
It should be noted that Radio-Canada stations do not have the same importance or play the same role from one region to another in Canada. Outside Quebec—and this must be remembered—francophone communities are in a minority and Radio-Canada is often the main if not the only source of information in French.
In Quebec regions, Radio-Canada operates in an environment with more French-language media, but it contributes to the diversity and quality of regional information. In the Quebec City, Ottawa and Montreal markets—the three big cities—Radio-Canada operates in highly competitive media markets and must constantly strive to stand out.
Despite these differences, Radio-Canada's public service mandate is the same, regardless of where it broadcasts: to offer Canadian citizens all the information they need to make informed choices. I think the word “citizens” is important. We are not talking about clients or audience, but citizens. This is the defining feature of Radio-Canada's public service role. Citizens have rights and responsibilities, and they need information to make choices in our democracy and in their lives. That is Radio-Canada's mission statement for providing information.
This mission also means seeing how major national issues play out in local communities, whether the survival of the French language, medical assistance in dying—a topical subject—or the integration of Syrian refugees. The different experiences of citizens enrich the national dialogue on major issues, which allows us to go beyond the traditional role of reflecting the regions on the national network and to better represent the country to our audiences. In this regard, we will invest more in a network of national correspondents based in the regions and place greater emphasis on our anchors and public affairs shows such as Enquête or La Facture outside Montreal and Quebec.
This total package of information, including a stronger and more constant link with our local and regional audiences, is intended to keep those audiences informed of events as soon as they occur, and to give meaning to the events that shape their community life. That is Radio-Canada's public service commitment, and this is what creates the strength and originality of the bond that links us with all Canadians.
We will be very pleased to answer your questions.
I want to thank everyone for being with us here this morning. I am always pleased to see representatives from CBC/Radio-Canada. I am a big CBC/Radio-Canada fan and very much attached to the network.
Surely some witnesses in the group are people from my generation who remember that the Canadian national anthem was followed by grand music and images from across the country and magnificent animation.
Some people have frequently dragged CBC/Radio-Canada through the mud in recent years. Personally, I never perceived it as a dusty old corporation as others did, quite the contrary. I probably see it from a Montreal perspective. I come from the Montreal region, and, as a Quebecer, I feel very well served by Radio-Canada's French services. I believe this idea of a national radio and television network and national Internet services could be emphasized more without necessarily falling into classic Liberal horn-blowing. I think you should make that a more prominent part of your mandate.
I would also like to point out that, for many years, your corporation was accused of adopting programming and an approach that were not friendly enough. I believe the opposite is true. I still remember that you were the first broadcaster, by a long shot, to include the Internet in your media offerings, while others—private interests—were definitely more afraid of it. It was your mandate to do that, and you did it very well. Your slogan has been “radio, television and the Internet” for a long time now, or at least for the past eight or nine years.
That will definitely be the subject of my better question. There are different levels of efficiency when it comes to reaching audiences on your various platforms. Things are going very well in radio on the whole. You definitely have the incredible advantage of being able to broadcast without advertising. I think the formats, offerings, types of interviews, subjects, and the cross-Canada aspect are even more striking on radio than on television, at least when it comes to news. The success that radio has achieved by comparison with the challenges facing English-language television is quite representative of what the media are experiencing in Canada. Private radio is generally doing well on the whole and has not felt the impact that has hit television.
You frequently refer to your digital developments as an easier, more economic, and more flexible way of gathering local news. We heard a great deal about that during our study. One of the obvious aspects of our study is to ensure that the linguistic communities and minorities outside Quebec have access to services. You are clearly the leading player on this issue, but the odd paradox is that you are planning to offer more services over the Internet. However, there is no Internet coverage in many of those places. How do you react to that?
High-speed Internet access in remote regions is still an issue for all Canadians and the country as a whole. It is not simply an issue for CBC/Radio-Canada.
At the same time, high-speed Internet access is expanding. Our priority is to be able to offer content as this service becomes available to Canadians. Our corporation produces content, and our first concern is to produce reporting, images, and programs. We are not responsible for the pipeline, if I may use that term.
Now I want to talk about the efficiency of our resources. Earlier you saw the story by Martine Laberge, who is our video journalist in Hearst, in northern Ontario. Video journalists are reporters who do the filming themselves, who do their own editing, and who write their own stories. They work alone.
We think this is the way of the future. We have been doing this for a long time, and we are going to develop this approach by equipping video journalists with much simpler tools. Cameras are less expensive now. We can use more smart phones. By making this part of digital coverage on our websites and on social media, we can reach audiences across the country much more efficiently.
We now have broadcasting methods that no longer require trucks. Let me give you an example.
When Premier Notley visited Fort McMurray, there was a bus full of journalists, and we broadcasted live from an iPhone on RDI, our mobile platforms, and Facebook Live. That is where we stand today.
We did the same thing when we covered the bombings at the Bataclan and elsewhere in Paris. We were there when the attacks took place. We broadcasted over an iPhone using what is called “Dejero technology”, which is simply a way of broadcasting live to air using a cell phone, without any loss of quality. In short, not needing to have equipment in a truck is an enormous advantage. That does not mean we do not use it when we need it, because signals are not always available.
However, the idea of equipment that must be kept in a truck will obviously be entirely obsolete in 15 years. This gives us more flexibility and costs less. So I think it is a positive development for everyone.
That was a few years ago.
I remember—and I think of it in Fort McMurray—when I was growing up in Goose Bay, Labrador, and we had to evacuate because of a forest fire. The CBC was our lifeline, and it is for many people who live in the north and who live in local areas.
What I want to concentrate on in my questions to you may sound provincial in the sense that I grew up in Newfoundland and Labrador, and so my examples will come from there, but where I'm going with that is with local newsstands and how we handle that nationally.
I'll take you back in time to the early 1990s, or mid-1990s, I can't remember the exact date, but Here and Now, which is the local supper hour newscast in St. John's, was doing extremely well. When I was growing up it was an institution. It was so pervasive that if you added up, but not per capita, the number of viewers they had in every other supper hour market—in Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, and Halifax—that number did not equal the number of people who watched Here and Now. You got rid of it, which I find astounding, as I did then. Then the Canada Now experiment began. Ian Hanomansing came in, and eventually the move came that it would be a half an hour of local television. I find that astounding, because if you saw any such glaring success in any other environment, and by any other company, you would immediately say, “How can we possibly learn from that, and how can we not emulate that and duplicate that in our other markets, because these guys are obviously on to something?”
Unfortunately somebody at the time—not you, this is before your time—thought better. In fact, a number of people thought better. In fact, it seems to me an entire mentality thought better, which gives me great cause for concern, because even though Here and Now in St. John's has gone back to its one hour, it is no longer anywhere near what it was. The private network immediately grabbed about 75% of the market share after that, because people didn't want a half an hour. They wanted an hour, and in that half an hour the news became even less than that because of weather, and sports, and the other sundry items you need to have in a supper hour newscast. It was a glaring lack of judgment, so I'm nervous that in the latest cuts—which in your eyes should be a glaring success—my little neck of the woods is probably going to suffer.
Maybe one of you could fill me in on how the most recent round of cuts is going to take them back, now that they're almost at parity with that private network.
I can talk to you about Radio-Canada and new services but not about the rest.
As I said, we will not be rebuilding what we had five years ago. We are extensively developing digital services and mobility since that has to be done via smart phones if we want to attract a younger new audience. We know that. Consequently, we want to develop our digital activities as a way to leverage the rest of our programming.
Let me give you an example. In the case of the “Enquête” episode that featured aboriginal women in Val d'Or, which caused quite a buzz, we did not just produce a television program. Starting at noon, we began broadcasting capsules for the digital audience containing statements by these women. This gives us leverage in getting other people interested in television. They can thus get informed about a single subject in a variety of ways. We are working hard to expand our content distribution strategy. We want to ensure we have several formats and can develop new digital formats to attract new audiences with quality journalism.
These are some of the basics of what we want to do. As I said, we also have to invest in original content because everyone now has access to general and daily news. What distinguishes Radio-Canada is that we practise original journalism. We even have a Facebook presence. Broadcasters and the media demand original content that is consistent with and confirms Radio-Canada's brand as the public broadcaster. Consequently, in a fragmented world in which a lot of rumours and news circulate, our mandate is to ensure that we continue producing high-quality content. We have to go digital for all the benefits that entails, and we also have to ensure that people can find that product. As you know, an entire debate is under way on the phenomenon of "discoverability". So it is very important for people to be able to find Radio-Canada's content.
Generally speaking, those are more or less the key areas we are working on. The idea is to continue producing quality content and to be in more places for longer, locally, nationally, and internationally. This is very important for us, in addition to ensuring that we have the digital leverage to drive that content and to ensure people know how to find it.
Allow me to add that the three objectives for our regional services are as follows.
The first is to make the digital shift. Here I am echoing what Mr. Cormier said on this point. In each of our major regions, we have to ensure that we are active on the Internet with our regional websites 18 hours a day, seven days a week, covering the news when it happens, and that we are there for Canadians in their regions with regional content when they decide to access our digital platforms. This is the plan that we announced last year and that we will be consolidating over the coming year.
The second is to restore a service that we lost as a result of the cuts. In consultations with the francophone minority communities in the west and Ontario, people clearly told us that the loss of more social and cultural programs—we were forced to cut them—had had an impact on those communities. Here we are talking about everything that was not information, news, or public affairs. Cultural programs are about a certain activity in the communities. This is important for them, and we are the only ones who do this kind of program. If we do not do it, that will be a loss for the communities. Consequently, we will be restoring a number of those programs in some of those regions, and we are in the process of taking action to address this question.
The third concerns the succession issue, more particularly in the regions. When we get out of the major centres such as Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, and Gatineau, we experience quite significant problems recruiting young journalists, directors, and producers of digital content for Radio-Canada. We have to invest money to ensure that the next generation joins our stations across the country and that we are able to offer the services that Canadians expect.
Those are the three objectives for reinvestment in regional services.
I quite agree with Mr. Waugh about the cuts. CBC/Radio-Canada has had a diminished presence in the past few years, and that has left a gap, particularly in the rural areas. Listening to Mr. Waugh, I thought it was unfortunate that he was not part of the previous Conservative government. He definitely could have tried to convince it not to make those cuts. They did not leave much for the regions. There is virtually no CBC/Radio-Canada news in the rural and local communities.
In addition, my colleagues in Nova Scotia noted on several occasions during the last election campaign, and even on election night, that the Radio-Canada people pronounced my name in English. Several emails were sent to Radio-Canada that evening to point out that my name should be pronounced in French. It was a bit disappointing that they had to do that.
People from my community who support me noted that I was the only Acadian candidate to run in Nova Scotia. We are talking here about 11 ridings in which there were at least three candidates in each one, so at least 33 people. I was the only Acadian, but no one there was aware of the fact. Consequently, no comments were made on the subject, and, in addition, my name was mispronounced.
My colleagues claim that Radio-Canada slipped up on that occasion. I am not the one who said so.
Seven minutes, that's perfect.
As I said a little earlier, I watch and listen to CBC/Radio-Canada a lot, and many people in my family, in Montreal, Quebec, and across Canada watch and listen to it as well. You must have phenomenal ratings among certain groups. Anyone who watches and listens to CBC/Radio-Canada does it a lot.
The changes resulting from the recent cuts were striking for regular listeners. In the evening, for example, they might see a feature on an illegal landfill site and then hear the audio from the same piece on the news the next day. That is irritating for someone who normally has the opportunity to hear different features on other subjects or on the same subject but from a different angle.
Perhaps those savings were necessary. An effort was very obviously made. I wanted to congratulate you because I think you took a pragmatic approach and managed the situation well. True, it is not as pleasant as it was, but in some instances, having two reporters reporting two similar stories at the same time was a luxury.
On the other hand, one might have doubts about the efficiency of that arrangement. Everyone knows I am not giving up on CBC/Radio-Canada's current board of directors. However, this morning I learned that the Radio-Canada news centre, which, unless I am mistaken, was established no more than 15 or 20 years ago, may be demolished and moved elsewhere.
Do you think that is the best possible use of the funding? There is new funding now, and that is typical. If I buy a big box of cookies, I will eat more of them. If we give you this money, which you really needed to carry out your mandate, do you not think we should be completely informed about the various development plans for the site? The most recent parts of the building will probably be demolished or repurposed—perhaps to accommodate two or three convenience stores—instead of being a news centre, which, unless I am mistaken, cost approximately $40 million.