Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman. Good afternoon, members of the committee.
Thank you for your invitation to come and talk with you today about CBC/Radio-Canada's plans and priorities. We appreciate your interest in, and your support of, public broadcasting.
Before moving on to the main topic of our meeting this afternoon, I would like to take a few moments to talk about your recent study on the mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada.
Since becoming President and CEO, I have spent a lot of time listening, reflecting on written materials and ideas, talking with our employees and meeting with various stakeholders who work in our broadcasting environment, and focusing on the issues that are currently confronting your national public broadcaster.
Obviously, I have also read your report and its 47 recommendations. I must tell you that I find many of your conclusions and recommendations absolutely on the mark.
First off, thanks to all of you. Thank you for your efforts and for your success in capturing the views expressed by Canadians across the country about public broadcasting and CBC/Radio-Canada. In doing so, you have highlighted the importance of public broadcasting in our country and the belief, which I strongly share, that CBC/Radio-Canada should continue to play a pivotal role in the social, cultural, and democratic life of this country.
It is particularly significant that so many of your report's conclusions are unanimous. Interestingly, you clearly recognize the importance of secure funding for the corporation over more than its current twelve-month cycles. And your call for a cost of living adjustment to this funding is a necessary first step toward stable funding.
Most importantly, this committee has made a clear call for a new relationship between CBC/Radio-Canada and Canadians. I cannot overstate the importance of the MOU proposal.
This document will clarify for all Canadians the services we will provide and the resources necessary to do that, thus allowing us to meet their expectations. It will enable CBC/Radio-Canada to evolve as a critical cultural institution in this country, according to the needs and objectives identified by the government and by Parliament.
This is imperative. If public broadcasting is to remain relevant in the modern broadcasting environment, it cannot stand still or offer a less compelling package of services to Canadians. Its competitors are not. Their new programs, products, and technological offerings are not. Consequently, status quo is unacceptable for your national public broadcaster. CBC/Radio-Canada must move forward. It must adapt to the changing cultural diversity of Canada. It must be flexible.
I believe your MOU proposal will enable us to do so. It will enable us to meet the needs of Canadians in an effective manner and to be accountable for it.
From an operational viewpoint, an MOU based on a seven-year period is the framework that we need. This longer-run horizon will enable us to plan more efficiently, organize ourselves more effectively, better forecast capital spending, re-think our infrastructure, and therefore link our strategic objectives to our resources over the entire seven-year period.
Overall, your report is a blueprint for action and we are ready to work immediately with the government to begin developing the memorandum. We, like you, are looking forward to the government's response to your report at the end of June.
However, I would like to emphasize the urgency of implementing your recommendations and, in particular, putting in place the MOU. The CRTC's proceedings on the renewal of our seven-year licences will likely take place in the second half of 2009. In the interests of good governance and efficient planning for all of the services we offer to Canadians, the contents of the MOU should set the stage for the CRTC proceedings. We therefore suggest that work on the drafting of the MOU begin as soon as possible.
Let me move to our plans and priorities. In the four months since I became president and CEO, I have begun a number of formal initiatives that I believe are vital for our company. All of these initiatives are focused around three key priorities: our people, our programs, and the need for this company to push forward strategically if it is to meet the challenges of its environment. Thus, all of our actions and decisions will revolve around these three Ps--people, programs, and pushing forward--all in one national public broadcaster.
At CBC/Radio-Canada, everything we do--TV, radio, digital content, programming ideas, and journalistic excellence--depends on the creativity, intelligence, and dedication of our employees. Our people are therefore key to our success. We will only succeed if they are engaged and supportive of our direction and initiatives.
In January I began meeting regularly with employees from across the company. So far I have visited various facilities and departments from Vancouver to Quebec City. I have sat in breakfast meetings with small groups, listened to presentations, walked the floors, and spent time in mobile units and production facilities. I will continue to do so throughout my term.
What I am discovering is that not only do our employees have a commitment to excellence in public broadcasting and a passion for CBC/Radio-Canada, but they are also committed to change, as they all realize what is happening to our environment. They're ready for this. They are willing to embrace this. We need to show them how to get there. They understand that if we don't keep up with the rapidly changing environment, we will be left behind.
Harnessing the enthusiasm for change that our employees have expressed is essential in helping to shape our strategic directions - not just within each department, media line or linguistic side of the company, but across the entire company and each of its components.
Because, while CBC/Radio-Canada carries out numerous activities, is present on numerous platforms and works in a very big country, we often forget that we are part of one company. We must think and act as a single entity if we want to achieve our strategic objectives.
This way of acting provides us with numerous advantages and permits us to distinguish ourselves from our competition. Let me give you a concrete example of this.
When I was in Vancouver, our news team there had just produced a story on the use of tasers by police. The journalist was a bilingual francophone based in British Columbia. The cameraman was a bilingual anglophone working for Radio-Canada. The researcher and radio producer were anglophones living in Toronto who worked for the CBC.
Their story ran that evening on both French and English national television networks. The following morning, it was adapted for English and French national radio. There was more in-depth information on our French and English websites, including streaming audio and video and podcasts. In the end, their story was picked up by other news organizations around the world.
The point is that by working together, pooling these strengths and resources, we provided, in this case, a much better service to Canadians, a service that no other broadcasting entity can offer in this country. Great things do actually happen when we work together. This is where we become distinctive, this is where we have an edge, and this is what your national public broadcaster will exploit.
As I indicated, strengthening this aspect of our operations is now one of our key priorities.
You have recently finished studying our mandate. You know that the broadcasting industry is defined by change: changing technology, changing audiences, changing demographics, thus changing demands on the public broadcaster.
You also know, as we do, that when it comes to their public broadcaster, not all Canadians are comfortable with change. You have heard some of the reaction we've had to our upcoming changes to Radio 2, and to the CBC orchestra. We are very sensitive to that. But we cannot shy away, and will not shy away, from making the tough choices and consequently effecting the changes that we think are necessary for us to serve all Canadians.
In a few weeks, CBC/Radio-Canada will showcase our athletes as they compete against the best in the world at the Summer Olympics in Beijing. It is the pinnacle of our commitment to Canadian athletes all year round. For some years now, we have been the recognized leader in developing new and more efficient and effective technology for our coverage of the Olympic Games. This is one of the ways in which our expertise clearly stands out.
At the same time, we must continue to use our limited resources in our daily operations in a way that ensures our services remain relevant to the changing needs of Canadians.
We are currently trying to find the resources we need to enhance our services, to make the transition to digital and high-definition television, and to make more programs. Our appropriation is lower today, in real terms--actually $400 million lower--than it was 15 years ago, yet the number of platforms on which we are expected to deliver our services continues to grow, and the cost of making programming has exploded. We have to adjust, but we can't stop innovating or taking risks. We need to make sure that the widest range of unique Canadian programming is available to Canadians when and how they want it. In this regard, the Canadian Television Fund is a crucial resource.
While I am the president and CEO of this organization, we will pursue this creative agenda as one company, building bridges between our employees, building bridges between Canadians, innovating and serving the interests of all in this country.
We will now be pleased to answer your questions.
Thank you, Chair, and thank you for being with us, Mr. Lacroix, Mr. Lafrance, and Mr. Stursberg. I appreciate that you have come today.
I noticed, as did Mr. Coderre, the change in language that I think is evident in your opening statement, in which you were referring to the CBC as a company, not as the corporation or some other language term. I suspect you've done that rather deliberately, and probably there is an interesting discussion to be had there. I'm not sure I like the change, but that's not where I want to focus my questions this afternoon.
There are some things in your statement that I agree with. You talk about the CBC being a critical cultural institution in Canada, and I don't think anyone here would deny that. You talk about how the CBC provides a service that no other broadcasting entity can offer, and I think there's no disagreement around the table here about that. You talk about building bridges to your audiences and to the community across Canada, and again, there is no argument there.
However, I think one piece of your audience right now is feeling as though the bridge has been blown up, shall I say, and those are certainly the folks who have enjoyed the classical music services of the CBC for many years, particularly on CBC Radio 2. I know you've probably heard from many of them; I know I have, and I know that many of them are organized on Facebook, for instance, where I think 15,000 of them are protesting the changes at CBC.
You talk about key Canadian cultural institutions, and for many of us from the Vancouver area the CBC Radio Orchestra is one of those key cultural institutions. In fact, it's one of the few national cultural institutions that exist outside eastern Canada, and one that I think many people in Vancouver and the lower mainland guard very jealously as a result.
I think other people as well have been concerned about the ongoing commitment to the development of classical performers and composers in Canada with the demise of the CBC's Young Composers Competition, for instance, and all the changes at Radio 2. I think most listeners who are interested in classical music see that as a very significant downgrading of that service.
There are lots of folks who are concerned about that. There are people in the cities, because most of our cities don't have a commercial classical music option. It's not something the private sector is doing--there are some in, I believe, Montreal and Toronto, but outside of that I don't think there are. There are certainly no commercially available classical musical stations in rural Canada, and rural Canadians have depended almost exclusively on the CBC for classical music.
They want to know why. Why this abandonment of the classical music constituency? Why this abandonment of faithful listeners who are probably among the CBC's most devoted fans? Why in particular in Vancouver, where Radio 2 had its greatest success in the country, and where its listening audience is already declining sharply? Why, Mr. Lacroix?
Mr. Siksay, thank you for allowing me to address these two important questions. I know they've been on your mind, and they've been on the minds of everybody, particularly but not exclusively in the western part of Canada.
Let me deal with this in two blocks; first off, the block about Radio 2. We consider that our commitment to culture is to respect the full musical diversity of this country. Consequently, this exercise that everybody thinks we are doing, which the media have called “the dumbing down of Radio 2”, is not that at all.
We hope these changes will open Radio 2 to more genres of music, and that Radio 2 will become the greatest showcase for Canadian music in the country. We hope we will expose older people of this country to music that is current—not only classical music. However, classical music won't disappear. It will still be the most important genre of music on Radio 2. We have to remember this.
We would also like to remind people that as we are changing we are going to do more with Radio 2. You said you were concerned about the lack of classical music. In September, we are going to be able to stream, 24/7, classical music in one of our services. This is new. It's going to be added to other streaming initiatives. So Radio 2, we hope, is going to become a very important showcase.
As for the orchestra, it was introduced in 1938. It was a great orchestra, and its purpose was to stimulate the creation of arts and the artistic infrastructure in Canada. At that time, content was needed on radio. Live-to-air performances were what happened with orchestras of this kind. There were about 70 radio orchestras in North America.
We have to be very understanding of what's going on. With the resources we have, we think we have expanded the use of a radio orchestra. For every concert that we put on with our CBC orchestra, we can record three from other symphony orchestras in Canada. There are 46 of these other symphony orchestras that we would like to open to Canadians as they listen to Canadian music.
Thank you very much. I want to thank you for coming, because, as you know, following our report there was a real sense that we needed to hear from you with regard to how you are responding to the report and how you plan to implement some of the things in the report on your side.
I note in your opening remarks that you talk about the urgency of the government to implement the report and put in place the MOU. I agree with you on that. I think it's a pity this hasn't happened sooner, or at least that it has not been responded to yet by the government, but in the MOU there are going to be requirements for the CBC to be accountable. So I want to ask you a question about something we flagged in our report based on the Auditor General's report with regard to the six areas in which you were required to develop performance indicators. If you notice, there is a recommendation with regard to performance indicators in the report, so hopefully, as we deal with the MOU, we can get something from you.
I'd like you to respond as to why those indicators were not developed. Do you plan to develop them as part of your accountability structure? Why is it so difficult and different to have English and French radio and television reporting on performance indicators? Perhaps you could explain why that is.
My colleague, Bill Siksay, has already asked my second question in regard to the CBC Radio Orchestra in Vancouver. I must say that while you have met your mandate by now focusing on regional orchestras on the radio, it certainly puts people like me, in Vancouver, who will have to support our own orchestra, in a difficult position. But I suppose that's how it has to crumble.
I also want you to answer me the other question. You said in your report that you wanted to enable CBC radio to evolve as a critical cultural institution in this country. I believe that in order to do that you have to not only have a national reach but you have to have a regional reach in which we can represent Canadians to each other in every region.
During our review we heard from witnesses in many parts of Canada who said they were not receiving CBC radio, that that reach was in fact being cut back. Why is that happening? I understand it's about infrastructure and the need to have infrastructure, so can you tell us what are your infrastructure needs in order to achieve that?
I'd like to join Mr. Siksay in voicing my concerns about the reduction in classical music programming on CBC Radio 2.
I fully recognize that CBC is a crown corporation. It's at arm's length from the government. I understand that the role of this committee is not to interfere in your day-to-day operational decisions. I don't believe that's the role of our government either. However, we do individually, as members of this committee, represent constituents in our own ridings, and I'm going to share with you some of the concerns they've raised with me.
Abbotsford is my constituency. It's a wonderful city, a musical city. In fact, it may surprise you to know that in the last five years of Canadian Idol, four of the finalists came from Abbotsford. I believe that every one of those finalists, whether it was Greg Neufeld, Shane Wiebe, Jacob Hoggard, of Hedley, or Karen-Lee Batten, each one of them had their roots either in classical music or in choral music. Of course, now they've gone on to other genres of music, whether it's country, pop, or rock.
I'm concerned about how we're going to judge your decision to scale back the classical music offering on Radio 2. I'm going to be very concerned that over the years, if we continue on that path, fewer and fewer Canadians, first of all, will develop an appreciation for classical music, and fewer Canadians will have an opportunity to become interested in classical music to the extent of developing their skills so that they can become skilled in other forms of music as well.
So my question is direct to you. How will you judge? Upon what standard will you be judged as to the success or failure of your decision to axe the CBC orchestra, as well as to scale back the classical music offerings on CBC Radio 2?
This change in strategy for Radio 2 has actually been the subject of studies and consultations that date back three years.
I have to tell you, I'm relatively new to radio. I became in charge of radio at the end of November last year, but I followed this--when I was in charge of television--and then looked into it in considerable detail when they asked me to worry about radio as well.
I have to tell you, I think this was certainly the most far-reaching consultation that I've ever seen in terms of a shift in CBC strategy.
I will just say a couple of other things. One is having access to classical music. As the president said, it will continue to be on Radio 2, but as he mentioned earlier on, the other thing we're going to do is we're going to put up a full classical music channel. It will be on the Internet. It won't be on the airwaves.
Now it's interesting that if you look at the consumption statistics for radio in North America, approximately 11% to 12% of all consumption of radio is now online, and that obviously skews very heavily by age. So if you were to look at a younger demographic, they're going to consume way more of that stuff online than an older demographic, and that is increasingly the case.
But I would say one other thing: one of the facts that made an enormous impression on me was that in Canada we release about 30,000 pieces of music a year, and of those 30,000 pieces of music, only 240 get commercial airplay. So there is a kind of vast musical landscape that you really can't hear. You just can't hear it. It's not made available, and that seems a shame.
So this shift in strategy is not meant in any way to denigrate classical music. Everybody understands the centrality and importance of classical music to the musical tradition in Canada. It's rather to open up for Canadians all the rest of the music to which they have so little access.
I congratulate Mr. Fast on pursuing this line of questioning. By the way, Mr. Fast is an accomplished pianist, as a matter of fact, and is very interested in musical tradition and so on.
I've noticed the change in the mix on Radio 2. I drive a lot, and it's getting to the point where if I'm looking for classical music--and I don't listen to it that much, but if I'm looking for it, I'm getting to the point where I'm saying maybe Radio 2 is not the place to go, because it's hit and miss. I'll get lounge music on a Sunday afternoon and then I'll get some jazz or whatever.
So I'm starting to think--in the Montreal area--is there another station I can go to and know that I will get classical music? Right now, I don't think I will with the same degree and depth of analysis that I would on Radio 2. So I'm not there yet.
I'm just wondering, if you make the mix too broad--in marketing terms--are some people going to say...? You know the demographic or the psychographic--or whatever you want to call it--that listens to singer-songwriters is not the same as the one that will necessarily listen to jazz or blues or classical. Is there a possibility that you will get to the point where some people in major markets that have classical music radio alternatives will just disengage from Radio 2, so you'll find your numbers falling? Those who like pop more may just stay with commercial radio, and then you'll be back here saying your audience is only 1% now. From a marketing perspective, is that possible?
Secondly, are we getting to the point where--going back to Mr. Coderre's initial point, which is that CBC is a company, but it's not Proctor and Gamble--we are doing too much segmentation? Of course, I'm referring to the Claude Dubois incident. I was driving to Ottawa that night and I was listening to the broadcast on radio, and it was fabulous. You reserved a portion for Mr. Dubois and some interpretation of his songs in French. When I came to the House of Commons the next day and I heard the complaints, I said, “What are you talking about? I listened to it and there was a great mix.” But on TV there wasn't.
I would just like your general comments on those two points.
I used to also be in the cable business and in the satellite TV business.
I think what Sylvain gave you by way of an account of the situation with respect to the Quebec marketplace and the centrality of conventional broadcasters is absolutely accurate, and he puts it very nicely when he says, “it's a little bit the canary in the mine shaft”.
What's happening in the Montreal market is what is beginning to happen now across English Canada. The issue that's before us is that if we want to maintain—it's exactly the same thing in English—strong news services, regional news services, and Canadian drama, which is very expensive, the conventional broadcasters are the ones who do it.
They find themselves in a very funny situation—by “they” I mean us and CTV and Global—which is that the specialties, whether TSN or whoever it happens to be, have access to two forms of revenue. One is with the cable companies and the satellite companies, which pay them by way of fees, and the second is advertising revenues. We've said, if it matters to the system that we continue to do drama and news and regional shows and whatnot, then we should make sure that everybody has access to the same various sources of revenue.
So we've said to the commission, absolutely, you should tell the cable companies they should pay the conventional broadcasters a fee. But we've said the fee actually has to be tied to programming commitments. It has to be tied to things you're actually going to do, not just to help out your bottom line.
We recognize that a lot of people have asked whther that will make basic rates for cable go up, so the other thing we've said we think is very important is this. Right now your basic service, if you live in Toronto, consists of over 60 channels. It's an enormous basic service on which the cable companies keep piling more and more stuff. We said, why don't we make it simple? Let's make a very small basic service that would just consist of the key Canadian services.
Right now, the funny thing is—it's a sort of irony—that if you want to buy basic cable service, they force you, essentially, to buy American channels.
So we said let's make the basic service very small, and after that people could just pick whatever they want. Then, if the service comes down from being 60 channels to 12 or 10, you can see that the price of basic will collapse and the amount of freedom consumers will have to pick whatever it is they want and to control their own cable bills will be dramatically increased. That's our proposal.