Crunching numbers and egos

First, let’s get this obvious gaffe out of the way, although I wish we were talking about CBS.

Second, I’d be more amenable to the term “pubcaster” if an actual pub were involved more often.

Third, “auds?” Has Variety invented its own version of the English language?

Not much to see here. Just another article on CBC-TV ratings featuring some exceptional executive-class gymnastics

[Kirstine Layfield] argues that people’s perspective on CBC numbers is skewed by a tendency to compare them to those for U.S. shows rather than to Canadian fare. She also points to a mistaken belief (based on a February speech by CBC helmer Stursberg at a producers’ conference) that the bar is set at 1 million viewers, instantly and for all shows.

Mistaken belief? But that’s what he said, at least for comedy and drama. You can Google it yourself. Wait, here it is:

“And to do it we don’t have to match the huge audiences U.S. series are drawing on CTV and Global. We’ll need to attract an audience of perhaps a million for drama or comedy programs, and 800,000 for documentaries and current affairs.”

Kirstine in Variety:

“It’s ridiculous. We know that successful shows can reach a million viewers. ‘Rick Mercer’ does it. ‘Corner Gas’ does it. Would we like more of our shows to reach a million viewers? Yes. Will they all reach a million? No.”

Well, it was a crazy-ass number anyways, although I thought it was a real gutsy thing to say at the time and I applauded him for thinking big. My applause has died down a bit now that he’s pretending he never said it.

In a twist on the art of ratings spin, the pubcaster has recently begun quoting week-end totals of multiple broadcasts. For instance, in the week of Nov. 6, the entrepreneur reality show “Dragon’s Den” pulled in a cumulative total of 731,000 (over two broadcasts,) making it the fastest-growing show on the network.

Are these numbers really fooling anyone? Dragon’s Den has had some real success but these cumulative ratings I keep reading about smack of desperation and somehow diminish the accomplishment.

Speaking of Stursberg’s speeches and numbers, here’s what he said at the Economic Club of Toronto earlier this month, which I reprint here in case you forgot to pay your membership dues this year:

Nevertheless, we are pleased with the way things are going.

I’m happy to report that our share in prime time this season is about on par with where we were last year at this time.

Last year at this time the whole place was squealing and reeling like a speared boar after a lockout that nearly killed us. How can anyone be happy about this?

He also talked about government subsidies for the private broadcasters, or pricasters in Varietyspeak, and gave some numbers:

Simultaneous substitution & Income Tax Act, Sec 19.1 m – $270-$330 million

Advertising incentives – $70-80 million (est.)

Television production tax credits – $140 million

Canadian Television Fund – $100 million

Now, these numbers are obscene. There is no reason private broadcasters should be getting this much public money for rebroadcasting American shows. There’s no excuse for it. That money should be going to public broadcasting.

Yet at the same time I wonder if it’s fair to include tax breaks in this calculation. You mean to tell me we don’t get any? And I’ve always been curious about the deal we worked out with ACTRA, where actors get a full 20 to 30% less to act in a CBC production than anywhere else in Canada.

For every Rick Mercer living in a princely mansion In Toronto, there are 1000s of actors eating Kraft Dinner in shabby bachelor apartments. Every member of ACTRA knows that working on a CBC production is a ripoff. I understand we have tight budgets, but why do we have to literally take food from the mouths of the creative classes we depend on to make our programming the best it can be?

Somehow, it just doesn’t add up.


  1. Anonymous
    Posted November 25, 2006 at 6:30 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Yeah I suppose it is fair. My point is that adding up plays in a lot of cases is worse than just comparing first plays. If three combined plays of Intelligence gets one fifth of House is that good spin?

  2. Johnny Happypants
    Posted November 24, 2006 at 8:24 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    It’s fair to tally the weekly extra plays. (A week later they’d be re-runs) This HBO model is something we should have adopted years ago—we talked about it in the 80s— but the talent contracts were too rigid. I don’t know if these loosened up or we just decided to pay more.

    Our first show to do this, The National, is now the loser as people scramble for their remotes to turn off the George assault. I think we’re only losing 100k viewers a night there, but they’re mostly old people.

    Yes I have a VCR, PVR, and the ability to download, but mom and I still enjoy channel surfing the real broacast time world.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted November 23, 2006 at 8:56 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    imagine if ctv added their rerun numbers to their first plays of shows. or threw in the comedy network. they could claim 2.5 or 3 million for Corner Gas.

    I think Dragon’s Den recent growth, or Mercer’s strengh are strong enough to point to without fudging, and it’s a bad road to go down to add all the plays up.

    we should call a second play what it is: a rerun.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted November 22, 2006 at 6:47 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    re: the post about HD

    The same is happening with, and any interactive content. People are working miracles in some places, with little or no investment in the infrastructure.

    It cannot continue at this pace. 2 days of downtime for recently should point that out.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted November 21, 2006 at 11:42 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    As long s CBc doesn’t screw up Intelligence. It is the best show on the air right now by far. So far I like what there doing with it. Seem to be advertising it – and I like the time slot CBC is not CTV – they don’t have there money. It will always be easier to buy a US show and put it on the air. But where does that leave Canada. Where is our voice in that. It’s not perfect the CBC but thank God we have it or it would be friggin CSI 24/7.
    About the Hour. They advertise the heck out of that show. They are giving it more than enough support. Perhaps George should just slow down a little. Just slow down George, take a breath, actually connect to what your saying instead of using your fast speaking facility to cool your way through. One segment like that is okay, but a whole hour it becomes nauseating. Otherwise the show would be great. This is the consensus of many I’ve talked to- just slow down George. Did you see Intelligence tonight? That is some class A work. Sold to over 80 countries. CBC be proud, and tell George to…well you get the point.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted November 21, 2006 at 10:33 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Last I checked with a friendly acquaintance who used to work for Variety, they did have fact-checkers…

  7. Anonymous
    Posted November 21, 2006 at 6:31 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    About moving on: You should understand that at present, when you walk into FutureShop or wherever you choose to buy your new High Def LCD TV, those display models are all being fed HD sources, either from satellite, or a DVD. There aren’t a lot of HD broadcasters at present, and even fewer Canadian ones.

    As the nation’s broadcaster, we’re scrambling to bring you HD, though we no longer have the engineering to oversee it properly. Many mistakes are being made. Too often, we’re the experts.

    Now, coming back to moving on: given the very specialized knowledge that goes into technical broadcasting, and particularly with HD, exactly where were we to move on to? The U.S.?

  8. Anonymous
    Posted November 21, 2006 at 4:23 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    One episode was reported to have an audience of 8,000. Good numbers for community television in Moosejaw. Hey, it’ll pick up, word of mouth, those billboards … and where there’s nothing else like it on daytime tv ….

  9. Anonymous
    Posted November 20, 2006 at 8:24 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    As simple as a typo, add an extra 0 and 10,000 turns into 100,000. I realized it as soon as I saw it.

    Never mind about fact-checkers where is the editor?

  10. Johnny Happypants
    Posted November 20, 2006 at 7:16 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    ‘Layfield pointed …(to) new daytime talkshow “Gill Deacon,” which launched last week to about 100,000.’

    Is Variety a newspaper with fact-checkers? I don’t think that show’s come close to that.


  11. Anonymous
    Posted November 20, 2006 at 5:42 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    There are only about a dozen people, in senior management, who have to “quit and move on” to save the joint. There are many others, of course, whose departure would probably help, but that is true of any large organization.

  12. Justin Beach
    Posted November 20, 2006 at 3:40 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I’m not even sure what this “We are indebted to such individuals who put dedication to duty above all else. I assume that they still feel justified in picking up their monthly salary not withstanding the fact that they are servicing their own needs and aspirations rather than getting on with the job that they were hired to do. ” is about, of course they get paid, don’t be silly.

    As to the rest, I didn’t say that people who work at the CBC are better or worse than people who work anywhere else, simply that there is a difference between working for, and at times critisizing, a publicly owned, national institution and working for and critisizing a private company.

    I can only assume, by your logic, that anyone who doesn’t like the way government is working should, rather than try to reform it, simply quit and go somewhere else.

    Surely that’s how you handle problems, you quit and move on. Fortunately there are those who disagree with you.

  13. Anonymous
    Posted November 20, 2006 at 2:08 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    It is indeed breathtaking to learn that there are individuals employed at the CBC who are so dedicated and not like us ordinary folks who believe that when the work environment is not compatable they simply move on.

    We are indebted to such individuals who put dedication to duty above all else. I assume that they still feel justified in picking up their monthly salary not withstanding the fact that they are servicing their own needs and aspirations rather than getting on with the job that they were hired to do. Obviously they regard their employment as a “calling” which undoubtedly gives them a feeling of superiority.

    From your comments I guess you consider that the folks employed at the Hudson Bay Company are lesser mortals who merely work for a living rather than living to work!

    Your rationale indicates why there is such malaise at the CBC. One school who feel they have a calling and appear somewhat self righteous and those who are trying to service the general populace rather than satisfying a few elite. Rememer we all contribute to this service!

    A CBC viewer and supporter

  14. Anonymous
    Posted November 20, 2006 at 11:44 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    The tax credits and CTF funding the privates receive are used to make Canadian shows. Lately those, mostly lousy, shows have been as good as, or better than, CBC fare. I’m one of those people who want a strong public broadcaster, but you’ve got to give me something to support.

  15. Justin Beach
    Posted November 20, 2006 at 10:35 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Anonymous (CBC Viewer)

    Some people are at the CBC because they believe in it and they want a strong, national public broadcaster – even if they think it’s gone off track.

    It’s not quite the same as leaving the Hudson Bay Company or even CTV because you think they’re going in the wrong direction. Those are private companies, and can go whatever direction they think will bring in the most revenue.

    The CBC is a national institution, owned by the Canadian public and governed by a strict mandate as to what they put on the air. It’s perfectly valid for people (inside or out) to critisize it if they feel mistakes are being made – just like they can critisize parliament, or fisheries or the treasury board. Or, that’s my opinion anyway.

  16. Anonymous
    Posted November 20, 2006 at 10:08 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I hate selective quotes

    I followed your link to the Stursberg speech and if I read it correctly he said “the schedule includes some programs that were green lit three years ago”! In other words acquisitions made by others three years ago now have to be worked into the schedule, however, I’ve yet to read anyone from CBC management do a “Rona Ambrose”

    As for the target of a million viewers. Surely you didn’t expect instant results! I thought you were a manager in the industry! I’m not but I’m not so naive as to expect instant results and if you do, then your judgement should be questioned.

    Your claim to be a current CBC “manager” is suspect, as in the normal business world when one feels as negative as you do about ones employer, one normally moves on to more compatable pastures. I can only assume that you have been unable to locate altrnative employment which is perhaps the motivation behind your blog. This puts your credibility in question!

    A CBC viewer

  17. Guy Dixon
    Posted November 20, 2006 at 9:21 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    About Variety’s “slanguage” as they call it: Sometimes it feels like a deliberate trick. I’ll start reading a Variety piece and forgetting about the slang for a second will go momentarily and utterly slip a mental gear. They have a whole glossary of these terms at Some of the words are always unpleasant, particularly the gapped-mouthg “auds.” Then you have “ankle” as a term for quitting, as in he ankled his job at the network. And “thrush” for a female singer? A dynamic language is a beautiful thing, but not when it’s so forced.

  18. Anonymous
    Posted November 20, 2006 at 9:04 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I think it’s fairly clear that they have no idea what they are doing. Even when they get something that seems to be working (the Hour) they find a way to destroy it. Put it in a bad time slot/try to make it funnier (though George is no comic)/predominantly American guests (of little importance)/too young for boomers/too old for youth…

  19. Anonymous
    Posted November 20, 2006 at 4:03 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Now they are exposed for not having the courage to admit their own mistakes. Now they begin with the excuses and the blame shifting. They fudge numbers and obfuscate. If not replaced they will shortly bring the Corporation down.

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