Now we have to be better than France, too

I don’t know if we should even dignify Susan Sachs’ freelance piece in the Globe with too much attention. Maybe just enough attention, which in a way is the Stursberg philosophy.

The news hook is Sarkozy’s edict that French public TV will go ad-free within two years. The article ritually compares the CBC with France; then, as all CBC comparisons must do, it includes a comparison to the BBC. Sachs points out that “alternative revenue sources” will be needed to make up the French €450 million shortfall. Then there’s a discussion of programming priorities – Sarkozy wants French public TV to be unlike commercial TV, while Stursberg just wants more people to get exposed to “Canadian content.”

The article notes that ad sales here are tanking and that’s only going to get worse; what isn’t discussed is the fact that even highly-watched CanCon has audience figures only marginally higher than the competition’s. CBC can’t do ten times better with Wild Roses than CTV does with CSI: Miami or whatever. It’s a business of small differences; it is a business of margins. Stursberg wants just a little more attention paid to CBC programming and somehow thinks that will translate into disproportionately more revenue. It won’t.

Anyway, those are differences that don’t matter in this discussion. What matters is funding. CBC can’t get along without funding from TV commercials because the government isn’t going to hand over any more money. (Apparently the budget won’t be cut next week, but it won’t go up, either.) France public TV’s ad revenue alone amounts to most of CBC’s budget. It doesn’t really matter what kind of programming either service puts on the air. One fact is true of both: Without advertising, each needs a larger government subsidy.

But what about the BBC? They don’t have commercials, but they show nasty Hollywood product, the article pretty much tells us. Yes, they do – but everyone pays a tax on their television sets in the U.K. (The BBC also has a much more aggressive sales arm – there’s been a Canadian sales office for decades, and channels like BBC Canada and BBC America are a nice easy way to earn royalties.)

But the French have a TV licence fee, too. So what’s their problem? Why can’t their TV licence fee pay for everything that advertising can’t? It sounds like French TV is overspending; it does not sound like French TV is underfunded.

It also sounds, yet again, like the way to solve the CBC’s budget crisis is not to shitcan Intelligence and hope that tons of secretaries tune in to Sophie and buy the Procter & Gamble products advertised between scenes. The way to do it is to put a tax on TV sets. Unthinkable? Mostly. But forcing the Privates to shove money in a kitty to prop up the Corpse might be somewhat easier to imagine.

Ad revenues and government subsidies are not a zero-sum argument. There are other places to find the money. We just don’t want to go there.


  1. Anonymous
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 8:23 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Looking the ad revenue to fund the operation in this marketplace is betting on the wrong horse.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted January 24, 2009 at 6:15 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I wonder, if one took hockey out of the equation, how much more CBC earns from advertising than it spends. Full page color ads for Being Erica in the Globe don’t come cheap. I hope we aren’t treading water.

    And while it would be silly to say the situation here is analogous to that in Europe the debate there is taking place at a higher level. Simply equating audience numbers with relevance and purpose is just thick.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted January 24, 2009 at 5:14 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    But journalists’ unions are concerned at the potential loss of
    advertising. Opposition politicians said Mr Sarkozy was handing a gift
    to his media baron friends in commercial television, who would reap
    huge financial benefits as advertising is transferred to their

    ” But critics say the plan will cause job losses and hand funding to
    private broadcasters – the largest of which, TF1, is owned by a close
    friend of Mr Sarkozy’s.

    They are also concerned by another proposal that would give the French
    president the power to appoint the head of France Televisions,
    potentially leading to increased government control.”

  4. Dwight Williams
    Posted January 24, 2009 at 3:41 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    As for the retail arm…yeah. Stores like the CBCShop facility in Place d’Orléans Mall in east Ottawa and at the Broadcast Centres are a Good Thing. And the former type of store should not be confined to the Christmas/New Year’s Season only. Year-round operation, please, at the malls as at the Broadcast Centres.

  5. Bytowner
    Posted January 24, 2009 at 1:32 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    A one-time “point of first purchase only” charge might worth considering. Not just for TVs, either, mind you. DVRs(tape, DVD, CD, hard drive-based, etc.), computers, anything you can use to watch video content with. Or would that not bring in sufficient revenue for CBC’s needs? Do we really need to go the “annual fee for permission to own and watch” route?

    (I use that phrasing now, so that we’ll know how to pre-empt the argument in advance of its utterance by CBC’s critics.)

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