The Perfect Storm

Last night I paid a visit to the “about” page for our board of directors. No doubt, they are all fine people who have excelled in their fields. But what CBC is facing right now is a perfect storm, and I’m not sure they’re prepared, or even qualified, to make the choices CBC needs to survive what’s headed our way.


No less than three category 5 hurricanes are bearing down on us. Falling ad revenues, a now fully mature internet, and of course a Conservative government that pretty much thinks we’re all just a bunch of commie finks. If you throw in the audience indifference resulting from some bunglings on our part (HNIC theme, Radio Two changes, and loads of American shows in prime time), we might think the best course of action would be to put on our lifejackets and jump.

But come on. Are we mice, or are we salty media seadogs ready to face up to the horrible truths of survival? (Repeat after me: “I’m a salty media seadog, ready to face the horrible truth.”)

Okay, then. Here’s the horrible truth.

Television as we know it, is about to die. Not just CBC, but TV as we know it.

Right now, if you wanted to, you could cut your cable, plug your laptop into your TV, and watch whatever you want, when you want. You don’t even need to know about computers ‘n’ stuff. It’s that easy. I just did it myself last month, and I’m not what you would call an early adopter.

It’s not elegant, to be sure, but there are a multitude of choices that are currently fighting to be born that will make it cheap, easy, and highly desirable for anyone with an internet connection. You have to ask yourself, who (aside from the elderly) is going to continue to pay $50 per month for the privilege of missing their favourite shows because they’re never on when you want to watch them, when they can just download them or stream them online

De-camping from the regions by merging radio and cutting local staff is not the answer. We’re already considered “latte drinking urban elites” by far too many Canadians. And cutting online services in this day and age is just such a brain dead idea that anyone who even floats this should be politely shown the door. These dinosaurs are better off on the golf course where they can’t hurt anyone. Either strategy is sure to further reduce our relevance.

No, the answer is to cut broadcast television loose as if it were a horribly injured leg. The sooner we do this, the faster we can adapt.

In no way am I trying to be insensitive to our colleagues in television, or suggest that all TV has to go immediately. We should definitely keep Newsworld, and move it over to the main channel, and even step up our investment in news, docs, and lifestyle programming.

But we should radically step up our efforts with online video — essentially creating an online television station that focuses on what CBC does best: news, documentaries, kids, comedy, and arts programming — and hopefully preserve as many jobs as possible. In essence, I’m not proposing we axe the bulk of CBC content — just the archaic and expensive medium in which we deliver it.

As for drama, well… I don’t think our attempts to copy American programming (The Border / 24) are worth the money, though it’s possible that moving online will give us a chance to experiment with radical new dramatic forms. It sounds radical I know, but this way, CBC will still find its way into the little glowing box in Canadians’ living rooms.

Question is… will Stursberg with his Ahab-like obbsession with television be able to let go? I have my doubts.

29 comments:

  1. Jerome
    Posted March 19, 2009 at 2:47 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Whoops. Forgot the link:

    http://www.criterion.com/library/online

  2. Jerome
    Posted March 19, 2009 at 2:46 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    You don’t need internet2 to watch high quality video. Fake O

    Most of the stuff I’m watching off of my laptop on an old fashioned television looks great. I’m told that it looks even better on an lcd, which is basically a computer monitor anyway. So the issue of quality is moot. As for selection… go visit Surf the Channel, or Hulu and see what is available. It’s mind blowing.

    Incidentally, Criterion just put it’s entire collection online. Clearly, they think people are going to watch it, and probably not sitting in front of their computers.

    Once again, I’m not saying we shut down CBC Television completely. Just that we consolidate our properties, and give up on the absurdly expensive practice of running a whole station so that we can program one or two dramas or comedies per day.

  3. Fake Ouimet
    Posted March 19, 2009 at 9:36 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Anonymoose at 17:30, please re-submit your message via telex. I would also accept a captioned submission via VHS.

    I assure you that television will not be displaced by Web video in our lifetimes. Newspapers, stageplays, and compact discs all still exist. There isn’™t the infrastructure to replicate television bandwidth online.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted March 19, 2009 at 7:56 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    How short-sighted ARE senior management? To consider taking ANY kind of bonus in this climate of uncertainty is unconscionable! Hubert writes in his IO missive that “management cares.” So too did Marie Antoinette, as she played farmerette in gilded seclusion at Petit Trianon, while her subjects starved and then rose in revolution, changing the world forever. Now, I’m not advocating violence in any form. Merely saying that our top dogs seem to be living in a fragile bubble, oblivious to a rapidly changing world. A willful ignorance about the cares and concerns of us ‘little people’ – most of whom actually believe in public broadcasting, and accept that a dismal financial situation coupled with dramatic changes in technology add up to a little belt-tightening. What the hell is wrong with them? It’s a public relations disaster, and will drag morale to an all-time low!

  5. Anonymous
    Posted March 19, 2009 at 5:43 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Hubert really couldn`t have times his mismanaged missive at a worse time now, could he.

    He better be the one talking on Wed. If he wants a chance at all, he`ll keep the Goons away from the mike.

    It would also be a good idea to avoid PowerPoint.It`s the most misused and useless part of office and those of us that actually know it, also know it generally used to obfuscate the issues. The association of PP with BS is longstanding. Use a damn blackboard.

    As for his bonus. Seriously, the only thing I want to hear is that they are all being chopped and the funds placed to improve the layoff packages.

    I cant even imagine it, but some of the people who will be laid off have NEVER worked for anyone else. Personally, I think that is a weakness but I, at least, will not diminish that they will be loosing everything the ever knew 9-5wise.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted March 19, 2009 at 3:51 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    How is it that freezing your compensation and only taking half your bonus amounts to a cut?

  7. Anonymous
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 10:49 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Yeah – as a soon-to-be unemployed worker, I really feel awful for those people that get automatic bonuses and will feel the pinch from that 10 or 20%. Must be freaking terrible. It’ll be such a comfort to know those bonuses were cut in half while I look for a job and collect EI.

    This, plus the Conservative idea of bailing out the private networks, is just making a GREAT week.

    In regards to the original post – I am young. I am very tech-savvy – it’s what I do for my job, if not for long. I hook up my laptop to my TV, watch and it’s awesome. But I really think broadcast TV is unlikely to die soon enough that it’s smart to totally put a bullet in it at the CBC. The assumption that enough people will be able to viably buy the tech in the next five years is unreasonable given a lot of people can’t even afford a computer, let alone a laptop. Go past an internet cafe or into a library on a Saturday. They’re packed for a reason.

    I can see it happening in my lifetime. I just can’t see it in five years, or in enough time to abandon broadcast entirely.

  8. Anonymous
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:59 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    If Dick worked for NN, what would his catchphrase be? Would he drone on endlessly about “Delivering Hard-ons?”

  9. Anonymous
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:50 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    When will Dick be fired?

  10. Anonymous
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:39 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    You probably wouldn’t enjoy working for NN as much as you’d think – apparently the owner is an OCD-level micro-manager. But then again porn companies are always kooky one way or another.

  11. AIGLE
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:26 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Anything that is said now, is unfortunately just impotent ramblings (although a good catharsis). Most of us know these guys and we know the system.

    They’ve already made up their mind. It is already done, we just don’t know what ‘it’ is.

    They are going to try to spin a “NEW VISION” in their “Town Hall/powerpoint/soundbites” while they are also making their lists behind various doors.

    Maybe we should all go over an volunteer at CIUT/Or other local college station again and maintain/update our skills with another go a CBC-unlocked.

    At least it’ll be good for our soul/morale.

    (This whole think feels a little bit like that time just before you decide to get divorced…ICK)

  12. Allan
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:13 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    First the good news.
    All top management jobs are safe, and virtually unaffected.
    For now, automatic bonuses are cut in half, but if the place is still here in 2010 we can always re-visit that.
    On the bright side, with the coming lay-offs, managers will have fewer people to supervise.
    Yet still be paid the same.

  13. Anonymous
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 3:56 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I’m with you 5:42 (6:42 really).

    I don’t even think they WATCH the news. (listening to the US AIG fallout right now).

    Whenever I read the taxpayer comments I am both embarassed and frustrated. Embarassed that I am still suckered by my love of this entity to give it my all, even though my work enables these Pirates. Frustrated since I want to yell “I don’t make 77 grand! I don’t get six weeks off! I don’t get a non-working lunch, let alone expensed!I can’t afford the Opera! Why are you vilifying me?”

    Advice to anyone who can. Book any necessary dental work before the 25th. Get your Dr. to advance any required prescriptions. Sigh,I’ve been through this before :(

  14. Anonymous
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 3:42 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    You know what sucks about the "we're only going to take 50%" bit?

    Not only do CBC employees get to feel personally ripped off as they face unemployment, but we're going to bear the brunt of taxpayer rage when people rightfully start freaking out over this.

    Hubert & Co will stumble around in a fug wondering why everyone is so pissed. Do they even read the news? Aren't bonuses for people who have a clue?

  15. Anonymous
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 3:33 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    From Hubert’s most recent entry on iO”

    “On the compensation front, executive salaries are being frozen at 2008 levels for 2009-2010. Potential bonus payouts for executives in 2009-2010 will be reduced by 50 percent. This means that the compensation for each of our eighty or so top managers will on average be reduced by 10 to 20 percent next year. I thought that you should know that management cares, and cares enough about CBC/Radio-Canada that it needed to send a clear signal that we will do our part. “

    Is it just me, or does this math seem odd.

    It seems to me that “compensation” does not normally assume a bonus (since that id discretionary and should vary between good and basd times) So compensation is still 100% with just a reduction in a non-mandatory bonus.

    Still sounds a bit AIG to me. But I’m waiting for my non-bonusworthy pay to be cut 10-15%(if I’m lucky) on Wednesday.

    “Gettin’ a little pissed off over here, boss!”

  16. Anonymous
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    First Law of New Media: New Media do not replace Old Media.

    Totally correct, of course. I saw it on the zoetrope.

  17. Jerome
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 3:27 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    “First Law of New Media: New Media do not replace Old Media.”

    Well, not yet, anyway. But we’re only 17 years into the internet. What about when new media isn’t so new anymore? Say five years?

    Adoption of new technology is speeding up.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-reached-150-million-users-84-years-faster-than-the-telephone-2009-2

    How long will it take to become uneconomical / undesirable to serve news on dead trees? It’s already happening.

    CBC needs to be pro-active, not reactive.

  18. Fake Ouimet
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 3:00 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    First Law of New Media: New Media do not replace Old Media.

  19. Allan
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 2:56 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Surprisingly good broad casting.
    I’m watching Naked News as they report on the Bush administration.
    Could the CBC learn something here?

    It’s true, as they claim, they are showing me the world as I’ve never seen it before.
    There’s not a lot of coverage of women, but the headlines are all there.

    Time magazine proclaimed the online news broadcast “offers the best international coverage this side of the BBC“.

    “What Time said is true. A lot of people write in and tell us, we came for the nudity, but stayed for the content. And that was always our intention, to grab you with the nudity and then hook you with the content,” Warga said.

    Two years after NakedNews.com launched, it hopped over to TV with a 45-minute cable television news show on a pay-per-view station. A male version of the show was created during this time but ceased in October 2007 due to a dwindling subscriber base.
    from

    It occurs to me that a documentary on this phenomenal enterprise could be both publicly and personally satisfying, and I can easily picture myself working hard on it day in and day out.
    Would need to be present a lot during segment tapings, in order to discover what is the real subtext of what is happening here.
    Given enough time, I’m certain I would eventually put my finger on it.

  20. Megan
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 2:27 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I’m with Jerome.

  21. Anonymous
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 2:07 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Excellent post. Bravo Jerome. We are definitly in for an exciting ride.
    I’ve been using Boxee for a few months now and it’s not there yet, but it’s clearly the future. Undeniable.
    Meanwhile, Richard Stursburg is over at the Interactive Exchange 09 conference across town, speaking on behalf of the CBC. And I’m wracking my brain trying to imagine what he would have to say. Smart guy, but knows nothing about digital/interactive. I’d go watch, but my employer is broke and can’t afford to send me.

  22. Jerome
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 1:48 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Some interesting reading:

    Internet taking piece of cable TV business:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/02/23/BUAQ161OOT.DTL&type=printable

    Cutting the Cable as the Economy Pinches:

    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/02/cutting-the-cable-as-the-economy-pinches/

    Boxee, one of the pieces of software currently scaring the shit out of TV execs everywhere:

    http://www.boxee.tv/

  23. Anonymous
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 1:41 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    You might have heard the argument “a hundred times” but I’ve yet to see anyone do it on a large scale in Canada.

    The infrastructure to run TV is so expensive, going totally online and putting money towards that is pretty seductive.

    So we rewrite the rules, and we get on top of internet TV in Canada. In 5 years this might be the absolute best place to be. Just like being on top of radio was. And TV. And color TV. We used to be on the forefront, maybe we should be on the forefront again.

    And with the money saved we could hire an army of captioners, and have the most-captioned internet TV on the globe.

  24. Jerome
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 1:17 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I ask again. Do we need to hamstring the entire service, cutting off whole communities just so we can support a 24/7 television network that airs only a handful of original shows every day?

    Are the original shows that we produce of such great value that they outweigh providing meat and potatoes radio service to the regions?

    Wouldn’t Canadians be better served by a universally available Newsworld that features local news, lifestyle programming etcetera?

  25. Anonymous
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 12:46 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Let me enlighten your views on internet replacing TV. First let me say if we lose our analogue or Digital Free tv transmitters you will be forced to pay Bell & Rogers BDU monthly fees at least 15 X what you pay for CBC per year. BTW the USA already has & supports Free TV in HD now – Canada will be the country without if the Conservative Govt gets its present way. If you decide to bypass this & go internet to watch TV then watch your download meter fees go by faster than a Cab's meter while doing 100km/hr. People are already paying extra for downloading bits in excess what is decided by your provider (Bell & Rogers again).
    This is just a little of more headaches to come to Cdn's from the Conservatives whose real interest is to cater lobbying select companies (do I have to type out the names again).
    We need a stepping stone/launch pad in this vast country in order
    work in the cultural arts – The CBC is what we have for this & must keep. After all the US does not like it when their entertainment industry suffers because of the vast talent we have here in the great white north. That American phone call was done a long time ago to the Conservatives. Do you remember when brian Mulroney as PM signed a hidden appendix to the US Free-trade agreement agreeing that the Cdn govt stopping all govt grants & subsidies to arts & culture within a 5 yr timeframe from the signing. Thank God we had Cdns with b.a.l.l.s. to have fought this back then. I just wonder if we have any Cdns today with enough insight & b.a.l.l.s. to do it again.
    I am Cdn & I like my CBC.

  26. Allan
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 12:28 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Bravo! amanda and jerome.

  27. Jerome
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 12:26 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Ever heard of Hulu? We don’t get it up here in the woods, but word on the street down south is that the quality is quite good. Same goes for Netflix. How long before services like these are available up here in the barrens?

    Personally I use Surf the Channel. The quality is hit and miss, but more often than not, I find the quality on par with standard cable.

    Like it or not… this is where we’re headed. I’m not saying broadcast TV will die next year, but critical mass is not far away. Do you really think with the changes hitting the media right now that everything will look the same 5 years from now? Consider the newspaper industry to be the canary in the coal mine.

    Spending the kind of cash we do to program a 24/7 TV network for the sake of a hand full of original shows doesn’t justify the massive cost, nor the cuts to services that Canadians have actually come out to say they need.

  28. Fake Ouimet
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 12:17 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I’™ve heard this argument a hundred times, and the fact remains that nobody outside of South Korea, parts of New Brunswick and Manitoba, and Internet2 test sites has enough bandwidth for ’śreal’ť television. TV remains a lean-back medium; the growth of flat-screen displays has shown us people want bigger screens and more quality, not smaller and worse.

    Analogue TV delivered via rabbit ear continues to blow the socks off Internet TV. I know; I watch both.

    And, I will point out again, I can get captioning and description all the time on real TV and only once in every 2,000 hours or so online.

    Moving broadcast, radio, and satellite bandwidth online would require Lanierian levels of infrastructure improvement that would cost billions for zero discernible benefit. I am saying that, early adopter or not, your willingness to watch ’śTV’ť via net protocols is not a discernible benefit to anyone but you. Your willingness to settle for less doesn’™t scale.

  29. Anonymous
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 11:32 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    If, at this late hour, anybody is asking Stursberg what he thinks, then we’re done.


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