Canada’s broadcast regulator has cleared the way for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to transform itself over its next five-year licence term, in a ruling that allows for changes across much of the broadcaster’s operations. The licence, the first renewal since 2000, runs until 2018, and covers a time when the broadcaster is under financial pressure thanks to a $115-million reduction in the amount of money it receives from the federal government.
“All Canadians will continue to receive the quality services they expect from their national public broadcaster,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, as he announced the renewal last week. “In the ever-changing media landscape, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will continue to play a key role for the vitality of Canada’s French- and English-language culture, throughout the country.”
Here are some highlights from the renewal.
The biggest change to CBC’s licence allows the broadcaster to put ads on Radio 2 and the French-language Espace Musique. The request wasn’t altogether new – CBC was allowed to advertise on the radio until 1975 when its licence was renewed and asked the commission to allow sponsored ads at its last renewal (it was denied).
The CBC said adding advertising could help it make up to $25-million a year by the end of the five-year licence.
The CRTC decided advertisements wouldn’t ruin the services, but didn’t share CBC’s enthusiasm. It only gave the broadcaster three years to experiment with advertising, and limited it to buying national ads (which only account for about 30 per cent of all radio advertising in Canada).
It also decided that musical quirkiness was at the heart of both services, and that it didn’t want to see that change as the services tried to make themselves more attractive to advertisers. So it wrote some conditions into its new licence: Espace Musique must “broadcast a minimum of 3,000 and Radio 2 a minimum 2,800 distinct musical selections each broadcaster month.”
“The commission’s research demonstrates that a key measurable characteristic that distinguishes the programming of Espace Musique and Radio 2 is that they broadcast a far greater number of distinct musical selections than commercial stations.” the CRTC wrote. “This practice helps ensure that these services contribute to the diversity of programming available to Canadians.”
While almost two dozen television channels appeared in front of the commission in late May to ask to be included in basic digital cable packages across the country, commissioners were already considering a similar request by CBC for its English and French language news networks.
Mandatory carriage means that a channel is broadcast into every home. It is a highly coveted designation because it comes with subscription revenue and the ability to charge more for advertising because of the potential number of viewers.
The two networks, RDI and CBC News Network, already enjoy this privilege, but only in certain markets – the French-language RDI is mandatory in English markets and CBC News Network is mandatory in French markets.
The CRTC decided to leave this as-is, something the CBC likely made easier by not asking for an increase to subscriber rates. (RDI costs English-market subscribers 10 cents a month, CBC News Network costs French-market subscribers 16 cents a month).