Archive for April, 2009

Alternatives to the CBC?

The above video is’s coverage of a April 17th Calgary rally protesting cuts to the CBC. A downloadable remix is available at Internet Archive. See for more footage links and Creative Commons licenses.

As CBC’s ad revenues fall (forcing the sale of $125 million in assets & 800 job cuts), the federal government is considering subsidizing Canadian private broadcasters with $150 million in aid.

While promotion of Canadian culture is important, the entertainment landscape has remained relatively unchanged over the past decade. Many download BitTorrents of pirated movies and music, pay to download legal copies, but by-in-large simply pursue pre-broadband forms of entertainment: People mostly watch TV, and rent DVDs.

Newspapers and news programs are where the real changes are occurring. Historically sustained by advertising revenue based on their subscriber base, newspapers have been losing audience share to television and now news aggregation services such as Google News and blogs (say 95% news aggregation and 5% original content). Newspapers cannibalize their own content as they find it necessary to post their stories online to retain brand loyalty (and hope of attracting new readers).

Conglomerates such as CanWest reduce costs by cutting local reporting in increasingly larger and larger municipalities. This again, makes free online alternatives (Twitter being an example of tools for local news monitoring) even more attractive.

That has been the slow, steady decline of the news media as broadband internet spread across Canada. No one is certain how the average Canadian will be absorbing news 20 years down the road, but it is clear very few will be reading newspapers or watching the same insert-your-city-name local news coverage on television as their neighbors.

Creative destruction will certainly be part of the evolution of news. The conservative government’s decision to potentially supply private broadcasters with $150 million in aid can’t be a easy one… the typical conservative mantra of “let the market sort it out” could result in job losses which would lengthen the current recession.

For simplicity sake, let’s create a false choice. The federal government can spend $150,000,000 on either supporting private broadcasters or the CBC. Which is a smarter move?

Support the CBC.

CBC shows itself to be extremely flexible in this broadband era (offering up podcasts, tweets and an iPhone friendly news page) which multiplies the value of every news report they file: A news story is only valuable if its consumed, and CBC News is by far the easiest to receive.

This flexibility comes at the cost of profitability. CBC does not launch such services with the goal of monetizing every new news feed. CBC’s goal is to simply service Canadians. This it does remarkably well.

Will any Canadian private news organization ever be able to match CBC’s effectiveness? The gap is widening, not closing. Conglomerates are reducing local news coverage to cut costs as people migrate from newspapers to online services (and video news in various forms).

What I would like our government to consider, is that perhaps no profitable model will emerge to replace the in-depth news coverage offered by newspapers.

There will always be news. But will there always be the same quantity and quality of investigative journalism? From this point forward, there will always be bloggers and “citizen journalism”. But a dozen hobbyists don’t fill the gap left by a salaried employee.

I’m hopeful a new profitable model will soon emerge. But until it does, it is extremely reckless to allow the CBC to diminish in any way. In the long run, it may be institutions like PBS, BBC and CBC are the only reputable news gathering organizations left standing.

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”
– Thomas Jefferson after 5 shots of Jagermeister.

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