HMMPH: The Humanities Without the ‘U’, on CBC TV . . . if There is Still Any CBC TV

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Originally, this post was going to be simply another in my series of “Hmm . . . ” posts, or the “Humanities Without the ‘U'” posts (get it?), concerning Canadian organizations that could play a greater role in humanities education to make up for the declining enrollment in the humanities programs of Canadian universities and colleges.  This one was going to be about the increased role that could be played by Canadian public television–including the television division of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or CBC.  Especially after it was announced in early June that, in response to the recent large loss of revenue for the CBC, CBC-TV’s new general manager of programming, Sally Catto, was going to put more Arts programming in CBC’s television schedule, I was optimistic CBC-TV could play an important role in this area. (This loss of revenue comes from a combination of a reduction in federal government funding and projected TV advertising losses now that a private network will be airing NHL hockey games instead of the CBC, that long held the Canadian TV broadcasting rights.)

That was my original plan. However, a more recent announcement about how the CBC is going to address its shrunken budget has me very worried about CBC television–including its earlier announced greater emphasis on Arts programming.  My “HMM . . .” post turned into a grumpy “HMMPH” post, partly about the increased role Canadian public television could play in humanities education (I’ve already said most of what I’ll be saying in that regard) and a good measure of HMPHing.

Now they’re telling us that much of the money and other resources formerly allocated to television will be allocated to the Internet.  On June 26, CBC president and CEO, Hubert T. Lacroix, announced the CBC is shifting its priorities from television and radio to digital and mobile services.  To quote Lacroix, “We used to lead with television and radio. Web came and then mobility came. We are reversing, we are inverting the priorities that we have. We’re going to lead now with mobility, we’re going to lead with whatever widget you use.”  I can understand now putting more resources into mobility and less into television and radio; but to lead with mobility is taking things too far.

In a 19-page report issued by the CBC that accompanied Lacroix’ announcement, ironically titled “A Space for Us All,” to justify the CBC’s reverse of priorities, statistics are provided indicating changes from 2000 to now in how Canadian consume media.  Some of these statistics seem to me misleading.  For example 77% of Canadians are said to now watch internet video (including Netflix) for 6.5 hours/week.  What percentage of that 77% watch work-related video at work, or education-related video at school, for at least much of that 6.5 hours and, in their personal lives, watch only snippets of video on their smartphones and tablets and, perhaps, an occasional episode they’ve missed of a favourite show, and only when they have access to free Wi-Fi–as do I? Also, what percentage of that 77% has over-reported their internet video viewership to researchers to appear ‘cool’?  Another statistic I question is that 24% of Canadians now watch Netflix for 7.4 hours per week. I’d be very interested in seeing a breakdown of Netflix usage for different  regions of Canada.  For example, I think the figure is probably far higher in Toronto than it is in Vancouver, largely because, in Toronto, you can get many more channels on TV without subscribing to cable than is possible in Vancouver.  Most Vancouverites have cable and, thus, Netflix may be an unnecessary frill, and too expensive in combination with the cost of cable.  24% might be right for populous Toronto, but I suspect it’s much too high for Vancouver, and for other regions in Canada.

I thought the CBC was supposed to be for all Canadians. Until the day we all get internet service for free–which is not going to happen–it seems this newly conceived CBC will be mainly for a relatively wealthy elite, who can afford large internet bills and all the paraphernalia associated with watching ‘television’ on line, and the rest of us will be left with only scraps for our cultural nourishment. I wish they would prove me wrong, but I am worried.

Incidentally,  I’m liking CBC Vancouver’s “Musical Nooners”–a noon-hour outdoor concert series held through the summer on the plaza of the CBC Vancouver building–a lot less now that we know how strapped for funds the CBC is. Is this really a priority for the CBC?  I like the idea of a few free concerts, but this is a six-week, daily series (if you don’t believe me, here’s the schedule), and each of the concerts is attended by a couple of hundred people at most.  (Vancouver’s CBC building is very near where I work, so I can see what goes on there every day.) Even if the concerts are taped to be incorporated in some of the CBC’s radio shows, I can’t see how the cost is justified.  (If taping is a key reason for this concert series, couldn’t these acts be taped when they are playing at other venues, including Canada Day celebrations, where many of these acts also performed?) If the CBC was financially healthy, yes. But it’s not.

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And, yet another HMPH . . . What about streaming music for free, that puts the CBC in direct competition with companies that provide the same service? I would think that television, just regular TV, that is accessible to all Canadians, preferable with a good amount of Canadian Arts and other humanities-related programming, is a far higher priority.

 

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