Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Look Back at Budget 2012: Some Impact of Cuts to the CBC

It is cultural policy that is tangible to many average Canadians: the 2012 federal budget cut funding for the CBC.  In the wake of the announcement the CBC faced a difficult situation, announcing a plan to cut 650 jobs and introduce advertisements to CBC Radio 2.  According to an article in the Globe and Mail, the broadcaster hoped to earn $20-million per year from the new ad revenue, but restrictions imposed by the CRTC cut those potential earnings in half. 

Many people vehemently opposed the introduction of the ads, the most noticeable effect of the cuts.  Friends of Canadian Broadcasting created a petition that had close to 18 000 signatures until it was taken down in mid-March.  According to an email from Friends of Canadian Broadcasting’s Ian Morrison, By the CRTC’s own count, 92.5% of the interventions they received on this topic opposed the introduction of ads to select CBC/SRC Radio services.”  The pressure and complaints of Canadians did have some impact – the CRTC limited the amount of advertising to 4 minutes per hour and only national advertising is allowed to air.  Nonetheless, ads began appearing on Radio 2 at the beginning of October.

A glance at their facebook page reveals some of the more recent criticisms, here’s a sample:

Too many commercials! If you needed money, why didn't you just ask? I thought we were friends? Oh ya, Northern Gateway? Not cool, CBC, not cool.” – Radio 2 facebook page, March 14
Had it with the AWFUL ADS that have invaded our beloved CBC Radio 2!! If you HAD to sink to the level of having commercials, which is completely against what CBC stood for, then at least pick ones that are befitting our National Radio. Show some class, will you please? 
"The New 2" is sounding more & more like ALL the other channels. There is not much distinction from the noisy CHUM mindset... It has lost its mojo” – Radio 2 facebook page, March 11
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting believes that many people were affected by the ads, though was unable to estimate the number of disgruntled listeners.
 “We have received many letters of complaint from supporters and from the public.  We have also observed that people were quite outraged and that they took to Twitter to complain when the ads first appeared.  In February 2014, the CBC started airing ads promising Enbridge’s Northern Gateway.  We also received letters of complaint about this and observed people airing their opposition to this move via Twitter and Facebook.”
While there are still some listeners who vocally oppose the introduction of the ads, Chris Boyce, Executive Director of Radio & Audio, said in an email that Radio 2 actually increased its audience in October and November. 
So far the reaction has been quite quiet. We've received very few audience complaints. And most listeners that I've spoken to have been understanding of the difficult situation that we find ourselves in.
"We wrestled with the decision to carry ads on Radio 2 in the first place and we considered every option carefully before applying. But we needed to address a financial shortfall at CBC, following the significant cuts to CBC funding in 2012. Given those financial constraints, CBC Radio’s primary goal was to avoid making more drastic cuts or shutting down CBC Radio’s services and stations. The reality is that featuring advertising on Radio 2 is one of the ways we can generate additional funds while continuing to offer programming on Radio 2. And I think most of our audience understands that.”
Judging by comments on Radio 2’s social media pages, some people are still upset by the ads, but they are a vocal minority.   For most of the months after the introduction of the ads there is hardly any mention of advertising. It seems that lately, however, listeners are irked by one company’s ad in particular: Enbridge. While already a controversial company, some listeners appear to feel that the ads do not relay accurate information or the complete story.  Mr. Boyce also addressed this sentiment, saying,
“I have received a few letters about the Enbridge ads over the past few weeks. CBC has comprehensive policies on advertising standards that govern what advertising we will accept and what advertising we won't. Those policies are consistent across all of our platforms including Radio 2. […] In this case, the Enbridge ad was reviewed and in accordance with the policy and was approved with the condition that it not run directly adjacent to news programs.”
Some had hoped that the introduction would annoy listeners enough to demand more funding from the government, most people don’t seem to really mind, or even notice, them. It looks like the ads are here to stay.
 -Michela Comparey