Monday night on CBC viewers were treated to the network’s best drama. The surprise was it occurred on The National.
The public broadcaster ran an interview with its CEO, Catherine Tait. The top executive admitted the CBC was, like her hair, deeply in the red. The headline was that, faced with a $125 million budget shortfall, CBC was set to cut 10 per cent of its workforce.
That apparently represents around 600 jobs. According to reports, 250 jobs will be cut at the English-language network, and another 250 at French-language Radio-Canada. One hundred technicians and other support staff will also be slashed.
The source said 250 jobs will be eliminated at CBC, the group’s English-language network, and another 250 at French-language Radio Canada, with technicians and other support staff making up the final 100 jobs to be slashed. Some vacant positions will also not be filled.
Tait cited rising costs and the economic downturn in the broadcast business as a major factor, as well as the decline in ad revenue. While Numeris, the data measurement company that provides ratings information to the networks, no longer shares this information with public Top-30 reports, the trend for years in traditional broadcasting has been smaller and smaller audiences. Advertisers have migrated to where the eyeballs have turned: to various on-line and social media platforms as well as FAST channel streamers.
Other Canadian media companies, including TVA, Corus and Bell, have announced aggressive cutbacks in staffing in the past year. As Tait pointed out, CBC carries the added burden of providing services and information to every corner of Canada, including the far north. Under her stewardship, the focus has also leaned heavily towards representing Canadians of colour and other people who have been marginalized in the past, both in terms of audience and opportunity. As with other broadcasters, CBC has also chosen to spend more on various digital platforms.
Anchor Adrienne Arsenault, to her credit, asked some tough questions of her boss. In particular, she challenged Tait as to whether CBC executives should be in line for any kind of bonus payments in a fiscal year where hundreds of employees will lose their jobs. Tait tried to dance around the issue by suggesting she can’t comment on matters yet to be discussed around a board table, but, really, in what world could the answer be anything but, “All bonuses have been suspended, including mine.”
Among the reasons this matters is that CBC’s future has already been put on notice politically. The leader of the opposition, Pierre Poilievre, has made dismantling the public broadcaster a plank in his campaign rhetoric. A look at the polls suggest that tactic is not hurting Mr. Poilievre’s party’s chances.
As any outside consulting firm could tell them, the leadership at CBC has to step up and set a tone. As one commentor to my Twitter feed suggests this morning, “Redirecting a rumoured 16 million in executive bonuses would save an awful lot of CBC jobs!”
It is painful in any industry when there are job losses. Talk to anyone who, in this century, has tried to establish or maintain a career in print journalism. It should be noted that job cuts as Bell Canada and CTV did not just target rank and file, but also included some executive house cleaning.
Accountability is an even more pertinent issue at the public broadcaster. Arsenault’s direct questioning must be lauded because it is difficult to imagine a similar burst of journalistic integrity occurring during an on-air CEO exchange at a Canadian private broadcaster.
More questions remain, however. Tait stated that the cuts would also have a direct impact on programming. Some “favourite shows” might have to be sacrificed.
Again, CBC is not the only broadcaster looking to cut corners. Rogers ordered fewer episodes this season of its No. 1 Canadian scripted series on Citytv, Hudson & Rex. Corus pulled the plug, after 18 seasons, on ET Canada on Global. Bell/CTV has announced that these will be the final seasons for Transplant and Letterkenny.
Wednesday in Toronto, CBC will host their annual Winter press launch promoting their new, 2024 originals as well as returning comedies such as 22 Minutes, Son of a Critch, Run the Burbs and others. As for drama, there is plenty of it behind the scenes at CBC — and potentially less on-air in the coming months.