Programming cuts at CBC

Fewer episodes of Canadian prime-time series are being ordered to make up for financial shortfalls, while foreign moneymakers will remain in the lineup.

The English side of CBC will trim some 80 positions from its news division and order fewer episodes of prime-time series including Little Mosque on the Prairie, The Border and Being Erica, to make up for financial shortfalls.

‘There isn’t any happy way through these things, there is only a difficult way,’ said a sombre English services EVP Richard Stursberg during a Thursday afternoon address to network staff, following up on Wednesday’s news of massive layoffs across the Crown corporation.

‘The size of the cuts is extensive…I don’t think we can underestimate the severity of what’s happening,’ Stursberg said, noting that the losses will also affect actors, musicians and producers.

CBC will also discontinue its daytime lifestyle programs, cut spending on children’s TV shows, and will reduce or eliminate sports shows including figure skating, skiing and some soccer programming. It will also no longer broadcast Toronto Blue Jays games.

Venerable investigative programs such as The Fifth Estate and Marketplace will have reduced budgets and fewer staff, while many other prime-time programs will air repeats. In a passing remark, Stursberg also indicated that the second season of struggling comedy Sophie will be its last.

Stursberg stressed the need to hang on to money-makers such as pro sports and acquired programming like Coronation Street so that the network will not be further handicapped during the recession or when it ends. ‘If you cut these things you dig yourself a bigger financial hole,’ he said, ‘you just make it harder going forward.’

He took the opportunity to again answer criticism over the network’s airing of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. ‘If people don’t want foreign shows that generate revenue then they have to accept one of two things,’ namely that CBC needs to draw on more taxpayer dollars, or to make fewer Canadian shows, he said. ‘It’s not more complicated than that.’

News, drama and comedy, however, do not make money.

‘TV news right now loses a lot of money,’ said Stursberg, ‘and it doesn’t matter where in Canada, Canadian drama and Canadian comedy don’t make money. It can’t cover its costs and that’s why we have extensive subsidies, whether it’s the tax credits or the Canadian Television Fund.’ Changes to that fund, however, could be a boon for documentary production at the CBC because in-house productions will soon be eligible for CTF.

In all CBC/Radio-Canada will cut about 800 full-time positions and sell roughly $125 million in assets, according to a plan revealed Wednesday.

The downsizing on the English side is projected to save $85 million and will affect nearly 400 jobs – including 213 positions from sports, entertainment, current affairs and sales. A further 121 jobs at CBC Radio – in addition to the 80 jobs lost in its news division.

Further details about cuts in CBC’s news department will be revealed on April 16. Stursberg also said that if more staff opt for the voluntary retirement program, jobs could be saved.

From Playback Daily with files from Sean Davidson