Stursberg defends conventional before CRTC

CBC executives reiterated earlier comments from CTVglobemedia and Canwest that fee-for-carriage is essential to its survival before CRTC licence renewal hearings on Wednesday.

CBC executives urged the CRTC to establish a level playing field between conventional broadcasters and specialties, as the pubcaster on Wednesday reiterated earlier comments from CTVglobemedia and Canwest that fee-for-carriage is essential to its survival.

But unlike Tuesday’s session with Canwest’s Leonard Asper, CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein adopted a slightly friendlier tone with CBC execs, and said he was impressed with the ‘clarity and logic’ of their presentation.

Yet he did not back down on similar queries about the relevance of conventional TV and wanted specifics on the purpose of the public broadcaster, as licence renewal hearings continued in Gatineau.

‘Our role is essential… [TV] is where people come together and is fundamental in building a society,’ said CBC EVP of French services Sylvain Lafrance, pointing to Quebec’s enormously popular Star Académie as an example. Lafrance was flanked by CBC toppers including Richard Stursberg, EVP of English services, and Steven Guiton, CBC’s chief regulatory officer.

CBC noted that 80% of original Canuck primetime programming is generated by conventional broadcasters, versus 20% by specialties.

‘Why is conventional TV more of a key catalyst for production than specialty, what’s the difference between the two?’ asked von Finckenstein.

Stursberg explained that few specialties have the resources to turn out the same level of programming.

‘But they do have subscription income… why could The Comedy Channel, for instance, not produce Rick Mercer and you repeat it?,’ pressed von Finckenstein.

‘[Conventional TV] is the one place where you can aggregate very large audiences,’ replied Stursberg, adding that The Rick Mercer Report generates almost two million viewers a week, including reruns.

CRTC commissioner Peter Menzies further pressed CBC to explain how it has adapted to the new media environment, to justify additional funding the broadcaster might secure in the future.

‘If conventional TV is never going to be the same as it was before… I need to know what you have done to recreate your structure, not just in terms of layoffs,’ he said.

Stursberg pointed to the recent integration of CBC’s news departments as an example. ‘[It] allows us to achieve cost savings and also produce more robust newscasts, so that when we cover a story, we cover it in such a way that we can extend it across the platforms,’ he explained.

On the issue of fee-for-carriage, Guiton drove home the point that there should be no distinction between public and private broadcasters when it comes to subscription revenues as an additional source in tough economic times.

‘The commission and the federal government have directed us to go into the advertising space,’ he said, adding that CBC is ‘just as eligible’ for the proposed fees as the private networks.