Ad revenue ‘two to three’ years from recovery, CBC tells CRTC

As a result, the public broadcaster is making a push behind Gem across its own platforms and digital advertising.

Catherine Tait, president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, provided a glimpse of the public broadcaster’s ad revenue during day three of its licensing renewal hearings with the CRTC.

While she didn’t relay hard data, Tait noted, “The advertising revenue isn’t a quick return,” adding that it’s “probably at a two or three-year recovery to get back to where we were a year ago.”

According to CBC’s most recent quarterly report, for the three months ended Sept. 30 – Q3 results are expected in February – ad revenue was down 8.4% compared to Q2 2019.  Year-to-date, for the six months ended Sept. 30, 2020,  ad revenues between TV and digital were down 10.8% over the prior year.

“Conventional television advertising revenue is experiencing downward pressure as consumer content consumption habits are increasingly shifting toward digital platforms,” it says in the quarterly report. The broadcaster notes how revenue from TV advertising decreased for both CBC and Radio-Canada in the quarter by $7.6 million (17.7% compared to Q2 2019) “driven by lower demand during the economic downturn” as a result of the pandemic. The decline was partly offset by a 36.8% increase in digital advertising revenue for the quarter compared to Q2 2019 as “traffic increased” on digital and social media platforms.

Although it hasn’t been explicitly stated as a marketing priority for CBC during this week’s CRTC hearings, there appears to be a lot of emphasis on CBC Gem for 2021 and beyond. The public broadcaster’s emphasis on its digital video streaming service is rooted in research and data. According to CBC audience engagement numbers, time spent on Gem increased by 100% during the heart of the first wave, from March to July 2020.

In documents submitted to the CRTC, the public broadcaster also cites data which shows that the demographic deemed “have it alls” – the vast majority of whom subscribe to a paid TV and SVOD service – are now the largest consumer segment.

These insights, coupled with the fact that more Canadians are streaming during COVID than they were pre-COVID, provide some light in terms of the direction in which CBC is heading – both from a service perspective as well as a marketing one.

“That show that goes up Tuesday night at 8 p.m., it goes up Tuesday night at 8 p.m. and it’s gone in an hour. People went and caught it – it’s appointment-video viewing,” Barbara Williams, CBC’s EVP of English Services, told the Commission on Wednesday. “When it goes to Gem, it has a life there. And if it’s a series, it may be that that first episode went up by itself, but then the second one comes and then the third one comes, or maybe we drop them all at once and talk with some excitement to viewers about the opportunity to see them all at once. I think we all need to be a bit brave about believing, that in Canada too, we can build a strong and successful streaming service with some great Canadian content, support it and see it be enjoyed.”

Monique Lafontaine, CRTC commissioner for Ontario, responded by saying how she understood CBC’s philosophy of wanting to be “brave and bold” and look to the future. “I’ve been on the CBC and Radio-Canada’s online platforms. There are those nice banners that come up when you log in and you can see an array of content as a starting point. That’s something very different than, ‘Okay, here’s the five [shows] – I don’t want to watch these, I’ve seen them,’ and then starting to find something else buried deep on the site,” she says.

Lafontaine describes how the intervenors may have concerns about “how many search engines deep or search requests deep” viewers must go to find the content they want.

“Certainly for programs of national interest that we’re making a significant investment in, there’d be no intention of burying,” says Sally Catto, GM, entertainment, factual and sports at CBC. “Yes, we have our swim lanes that push to our linear platforms. We also have carousels at the top that really do showcase our top titles and we have seen great effectiveness there.”

CBC markets Gem across all of its own platforms and externally though digital advertising.