Tuesday, 3 April 2012

CBC Radio Already Cut 20%

A little known fact: about 4 years ago CRTC implemented a new policy that required all broadcasters, including CBC, to submit annual financial reports on their individual networks.  The intention was to get more information into the hands of the public and it worked, although searching the Commission's web site requires IT training. 

The CRTC financial reports are useful for understanding the revenues, expenses and staffing of CBC and other broadcasters.  All the reports issued by CBC are woefully lacking information about CBC staff.  The CBC’s annual report and the corporate plan report the number of visible minority staff but do not contain data on staff in total or by medium.  This is unusual since CBC staff account for a majority of CBC expenses, as much as 60% according to CBC president Hubert Lacroix.  The CRTC financial reports provide year-over-year comparisons of CBC staff numbers, revenues and expenses, as well as comparisons within industry sectors.

The CRTC financial reports contain data on all the licenced broadcasting outlets of CBC/Radio Canada. No where can one find the total staff numbers and a breakdown of CBC expenditures as a whole, which is extraordinary for a publicly owned company.  CRTC reports do not contain any information about unlicensed CBC activities, such as cbc.ca, satellite radio or internet music channels.  The latter probably accounted for approximately $100 million in annual expenses and an estimated 500-1,000 additional staff in 2010-11.  This is basically the difference between the total expenditures shown in the CBC’s April 1- March 31, 2010-11 annual report, and the results in CRTC’s financial reports. Clearly, it would be beneficial if CBC or CRTC reports were to provide data on cbc.ca and other such services.

One series of reports issued by the Commission contains a breakdown of CBC English and French radio and TV finances and the trends in the past 3 years reveal much about decisions that CBC management and the Board of Directors have made.

In chart form here are some CBC English highlights in the CRTC financial data 2009-2011:

-CBC English radio has had its expenditures cut by some $45 million between 2008 and 2011, which is a 20% cut; CBC English TV expenditures were basically unchanged in this period.  CBC French results are similar

 -non-staff expenditures have been reduced by almost 40% at CBC radio, whereas there has been little change at CBC TV; cuts in administration (see discussion below) account for most of the reductions. As a result staff in 2011 accounted for 74% of CBC radio expenditures

-CBC TV increased its expenses on sales (and promotion) by some $15 million to $80 million in 2011.  Could this $80 million be saved if CBC TV only carried advertising in programs specifically designed for advertising, such as NHL hockey, which don't require sales promotion?
-Both CBC English radio and TV have drastically cut administration expenses.  Radio has cut admin by 61% and TV by 37%.  Only my dyslexic accountant, who worked for Enron, would believe that you could cut admin expenses to this degree in such short order.  I would suspect him of shifting admin expenses into other categories; CBC management should offer an explanation to the CRTC and the public when it files its financial data, so that the data can fully be understood 
CRTC financial reports reflect the 'official' position of the CBC's financial state.  If the CBC data provided to CRTC are correct and not some illusion that has not been properly explained by the Corporation, then here is my take on what has occurred over the past three years:  the programming changes that have occurred in CBC radio, including the transformation of Radio 2 from a classical music format to an eclectic mixture of music (which seems to have failed to meet Hubert Lacroix's objectives), the 50% reduction in midday local programming, the numerous same week repeats of network programs, the cancellations of talent contracts for theatre critics, etc., the long periods in summer when regular programs consist of nothing but repeats, the subtle reductions in the depth of radio news and reporting have presumably all been done for one over-riding reason: to save money, money which is being used to support the CBC's television service.  Contracts for NHL hockey and U.S. game shows can't be re-negotiated mid-stream, so money has to come from somewhere to pay for them.

Postscript: Forensic accounting on the difficult to navigate web site of the CRTC is not the way the public should learn about the way the CBC is spending its resources. CBC management and its Board should provide detailed financial data in CBC's annual and quarterly reports and fully explain the fiscal strategies being followed and their effects on CBC services.  

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