Two years ago, the CBC was dealing with a budget shortfall of $171 million by cutting jobs and selling assets.
The public broadcaster has recovered in a big way since then, and is now expanding its services across the country as part of a new five-year plan, and preparing for its 75th anniversary celebrations.
While the corporation saw a decrease in revenue in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, it bounced back relatively quickly, thanks to its shares, said CBC’s vice-president of brand, communications and corporate affairs, Bill Chambers. Chambers was in St. John’s Monday to meet with stakeholders and unveil aspects of the CBC’s new strategic plan.
“We have a little bit of headroom in terms of revenue that we’re hoping to be able to apply, and then there's technology, which is allowing us to do things differently from the way things used to be,” Chambers explained. “We have real estate across the country and we’re going to try and squish ourselves down in rent. We’re trying to use all of the assets we have to exploit them and put as much money as we can in programming, and that’s going to let us implement the strategy.”
In terms of programming, the new plan has three major components: more Canadian programming, with 10 national, multiple-platform events, including the current Live Right Now campaign, which encourages Canadians to lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle; digital programming; and a focus on what Chambers calls a "regional footprint."
“There's a whole bunch of places that have been growing for decades, and we haven’t been able to respond,” Chamber said, adding the CBC has just announced a new station in Kamloops, B.C. and weekend news programs in Calgary and Toronto. More announcements in the same vein will be made in the fall, he said.
“One of the things we’re committed to is not withdrawing from anywhere. Assuming stable funding, we’re going to stay in all the places we are,” Chambers said.
“We have a little bit of headroom in terms of revenue that we’re hoping to be able to apply, and then there's technology, which is allowing us to do things differently from the way things used to be.” - Bill Chambers
He said the corporation is prepared for a public reaction to the changes, whatever it may be.
“If you look at the last four years there's been a lot of change and a certain amount of public reaction, but the results have been a more successful public broadcaster, a more relevant public broadcaster, and more Canadians using our services. While it’s occasionally bumpy, it’s worth it,” he said.
“We actually have a plan and we’re working towards it, as opposed to being bashed around by things as the CBC has been for years. There’s lots of change in it, but at least we control our destiny.”
The CBC is also preparing for major events later in the year. The Canadian Radio-television and Communications Commission (CRTC) will be conducting hearings into the corporation’s licence renewal — for the first time in 12 years — in September, and starting in late August, the CBC will begin celebrations for its 75th birthday on Nov. 2. Special programming for that event will include on biopic on John A. MacDonald, the country’s first prime minister — played by Labrador’s Shawn Doyle — as well as the airing of “Un Jour,” a kind of documentary about Canada in which citizens were given a video camera for 24 hours and asked to film their view of the country. In St. John’s, the celebrations will culminate in a birthday party on air on CBC Radio’s The Morning Show with people who share the November birthday, complete with cake and loot bags.
“We’re trying to bring people in to celebrate the CBC and make it their own,” Chambers said.