CBC Budget Cut? We Asked for It.

Facebook just spent a billion dollars on a tiny little internet startup called Instagram.

Meanwhile, our own beloved/celebrated/maligned/despised CBC is figuring out how to suffer through a $115 million budget cut.

650 people will lose their jobs at the CBC, and at least 6 programs will be cut.

Instagram, on the other hand, only employs 13 people. They were all just made instant millionaires.

Okay, I get that the trials and tribulations of a national public broadcaster are very different from the success of a private firm that has experienced a high profile aquisition. That’s very much an apples-and-oranges story.

But that’s not the story. The story is us.

Look at it this way: both CBC and Instagram (and, of course, Facebook) are media producers and publishers.

We’re their audience. We consume their output.

So it’s inevitably we who define what that output is worth.

Instagram wouldn’t be worth a billion bucks if we hadn’t told Facebook it was, and the CBC wouldn’t have to lose some weight if we hadn’t said so.

Founded two years ago, Instagram is a free snapshot sharing service. That’s it. Anyone can join for free. Anyone can publish whatever images they want.

This month, as Facebook buys Instagram, over 30 million people around the world are using the service.

The CBC is also, by and large, a free service. It was founded in 1932.

At its arguable peak, the CBC had 16 million people – about half of Canada – watching a hockey game on television. That was in February of 2010, just as Instagram was being conceived.

So it doesn’t surprise anyone when we learn that the CBC’s budget cuts don’t touch hockey. That’s the broadcaster’s cash cow.

And there it is in a nutshell: irreverent, irrelevant smartphone snapshots and hockey games draw millions of people.

Everything else? Meh.

We’re the folks who consume the media, and through our habits we communicate to producers what we care about.

And don’t think that just because you’re “smart” this doesn’t apply to you. It does. I’ve noticed lately that even some of my most educated friends know more about Tori Spelling’s pregnancy than the tragedy of Tori Stafford. And they don’t have any idea what an F-35 is, TMZ is a bit more their thing.

So one argument for getting more bang for the CBC’s dwindling bucks might be to dumb things down across the board. After all, neither Instagram nor Facebook aspire to deliver anything more then fleeting tickles to the brain’s pleasure center.

So why should the CBC intend to deliver anything greater than hockey games and endless reruns of Adam Sandler movies?

But, wait. Before you try to argue that the illustrious CBC would never peddle such moronic content, I have two words for you: Don Cherry.

You can’t get much further down the moron scale than that.

And he’s working out very well for the CBC. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “Cherry’s … show … is the highest-rated seven minutes on Canadian TV.”

Kinda make you sick, eh?

Well, choke back that vomit and face facts: we want more Don Cherry and less Peter what’s-his-face. (You know, that bald guy that does the news show at night? Ah, never mind. He only ever talk about boring stuff, any way.).

Of course, the irony in all of this is that the CBC actually contributes to the Facebook machine, freely. It has at least half a dozen distinct properties on the social media site that draw the attention of hundreds of thousands of us.

These properties probably represent a fair expense to the crown corporation. There’s no doubt, however, that they drive plenty of ad revenue across the border to a certain California corporation.

That’s money, by the way, used in Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram.

One has to wonder why the CBC enriches the equivalent of a competitor to its own detriment. Why, instead of embracing the foreign machine of social media, not leverage its spirit to construct something new?

But I digress. That’s a whole other column – a whole new era in media publishing, even – and not the point.

Whether it’s a billion dollar investment or a $115 million dollar budget cut, it’s not about the CBC or Instagram or Facebook. It’s about us.

We are the end of this information food chain. We’re what drives the value of information. If we’d rather look at pictures of kittens and watch hockey games interrupted by browbeating diatribes, then that’s where the money will go.

The media isn’t dumbing down, we are. It’s just following us into the basement.

A billion bucks for Instagram and a 20% cut to the CBC? It all makes perfect sense in this media climate.

Ours is a culture of sound bites, snapshots, and slapshots. Facebook and the Canadian government are just making economic adjustments to recognize that.

After all, we told them to.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, April 13, 2012.

2 thoughts on “CBC Budget Cut? We Asked for It.

  1. While I agree the CBC may need to re-evaluate how they operate, it’s not a fair to compare them to the Instagram purchase. Instagram and Facebook aren’t media producers. They provide a platform for the users to create and share the content, and make it darn simple to do it, too. How often do you see photos from the staff of Instagram showing up in your feed?

    If the CBC could incorporate more user content into the programming, it may fare better during prime time hours, or maybe they just need to showcase another hockey game mid-week and forget about original programming for a night.

    It’s a big challenge for them considering how diversified their network is between the sports, national/international news, regional coverage, radio, French, and original programming.

    One small nitpick, CBC didn’t air the gold medal game for the Olympics. TSN/CTV did. I’m sure if it was on CBC, maybe even more people would have been watching.

    • James, thanks for taking the time to respond.

      I think you’ve augmented my point by bringing up the issue of media producers. Who actually manufactures information is becoming less and less relevant as we transition into a post-media era. The core of the issue is who actually publishes the content and just the simple fact that it’s available, and Facebook and Instagram are definitely content publishers. Information consumers care less about who produces content, and more about the simple fact of its publication and availability.

      Probably no outlet gets this better than the Huffington Post which operates on a combination of paid staff and unpaid contributors. Certainly that’s one step removed from Instagram in that there’s an actual human editorial intelligence at work. But how different is that from the “Popular” function of Instagram that pushes crowd-voted content to the forefront? And how more or less valid is one method over another?

      To your point, I’m not certain how often I see pics from Instagram staff, if ever. But how is that relevant? I’m not Yukon News staff, so is my perspective less relevant than a reporter at that publication? Is a letter to the editor less relevant than what I say as a contract columnist? Is your comment in response to my column less valuable than the column itself? Is there a media pecking that identifies the relevance and value of content produced?

      Traditional media would say, yes, there is a structure of relevance. There are “pros” and there are “the rabble”. Post-media, however, we’re all the same, or would like to consider ourselves to be. In a sense there’s an emerging pattern of mob rule, and the intelligent post-media publisher will figure out how to harness its power, rather than fence it away from the “pros” like an unruly crowd of protestors at a G8 summit.

      Point of fact: I know people who value what they read on Facebook or Twitter over any “real” media source. And I’m not talking about the odd cross-post they consume on CBC Facebook page or Twitter feed, I’m talking about random factual reports, rumors, innuendo and everything in between. People are beginning to understand that traditional media has an agenda, be it corporate or political, whereas post-media publishers, due to the effects of crowd sourcing and the comparatively diminished inclination to be persuasive. Or so media consumers are evolving to believe.

      So my point remains: CBC and Instagram have much in common, from the media consumer’s perspective. The post-media age is the age of crude democracy, not editorialism (no offense to my editors). Voting on material is constant, simultaneously quantitative and qualitative. CBC and other traditional media outlets are foolish to not view themselves to be in competition with the likes of Instagram. I mean, look at YouTube where viewership is growing even as traditional television shrinks.

      Again, to address your point, it’s not about who makes the content, because we understand that anyone can do that now, it’s about the simple fact it’s being published and consumed. Traditional media organizations need to become less concerned with their industry’s ego, and focus more on the interests of media consumers, then figure out a way to leverage that interest — or, as I said, the spirit of social media — to improve the quality of content we consume. As it stands, trying to transfer TV, radio, newspapers and magazines into the post-media Internet is like trying to jam the proverbial square peg into a round hole. We actually want Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

      As for the hockey game, nice catch on that. But your correction drives my point home harder: the peak of Canadian broadcast history then, not just CBC’s, is a hockey game. We are truly a nation of hosers.

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