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.