The Tower of Babble: Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC
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In 2004, CBC television had sunk to its lowest audience share in its history. That same year, Richard Stursberg, an avowed popularizer with a reputation for radical action, was hired to run English services. With incisive wit, Stursberg tells the story of the struggle that resulted -- a struggle that lasted for six turbulent and controversial years.
Shortly after Stursberg arrived, the corporation locked out its employees for two months. Four years later, he signed the most harmonious labour contract to date. He lost the television rights for the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games. He won the biggest NHL contract in history. He had unprecedented ratings successes. He had terrible flops. He enjoyed the best radio, television and online ratings in CBC's history. He fought endless wars with the CBC president and board about the direction of the corporation and ultimately was dismissed.
This is the story of our most loved and reviled cultural institution during its most convulsive and far-reaching period of change.
hard. By late October, the hole in our advertising revenue had reached $70 million. In less than three months, what had seemed like a small but manageable shortfall had morphed into a gigantic and cavernous pit. Seventy million dollars represents almost 10 percent of English services’ total budget. It was a colossal amount of money. At the CBC, the problem of managing revenue shortfalls is aggravated by the fact that it operates with no margins. Whatever money the Corporation has, it spends.
of these channels not only because they are excellent businesses in their own right, but also because the various businesses help each other. When a group owns many channels, it can share the rights costs and back office costs among them. It can, as well, bundle the advertising inventory and make better pitches to the agencies. This allows them to improve their cost structure and diversify their revenues, making them financially more stable. When the Alliance Atlantis assets came up for sale
matters. I put the proposal to Sylvain on a number of occasions. He demurred. I could understand why. Toronto is not Montreal. It would be a lot less fun for him than for me. I discussed the idea with Robert Rabinovitch and then his successor, Hubert Lacroix. They both thought it might be interesting and valuable. I pressed Sylvain, joking with him about the possibility at dinners and lunches, in front of others. I promised to borrow his language and talk his talk. It would be Culture and
the Universe on Bay Street. Every morning Andy Barrie oozed empathy for them in his warm, intimate baritone. The city loved him. In early 2008, I was appointed head of English services, overseeing radio as well as TV. I was thrilled. The most sophisticated, charming and entertaining cultural service in the country, and I would have the honour of leading it. Remarkable! The only problem was that there appeared to be almost nothing to do. The senior service was by any standard extremely good.
radio. The other 80 percent is music radio. Within the talk segment, CBC Radio One is unique. The private stations in talk radio principally follow all-news formats. They feature a “wheel” of weather, traffic and information that repeats every half hour and is updated as the day progresses. Sometimes the news will be supplemented by call-in shows, where opinionated listeners telephone opinionated hosts and engage in shouting matches. The whole effort is local in character and relatively