Tag Archives: CBC

CBC Should Keep Hockey Night in Canada Only if it Makes Cents

By Jason Menard

Hockey is a part of our national identity; Hockey Night in Canada is a part of our national history. That distinction alone is why the ongoing debate about the CBC’s involvement in NHL broadcasts should come down to nothing more than finances.

Like clockwork, every year someone somewhere questions the CBC’s involvement in Hockey Night in Canada. This year, it was an article published in the Toronto Star that opined about a potential bidding war between the Bell and Rogers-owned media giants and our national, publicly funded broadcaster. Continue reading

Standing Up for What You Believe Sometimes Means Swallowing a Sour Cherry

By Jason Menard

As nauseating as Don Cherry’s “puke” comments were, all the calls to fire him for his statements are misguided. And for those who have tired of the flamboyant former coach’s bombast, the best way to deal with it is to put him on ice.

You don’t like what Cherry has to say, or how he chooses to say it, don’t tune in on Saturday nights. Turn off the TV during intermission, or change the channel altogether and, perhaps, find a game on TSN.

If enough people do this, then the tall foreheads at the CBC will get the point. Instead, thousands will play right into Cherry’s hands, tune in specifically to watch what he says, and everyone goes home happy – except the viewer. Continue reading

CBC Olympic Coverage On Target

By Jason Menard

Oh, the pundits are out in force, suggesting that the CBC has been too hockey-focused throughout this Olympic Games. But, really, is there any reason to argue with giving the viewers what they want – and what they’ve proven to want in the past?

How have those competitive luge ratings been over the past three years? And what were the overnights on biathlon from 2005? Oh, non-existent, OK. Pass the microphone back to Mr. MacLean now.

If the CBC wanted to dedicate all of its programming to the men’s Olympic hockey tournament and only run a crawl of the other events along the bottom of the screen, would there really be any reason to complain? These same columnists, pundits, and talking-heads – have they used their valuable air time and ink to promote these same sports that they’re now lamenting as suffering from a lack of coverage?

No. The point is, in large part, we don’t really care about these secondary sports. Some of us will jump on the old Olympic bandwagon and take some undeserved pleasure from our dedicated Canadian athletes bringing home medals. Those same fans will be the first ones to lament the loss of a medal from an athlete of whom they previously hadn’t shown any interest in.

But hockey, ah… there’s the rub. It’s the reason why the CBC clings so tenuously to the rights to broadcast these games. There’s gold in them thar rinks and, whether or not it hangs from the necks of our players, as long as the pros are playing in the Olympics it will be ringing in the national broadcaster’s coffers from Turin to Vancouver.

The hand-wringing over the CBC’s men’s hockey obsession is just a small part of the greater, unsaid debate about the broadcaster’s mandate. If we look at the broadcaster as an advocate for fair public representation responsible for showing the depth and breadth of the Canadian experience, then coverage should be meted out equally for every event and every athlete. We can let everyone have their 15 minutes of fame and then all get together at the end of the day for a big group hug.

But the CBC is hesitant to fully embrace their role as a public broadcaster – especially if tightening that grip means they have to loosen their grasp on the ideal of commercialism.

The CBC isn’t at this time just a northern PBS, preparing quality programming without being concerned about ratings. It isn’t a channel that’s dedicated to quality and diversity just for quality and diversity’s sake. It’s a network competing with others like CTV and CanWest Global for advertising dollars and viewers’ eyes. If, for the past three years, viewers have shown a marked apathy for watching non-marquee sports, why change a programming focus when the goal is to get the remotes clicked to your stations?

The simple answer is, there is none. Life isn’t fair and while bobsledders, ski jumpers, and biathletes work and train as hard, if not harder and in far less luxurious conditions, than their professional hockey counterparts, the simple fact of the matter is that those sports just don’t seem to resonate with the fans.

As a competitive broadcaster, the CBC has to dedicate air time to the events that will bring in the ratings. However, wearing its public broadcaster’s hat, it has a responsibility to help build an audience for other sports and highlight the complete mosaic of Canadian athletes. CBC hasn’t exactly blacked out these other sports and has given its viewers an opportunity to experience a wide variety of events, competitions, and disciplines. But now it’s time for the average citizen to vote with their wallets and their support.

Skeleton or Snowboard Cross pique your interest? Then spend the intervening three years between Olympics going to local competitions, supporting the athletes, and watching it on TV. If an event isn’t televised, contact your local affiliate or the broadcasters themselves and say that you, as a viewer, are interested in these events and would like to see more air time dedicated to their coverage.

That way, the next time around, when a broadcaster goes about defining an on-air schedule, they’ll know that there’s value in dedicating resources and assets to events that previously may not have warranted as much attention.

After all, while the Olympics are all about gold, silver, and bronze, for the broadcasters the only colour they care about is green. And the viewers’ eyes and the advertisers’ dollars are the only groups that they’re interested in soliciting.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Scoring With Silence

By Jason Menard

I’m truly happy that the CBC is back at the negotiation tables with its locked-out employees. Really, I am. I’d hate to see anyone lose their jobs, and I can only imagine how this lockout is affecting their family.

But I’d be lying if I wasn’t intrigued by what would happen to their sports coverage if the commentators were still walking the picket line – especially when it comes time to drop the puck.

Maybe, for the first time in a long time, we’d be able to focus on what’s really important – the game.

The CBC, which was put out to pasture with the cancellation of the NHL regular season last year, should have been looking forward to their cash cow coming home with the end of the league’s lockout. Instead, lockout-itis seems to be catching and the public broadcaster has frozen out a significant number of its on-air talent, both on the TV and radio sides of the operation.

As such, we’ve been privy to broadcasts of Canadian Football League action with only the stadium announcer providing narration. That’s it. No pre-game drivel, no post-game inanity, no meandering commentary, no random non-sequiturs, no over-analysis, no distractions.

Just the game.

And, lo and behold, the fans have responded – positively. During a game broadcast on Aug. 27, 2005, a peak total of 746,000 viewers tuned in during the fourth quarter and an average of 580,000 fans watched the game, up from the season average of 412,000 viewers.

You can attribute some of those viewers to the curiosity factor and the proof will be in the long-term viewership, but the potential message is interesting. What if this is the first time that the fans have been able to express their displeasure at how their games have been taken away from them?

Modern sports has gone well beyond the point that many fans are comfortable with. Sport is a game in name only – it’s increasingly a business, designed to be marketed to certain demographics in the hope of selling product. And, in an attempt to keep listeners glued to their sets, broadcasters have tried to make each game an event.

But perhaps the pomp and bombast that accompany each broadcast are overwhelming the fans. Maybe, just maybe, we want something more simple and more pure.

With the odd exception, most sports broadcasts are overwhelmed by the commentary. The on-air personalities are trying too hard to be just that – personalities. Many times anecdotes extend into game time – a tacit implication that the announcer’s stories are more integral to the game than the on-ice or on-field action.

Inane points are overemphasized, as if each passing syllable is an opportunity to justify commentator’s presence. And, often times, the commentary is just plain wrong – identifying the wrong player, the wrong formation, or the wrong situation – simply because the focus on coming up with the next bit of witty repartee diminishes the focus on the reality of the game.

In addition, broadcasters go into each game with an agenda. They have a story they want to tell, one that they feel will be most compelling to the audience. Whether it’s a focus on a player or a situation, broadcasters champ at the bit to frame the game action in some sort of context. But, sports being what they are, announcers often have to stretch their analogies to shoehorn the reality into their preferred context. Instead of reveling in the unpredictable nature of sports, we are weighed down with prognostication and selective analysis wherein activities that don’t justify the preferred thesis are simply discarded.

The best broadcasters are the ones that serve as a conduit through which the game flows. The best analysts are the ones who don’t go into a game with a pre-conceived agenda, but rather they possess an understanding of the game and a willingness to contextualize what’s happening on the field or on the rink based upon the here and now.

These are the broadcasters and analysts that understand that they are not the show – the game is what matters. They understand that people tune into sports for the enjoyment of the on-field or on-ice product, not the in-studio machinations. They understand that their role is to complement the game, not overwhelm it.

So while I hope those locked-out CBC staffers get back to work soon, I can’t help but harbour a faint hope that we’ll be able to hear a game without announcers. And, far from being a silent broadcast, we’d finally be allowed to hear the game speak for itself.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Whither or Wither the CBC? Look to Quebec for Inspiration

By Jason Menard

Black Monday has come and gone. The axe has swung and the jobs of 33 TV and radio public relations employees have been lopped off in its swath. Yet, this is clearly a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face, because the CBC’s problems run much deeper than ineffective public relations.

The Canadian Broadcasting Commission – its English wing — has been at a crossroads for years, ineffectively balancing the desire to be both an educator and an entertainer. But now it’s long past time to pick a lane and stick to it, because trying to be something to everyone has resulted in the CBC being nothing to most.

Oh, how it pains me to say this, but maybe it’s time for the CBC to stop presenting Canadian shows simply because they’re Canadian, and let the strong survive. OK, here we go: Canadian Content regulations are bad. They need to be stopped, and the CBC needs to be at the vanguard of this change.

Whew, that feels better. And I don’t feel less patriotic at all. The fact of the matter is that CanCon regulations encourage mediocrity. Why aspire to create a better show, or why try to make something entertaining when you’ll get your exposure and funding as long as you can show you’re from the Great White North?

The CBC and the CRTC’s CanCon regulations are intended to improve and support our Canadian artistic community. What they end up doing is providing it a crutch upon which to lean and, as such, so why would one learn how to walk on their own when there’s no need? Well, that’s if the CBC would actually show a Canadian drama.

Dr. WhoCoronation Street? What, did we get recolonized? Is it part of the Commonwealth agreement that we have to show British shows each and every evening? Then, in Prime Time, we’re inundated with mini-series, movies, and the odd Canadian drama. What? Have we given up the fight already? Is the competition from the American networks, CTV, and Global so stiff that they give up already?

If that’s the case, why even keep up the pretense of being a viable commercial entity and simply go the route of PBS? And is there anything wrong with that? PBS has a dedicated, passionate viewership that actually invests itself into the station. If the CBC has given up the fight against its commercial brethren, would this not be a better alternative for our Public Broadcaster? Not everyone has to play on the same field. Let CTV and Global continue to brand themselves as nothing more than American extensions into the Great White North (even the most noted CanCon, the wildly – an inexplicably – popular Canadian Idol, is just a cheap knock-off of the American, and British, phenomenon) and the CBC can merrily go on its way and explore the best and brightest of Canadiana, without the pressures or expectations brought about by those middling ratings and advertising requirements.

In fact, we’re already there to a large extent. Some people wear the CBC like a badge of honour. They intersperse their conversations with references to the witticisms uttered on Radio One, or they giddily recount a skit presented on the Mercer Report – usually to an audience of blank stares. Maybe those CBC viewers can commiserate with their US counterparts who regale their colleagues with the latest discovery outlined on Nova to a less-than-enthusiastic response. It has become a niche broadcaster trying to appeal to a mass market.

But, better yet, why doesn’t CBC English try to compete against the commercial big boys? The CBC can turn its attention east and look to its French language sister station, Radio-Canada, for inspiration. They’ve actually developed buzz-worthy shows including: La Fureur, a karaoke-style competition that features noted Quebecois artists; Toute le Monde en Parle, an entertaining talk show that Ralph Benmergui and Alan Thicke could only dream of hosting; and Virginie, a soap opera that ISN’T imported from England!!!

The key thing that SRC has been able to do is encourage the development of a French-Canadian star system. Sure, at times it seems that every film, every TV show, and every radio drive-time show is filled with the same people, but these people are supported by the community. Their images are plastered all over the province’s entertainment magazines, and their shows and films are wildly successful.

And SRC doesn’t need no stinkin’ CRTC regulations. Even if the CanCon restrictions were lifted, that doesn’t mean that the airwaves would be flooded with imports from France. Quebec-produced shows would continue to survive and flourish because the viewers enjoy not only the stars involved in the show, but the quality and excitement of the shows.

It’s not a question of highbrow versus lowbrow, because SRC – and its sister news station RDI – also produce a tonne of exciting, dynamic, and informative news and magazine-style programs that appeal to an intellectually stimulated demographic. They truly do offer something for everyone and they’re not afraid to push the edges of the envelope. Whereas, the CBC seems to want to do anything it can to avoid offending the ex-pats or the conservative (small c, please) taxpayer.

The CBC needs to be effectively edgy, and by that I mean it needs to create shows and personalities that appeal to the targeted demographic. There are few things worse than seeing an advertisement aimed at today’s youth that just butchers the rap genre, simply because some stuffed suit decided that he or she could “get down with the kids,” and provide them with something “from the street.” Maybe if the street we’re talking about is Sussex Drive, but not when you’re trying to appeal to today’s media-savvy generation.

Commercial success for the CBC can be done – all they need to do is brush up on their French and tune in. Of course, even if they did make these changes for the better, who would be left to promote it?

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

A Sour Cherry?

By Jason Menard

Does Don Cherry really have to be our standard-bearer for free speech in this country? And what does it say about us as a country when we fail to be outraged at borderline-racist comments, but a seven-second delay sends us into a tizzy?

As a result of his latest verbal assault against Europeans and French-Canadians, Cherry’s Coaches Corner segment is now subject to a seven-second delay, wherein some unfortunate soul has his or her finger on the trigger, waiting for the volatile Cherry to say something inappropriate. I’d hate to be the one doing that job.

So now Cherry, instead of being exposed as the ignorant buffoon that he is, now is at the centre of a cause célébre – pardon my French – and what he says is now obscured by the discussion of his right to say it.

Let’s put things into perspective here. Cherry has become nothing more than a shameful self-parody. Instead of using his high-profile, national forum to effect meaningful change to a game we all know and love, he has to continually one-up himself on a weekly basis. He absolutely has to be outrageous and controversial, but not for the sake of making a point, but rather to cover up his total lack of substance.

The plain fact of the matter is that very few Canadians take Cherry seriously. Some will watch and laugh at his bombastic antics, so may agree with certain aspects of his weekly diatribes, but few would consider him an authoritative voice on the game.

Much like Zsa Zsa Gabor and Elizabeth Taylor, he’s no longer famous for his contributions to society, but rather he’s famous for being famous. Honestly, how many people – especially the newer viewers to Hockey Night in Canada – actually recall his coaching career when compiling a list of his attributes? Outrageous jackets, yes. Starched collars, sure. Dog named Blue, OK. A stint behind the benches of the Bruins and Rockies? Oh yeah, I forgot about that.

The scary thing is that the majority of Canadians have become desensitized to his xenophobia. We laugh it off and say, “Oh, that’s just Don being Don.” And that’s easy to say when you’re on the English-Canadian side of the fence. But his shtick doesn’t carry the same weight elsewhere. Having lived in Quebec for a number of years, I have seen first-hand that Cherry’s anti-French and anti-European diatribes elicit anything from minor annoyance to – and this is worse – a confirmation that these are obviously the opinions of a majority of English Canadians because they don’t bat an eye when he says these things.

Just think of the emotions that get stirred up when someone from the U.S. slights our beloved nation. We become outraged and lament the opinions of these ignorant Americans – but by our support of Cherry, are we any worse?

But despite all of this, I don’t believe Cherry should be censored. In fact, I do believe we need people like this in our world so that we can point at them and mock them mercilessly. We can sift the sewage out of their bombast, hold it up for examination, and expose it for the ignorant drivel that it is. It’s more dangerous to allow these sentiments to fester in private, where they can grow to a disproportionate size. This is the beauty of free speech – we can all share our ideas and have them subjected to public scrutiny and analysis to highlight both the flaws and strengths of our ideas.

However, I don’t think our nation’s publicly funded broadcast network should necessarily be providing a five-minute stage dedicated to an individual who goes out of his way to alienate an important segment of our Canadian cultural mosaic. But, unlike Cherry, I refuse to pass judgement on the rights of others to watch what they choose. And I don’t think mass censorship is ever the right solution.

In any case, I have the greatest time-delay device at my disposal – my remote control. I watch hockey for the love of the game, not to see the pathetic attempt of an increasingly irrelevant talking head struggle to stay in the public consciousness.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Shutting Pandora’s Closet

By Jason Menard

With the entire hullabaloo surrounding the Pandora’s Closet funding crunch, one would expect that the show’s namesake has been opened and a world of misfortune will fall upon our fair city unless we can find a way to save this show!

What will London do without the increased exposure this show would provide, the lament? People will miss out on the walking tours of the hot spots that would have been shown on Pandora’s Closet!

Can we all just take a deep breath here and revisit the main premise here? This is the CBC. How many will actually be watching?

The CBC is uniquely Canadian in a number of aspects. It’s also inaccessible to the majority of people it needs to ensure it’s future survival and success as a national broadcaster – the lucrative younger target market.

The problem is its image. The CBC and — to a large part – its regular audience seem to be proud of its inaccessibility. The attitude seems to be that all CBC produces is quality and that one must attain a certain echelon of culture and intelligence to truly appreciate the depth of humour, dramatic nuances, and overall wittiness of the product.

The U.S. has a national channel like that as well – and they spend much of their time on pledge drives.

Understand, as a proud Canadian I really, really want to like the CBC – it’s almost a civic duty. As well, I feel the CBC can play a vital role in our society, providing quality Canadian broadcasts. The problem is that it’s hard to showcase the best of Canada when nobody’s watching.

The only show that younger viewers flock to in droves is Hockey Night in Canada. After that, aside from a handful of specials – be they Grey Cup, Olympics, or one-shot variety shows – the majority find the CBC just a speed bump on the road to more interesting programming.

What the CBC does well, it does extremely well. CBC excels at sports coverage — it’s annual Grey Cup coverage and hockey productions are second to none. As well, the CBC’s news department is rock-solid and bridges the credibility gap between younger and older audiences.

Other than that, the pickings are slim. The collection of talking heads that have been pushed over the years are almost enough to make one long for Alan Thicke – almost. And really, it’s a beautiful province but how many shows do you really need about PEI? Even when it swings for the fences, the CBC comes up empty. Its Great Canadian Music Dream was a poor stab at catching the trendy wave left by American Idol and Popstars’ wake.

So where’s the solution? The CBC has to decide what it wants to be in the future. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a Canadian PBS – as long as the broadcaster drops any pretension of competing directly with Global and CTV. In fact, by going that route the CBC would be able to continue its production and broadcast of niche programming while providing a justification for Canadian tax dollars.

However, if they want to compete with the big boys – and in our digital world that includes strong U.S. competition – the CBC needs to take risks to grab the attention of today’s viewing public. CBC dramas and comedies are too formulaic – essentially too safe.

It’s not a question of talent. The names of Canadians in the film industry read like a roll call of quality. Most importantly, not only are many Canadian-helmed productions of top quality but some are extremely profitable. One would think there’s an array of untapped talent of this ilk waiting for a chance!

As well, you only need to look as far as The Kids in the Hall and – to a lesser extent – This Hour has 22 Minutes to see that comedies in this country can be viable, entertaining, and successful.

The big U.S. networks can afford to recycle mindless drivel to the masses just by the sheer enormity of the market. CBC does not have that luxury. I applaud CBC’s focus, which runs counter to CTV and Global’s more relaxed approach to Canadian content, but to be competitive the broadcaster must find a hook to draw fresh viewers to the network.

It must, under no uncertain terms, be entertaining! While I hope Pandora’s Closet is a go, I have no illusions that this show will put London on the map. It’s still the CBC and one way or another life will go on.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved