Love him or hate him, Richard Stursberg, CBC’s recently axed head, understood the writing on the wall: the CBC cannot afford to continue with an umblllical dependence on funding from the government. Richard’s passionate vision was for a public broadcaster who was financially self-sufficient. To that end ratings mattered, simply from the point of view that eyeballs bring advertising revenue. And more revenue means more money that can be channelled back into programming. When Richard appointed Scott Moore as the new leader of CBC’s Sales & Marketing, Scott took a department that was nothing short of an industry joke, and turned it into a respected, money-making venture. CBC has never, in it’s history, seen the kind of advertising sponsorship that it has right now, nor has it ever been taken as seriously in the industry as it is now. But with Richard’s departure, all that could easily change – and the CBC could, once again, become totally dependent on the government for funding.
Richard believed that in order to survive, the CBC had to produce entertainment that was on par with what the US produced. He believed it was possible. He was committed to entertainment as one of the keys to achieve a certain financial independence. He viewed CBCNews as an extension of this entertainment strategy. He believed the CNN version as the future. This didn’t sit well with the old-school news department who still, almost a year after relaunching CBCNews, have not embraced the new CBCNews strategy – a strategy that could have allowed the news department to change the news paradigm. Instead many of them bury their heads in the sand, wishing for the clock to go back to a time pre-Richard.
CBC Radio is far from suffering. Under the little-appreciated tenure of Chris Boyce, CBC Radio One has revitalized programming, and the highest ratings in its history. Richard (and a host of other senior team leaders) realized that CBC Radio 2’s classical audience wasa DYING. It’s an audience that is not replacing itself. As numbers dwindle, year after year, they believed it is a public broadcaster’s responsibility to change and adapt, and in the process, re-invent the classical music service, while trying to find a new audience for its musical offering. Many people inside the CBC were against this move. And many still believe it was a mistake. But any broadcaster who ignores audience research studies and the feedback from hours of focus groups is behaving irresponsibly. The writing was on the wall there too. I don’t believe they are “there” yet, but Radio 2 is the ONLY Canadian radio station (excl. CBC Radio 3) that is FULLY committed to airplay for Canadian singers and songwriters. Isn’t that the mandate?
It’s not surprising to see Richard’s critics hovering over his dying legacy. Hubert’s commitment to the CBC is a populist one. But I wonder which segment of the population is now driving the future strategy of the CBC? CBC itself will not be objective enough. Under Richard’s watch, the CBC was slowly growing a much needed younger demographic – don’t forget, the internet may end up being the future of all broadcasting. And that 18 – 39 demographic is not watching traditional television. And they are not watching nature documentaries. I respect the opinions of his critics. Richard ruled the CBC like a petulant king. His senior management team was described as a “wheel-less spoke”, with each spoke a division that was deliberately not connected to the others. His management style was brutal. His demeanor cold. But still, I hope time is kind to his legacy, because I worry that one day, the reign of King Richard will go down in history as the CBC’s last shining moment – the final days of broadcasting camelot.