The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), a Canadian crown corporation, is the country’s national public radio and television broadcaster. In French, it is called la Société Radio-Canada (Radio-Canada or SRC). The umbrella corporate brand is CBC/Radio-Canada.
CBC is the oldest existing broadcasting service in Canada, first established in its present form on November 2, 1936. Radio services include CBC Radio One, CBC Radio 2, CBC Radio 3, Première Chaîne, Espace musique and the international radio service Radio Canada International. Television operations include CBC Television, Télévision de Radio-Canada, CBC Newsworld, le Réseau de l'information, ARTV (part ownership), Documentary and Bold. The CBC operates services for the Canadian Arctic under the names CBC North and Radio Nord Québec. The CBC also operates digital audio service Galaxie and two main websites, one in either official language; it owns 40% of satellite radio broadcaster Sirius Canada, which airs additional CBC services including CBC Radio 3 and Bande à part.
CBC/Radio-Canada offers programming in English, French and eight Aboriginal languages on its domestic radio service; in nine languages on its international radio service, Radio Canada International; and in eight languages on its Web-based radio service RCI Viva, a service for recent and aspiring immigrants to Canada.
The financial structure and the nature of the CBC often place it in the same category as other high-end national broadcasters, such as the British broadcaster BBC, although it should be noted that unlike the BBC, the CBC employs commercial advertising to supplement its federal funding.
In 1929, the Aird Commission on public broadcasting recommended the creation of a national radio broadcast network. A major concern was the growing influence of American radio broadcasting as U.S.-based networks began to expand into Canada. Graham Spry and Alan Plaunt lobbied intensely for the project on behalf of the Canadian Radio League. In 1932 the government of R.B. Bennett established the CBC’s predecessor, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC).
The CRBC took over a network of radio stations formerly set up by a federal Crown corporation, the Canadian National Railway. The network was used to broadcast programming to riders aboard its passenger trains, with coverage primarily in central and eastern Canada. On November 2, 1936, the CRBC became a full Crown corporation and gained its present name. Leonard Brockington was the CBC’s first chairman.
For the next few decades, the CBC was responsible for all broadcasting innovation in Canada. It introduced FM radio to Canada in 1946. Television broadcasts from the CBC began on September 6, 1952, with the opening of a station in Montreal, Quebec (CBFT), and a station in Toronto, Ontario (CBLT) opening two days later. The CBC’s first privately owned affiliate television station, CKSO in Sudbury, Ontario, launched in October 1953. (At the time, all private stations were expected to affiliate with the CBC, a condition that relaxed in 1960–61 with the launch of CTV.)
From 1944 to 1962 the CBC operated two English-language AM radio services known as the Trans-Canada Network and the Dominion Network. The latter, carrying lighter programs including American radio shows, was dissolved in 1962, while the former became known as CBC Radio. (In the late 1990s, CBC Radio was rebranded as CBC Radio One and CBC Stereo as CBC Radio Two. The latter was re-branded slightly in 2007 as CBC Radio 2.)
On July 1, 1958, CBC’s television signal was extended from coast to coast. The first Canadian tv show shot in colour was the CBC’s own The Forest Rangers in 1963. However, colour television broadcasts did not begin until July 1, 1966, and full-colour service began in 1974. In 1978, CBC became the first broadcaster in the world to use an orbiting satellite for television service, linking Canada “from east to west to north.”
The first FCP station was started in Yellowknife in 1967, the second in Whitehorse in 1968. Additional stations were added from 1969 to 1972. Most stations were fitted for the Anik satellite signal during 1973, carrying 12 hours of colour programming. Broadcasts were geared to either the Atlantic time zone (UTC−4 or −3) or the Pacific time zone (UTC−8 or −7) even though the audience resided in communities in time zones varying from UTC−5 to UTC−8.
It would be many years before TV programs originated in the north without the help of the west, starting with one half-hour per week in the 1980s with Focus North and graduating to a daily half-hour newscast, Northbeat, in the late 1990s.
When the creation of the CBC “gem” logo was in its planning stages in 1974, designer Burton Kramer put together an early version of the network’s ID. In it, the C part of the logo zoomed away from the viewer toward the centre of the screen, followed by the other parts of the logo in similar fashion until the complete logo formed on a black background, with the name “Television Canada” (possibly a planned change of name for the CBC’s television units at the time) appearing beneath it.
Although that version of the network ID was not used, the well-known version of the ID (with the logo kaleidoscopically morphing into its form while radiating outward from the centre of the screen on a blue background) made its TV debut on the CBC’s English and French networks in December 1974. Some refer to this animated version as “The Exploding Pizza.” The jingle initially used for the ID was a three-note synthesized jingle with an announcer saying “This is CBC” or «Ici Radio-Canada» at the end of the ID, but that short-lived jingle was replaced around 1976 by the more well-known eleven-note jingle, which lasted until December 31, 1985.
The updated one-colour version of the gem logo was introduced on January 1, 1986, and with it was introduced a new series of computer graphic-generated TV IDs for CBC and Radio-Canada. These IDs consisted of different background colours corresponding to the time of day behind a translucent CBC gem logo, accompanied by different arrangements of the CBC’s new, orchestrated five-note jingle. When the CBC logo was updated to its current form in 1992, new TV IDs were introduced in November that year, also using CG.
A popular satirical nickname for the CBC, commonly used in the pages of Frank, is “the Corpse.”
There is an urban legend that a CBC announcer once referred to the network on the air as the “Canadian Broadcorping Castration,” which also sometimes remains in use as a satirical nickname. Quotations of the supposed spoonerism are wildly variable in detail on what was said, when it was said or even who the announcer was, but there is no evidence to confirm its existence. (Although a few recordings do exist of an announcer speaking this phrase, none has ever been confirmed as authentic.)
Some have referred to the CBC as the “Corporate Broadcasting Corporation” for an alleged free market bias, though the CBC is largely publicly funded.
The CBC was also jokingly called BBC Canada during the 2005 lockout by Canadians and CBC workers due to the large amount of British content then aired in place of the regular schedule.
The CBC has also been mistakenly referred to as the Canadian Broadcasting Company.
...the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains;
...the programming provided by the Corporation should:
- be predominantly and distinctively Canadian,
- reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions,
- actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,
- be in English and in French, reflecting the different needs and circumstances of each official language community, including the particular needs and circumstances of English and French linguistic minorities,
- strive to be of equivalent quality in English and French,
- contribute to shared national consciousness and identity,
- be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose, and
- reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada.
For the fiscal year 2006, the CBC received a total of $1.53 billion from all revenue sources, including government funding, subscription fees, advertising revenue, and other revenue (e.g. real estate).
Among its revenue sources for the year ending March 31, 2006, the CBC received $946 million in its “permanent” funding from the federal government, as well as $60 million in one-time supplementary funding for programming. However, this supplementary funding has been repeated annually, on a year-to-year basis, for a number of years. This totals just over a billion dollars annually and is a source of heated debate.
CBC’s funding differs from that of the public broadcasters of many European nations, which collect a licence fee, or those in the United States, such as PBS and NPR, which receive some public funding but rely to a large extent on voluntary contributions from individual viewers and listeners.
To supplement this funding, the CBC’s television networks and websites sell advertising, while cable/satellite-only services such as Newsworld additionally collect subscriber fees, in line with their privately owned counterparts. CBC’s radio services do not sell advertising except when required by law (for example, to political parties during federal elections).
For the fiscal year 2006, the CBC received a total of $1.53 billion from all revenue sources. Expenditures for the year included $616 million for English TV, $402 million for French TV, $126 million for specialty channels, a total of $348 million for radio services in both languages, $88 million for management and technical costs, and $124 million for “amortization of property and equipment.” Some of this spending was derived from amortization of funding from previous years.
The network’s defenders note that the CBC’s mandate differs from private media’s, particularly in its focus on Canadian content; that much of the public funding actually goes to the radio networks; and that the CBC is responsible for the full cost of most of its prime-time programming, while private networks can fill up most of their prime-time schedules with American series acquired for a fraction of their production cost. CBC supporters also claim that additional, long-term funding is required to provide better Canadian dramas and improved local programming.
The $616 million budget for CBC Television is in fact smaller than, for example, the $656 million in revenues earned by private broadcaster CanWest Global for its various television operations in fiscal 2006, which trailed rival CTV’s ratings by a wide margin.
CBC Radio also operates two shortwave services. One, Radio Nord Québec, broadcasts domestically to Northern Quebec on a static frequency of 9625 kHz, and the other, Radio Canada International, provides broadcasts to the United States and around the world in eight languages. Additionally, the Radio One stations in St. John’s and Vancouver operate shortwave relay transmitters, broadcasting at 6160 kHz. Some have suggested that CBC/Radio-Canada create a new high-power shortwave digital radio service for more effective coverage of isolated areas.
In November, 2004, the CBC, in partnership with Standard Broadcasting and Sirius Satellite Radio, applied to the CRTC for a license to introduce satellite radio service to Canada. The CRTC approved the subscription radio application, as well as two others for satellite radio service, on June 16, 2005. Sirius Canada launched on December 1, 2005, with a number of CBC Radio channels, including the new services CBC Radio 3 and Bande à part.
Some stations that broadcast from smaller cities are private affiliates of the CBC, that is, stations which are owned by commercial broadcasters and air a predominantly CBC schedule. However, most affiliates of the English network opt out of some network programs to air local programming or more popular foreign programs acquired from other broadcasters. (Private affiliates of the French network, all of which are located in Quebec, rarely have the means to provide alternate programming.) Such private affiliates are becoming increasingly rare.
CBC television stations in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon tailor their programming mostly to the local native population, and broadcast in many native languages, such as Inuktitut, Gwichʼin, and Dene.
One of the most popular shows is the weekly Saturday night broadcast of NHL hockey games. In English, the program is known as Hockey Night in Canada, and in French, it was called La Soirée du hockey. Both shows began in 1952. The French edition was discontinued in 2004, though Radio-Canada stations outside of Quebec simulcast some Saturday night games produced by RDS until 2006. The network suffered considerable public embarrassment when it lost the rights to the show's theme music following a protracted lawsuit launched by the song's composer and publishers.
Ratings for CBC Television have declined in recent years. In Quebec, where the majority speaks French, la Télévision de Radio-Canada is popular and garners some of the highest ratings in the province.
The CBC also operates three specialty television channels – CBC Newsworld, an English-language news channel; RDI, a French-language news channel; and Bold, a Category 1 digital service. It owns a managing interest in the Francophone arts service ARTV, and (82%) of the digital channel, Documentary
CBC/Radio-Canada offers a 24-hour, 45-channel digital audio service known as Galaxie. The service is available on digital cable and direct broadcast satellite television providers across Canada. Some cable companies, as well as direct broadcast satellite service provider Star Choice, carry only 20 of these 45 channels alongside Max Trax, a competing 20-channel digital music service offered by Corus Entertainment.
CBC provides news, business, weather and sports information on Air Canada’s inflight entertainment as Enroute Journal.
On 15 August 2005, 5,500 employees of the CBC (about 90%) were locked out by CBC CEO Robert Rabinovitch in a dispute over future hiring practices. At issue were the rules governing the hiring of contract workers in preference to full time hires. The locked-out employees were members of the Canadian Media Guild, representing all production, journalistic and on-air personnel outside Quebec and Moncton, including several foreign correspondents. While CBC services continued during the lockout, they were comprised primarily of repeats, with news programming from the BBC and newswires. Major CBC programs such as The National and Royal Canadian Air Farce were not produced during the lockout. Meanwhile, the locked-out employees produced podcasts and websites such as CBCunplugged.com, which many credited with swaying public opinion to the union’s side.
After a hiatus, talks re-opened. In addition, the Canadian public was becoming irritated with the loss of quality of their publicly funded service. On September 23, the federal minister of labour called Robert Rabinovitch and Arnold Amber (the president of the CBC branch of the Canadian Media Guild) to his office for talks aimed at ending the dispute.
Late in the evening of October 2, 2005, it was announced that the CBC management and staff had reached a tentative deal which resulted in the CBC returning to normal operations on October 11. Some speculated that the looming October 8 start date for the network’s most important television property, Hockey Night in Canada, had acted as an additional incentive to resolve the dispute.
The CBC has been affected by a number of other labour disputes since the late 1990s:
While all labour disputes resulted in cut-back programming and numerous repeat airings, the 2005 lockout may have been the most damaging to CBC. All local programming in the affected regions was cancelled and replaced by abbreviated national newscasts and national radio morning shows. BBC World (television) and World Service (radio) and Broadcast News feeds were used to provide the remainder of original news content, and the CBC website was comprised mainly of rewritten wire copy. Some BBC staff protested against their material being used during the CBC lockout. “The NUJ and BECTU will not tolerate their members’ work being used against colleagues in Canada,” said a joint statement by BBC unions. The CMG questioned whether, with its limited Canadian news content, the CBC was meeting its legal requirements under the Broadcasting Act and its CRTC licences.
Galaxie supplied some music content for the radio networks. Tapes of previously-aired or -produced documentaries, interviews and entertainment programs were also aired widely. Selected television sports coverage, including that of the Canadian Football League, continued, but without commentary.
As before, French-language staff outside of Quebec were also affected by the 2005 lockout, although with Quebec producing the bulk of the French networks’ programming, those networks were not as visibly affected by the dispute apart from local programs.
In English-speaking Canada, the decline in CBC viewership can be partly attributed to the fact that private TV networks primarily rebroadcast popular American programming with substituted Canadian advertising. American programs appear to attract higher audiences than do much of the made-in-Canada programming that is a CBC specialty.
Viewership on the CBC’s French TV network has also declined, mostly because of stiff competition from private French-language networks. Audience fragmentation is another issue – French Canadians prefer home-grown television programming, a vibrant Quebec star system is in place, and little American or foreign content airs on French-language networks, public or private. On the other hand, the CBC’s French-language radio channel is sometimes the top-rated network.
In the case of breaking news, including federal elections, the CBC may still hold a slight edge. For instance, after election night 2006, CBC Television took out full-page newspaper ads claiming that 2.2 million Canadians watched their coverage, more than any other broadcaster. However, in similar ads, CTV also claimed to be number one, stating there was a CBC audience of only 1.2 million. In both cases, the methodologies were not clear from the ads, such as whether simulcasts on one or both of the networks’ news channels (Newsworld for CBC, Newsnet for CTV) were counted.
The CBC was the only television network broadcasting in Canada until the creation of ITO, a short-lived predecessor of today’s CTV, in 1960; even then, large parts of Canada did not receive CTV service until the late 1960s or early 1970s. The CBC also had the only national radio network. Its cultural impact was therefore significant since many Canadians had little or no choice for their information and entertainment other than from these two powerful media.
Even after the advent of commercial television and radio, the CBC has remained one of the main elements in Canadian popular culture through its obligation to produce Canadian TV and radio programming. The CBC has made programs for mass audiences and for smaller audiences interested in drama, performance arts, documentaries, current affairs, entertainment and sport.
The 1950s saw the CBC providing hands-on training and employment for actors, writers, and directors in the developing field of its television dramatic services, and later saw much of the talent heading south to seek fame and fortune in New York and Hollywood.
Competition from private broadcasters like CTV, Global, and other broadcast television stations and specialty channels has lessened the CBC’s reach, but nevertheless it remains a major influence on Canadian popular culture. According to the corporation’s research, 92% of Canadians consider the CBC an essential service.
In 2000, CBC and Power Broadcasting sold these channels to Barry Diller’s USA Networks. Diller’s company was later acquired by Vivendi Universal, which in turn was partially acquired by NBC to form NBC Universal. NBC Universal still owns the Trio brand, which no longer has any association with the CBC (and, as of the end of 2005, became an Internet-only broadband channel).
However, the CBC continued to program NWI, with much of its programming simulcast on the domestic Newsworld service. In late 2004, as a result of a further change in NWI’s ownership to the INdTV consortium (including Joel Hyatt and former Vice-President of the United States Al Gore), NWI ceased airing CBC programming on August 1, 2005, when it was renamed Current TV.
Some CBC programming is also rebroadcast on local radio, such as New Hampshire Public Radio. CBC television channels are available on cable systems located near the Canadian border. For example, CBET Windsor is available on cable systems in the Detroit, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio area. CBUT is broadcast on Comcast in the Seattle, Washington area.
Hockey Night in Canada is widely preferred to American television’s NHL coverage in the border states and has a loyal following. Also, CBC signals are not subject to FCC censorship. CBC’s Olympic coverage is also well-received, as it provides an alternative to NBC’s coverage, which, some have alleged, focuses too much on American athletes. CBC’s Olympic coverage is also carried live, regardless of broadcast time, compared to NBC’s tape delay.
At night, the AM radio transmissions of both CBC and SRC services can be received over much of the northern portion of the United States, from stations such as CBE in Windsor, CBW in Winnipeg and CBK in Saskatchewan.
C-SPAN has also carried CBC’s coverage of major events affecting Canadians, including:
Several PBS stations also air some CBC programming, especially The Red Green Show. However, these programs are syndicated by independent distributors and are not governed by the PBS “common carriage” policy.
Other American broadcast networks sometimes air CBC reports, especially for Canadian events of international significance. For example, in the early hours after the Swissair Flight 111 disaster, CNN aired CBC’s live coverage of the event. Also in the late 1990s, CNN Headline News aired a few CBC reports of events that were not significant outside Canada.
With the launch of Sirius Canada in December 2005, some of the CBC’s radio networks (including Radio Canada International and Sirius-exclusive Radio Three and Bande à part channels) are available to Sirius subscribers in the United States.
In 1997, Henry Vlug, a deaf lawyer in Vancouver, filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging that an absence of captioning on some programming on CBC Television and Newsworld infringed on his rights as a person with a disability. A ruling in 2000 by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which later heard the case, sided with Vlug and found that an absence of captioning constituted discrimination on the basis of disability. The Tribunal ordered CBC Television and Newsworld to caption the entirety of their broadcast days, “including television shows, commercials, promos and unscheduled news flashes, from sign-on until sign-off.”
The ruling recognized that “there will inevitably be glitches with respect to the delivery of captioning” but that “the rule should be full captioning.” In a negotiated settlement to avoid appealing the ruling to the Federal Court of Canada, CBC agreed to commence 100% captioning on CBC Television and Newsworld beginning November 1, 2002. CBC Television and Newsworld are apparently the only broadcasters in the world required to caption the entire broadcast day. However, published evidence asserts that CBC is not providing the 100% captioning ordered by the Tribunal.
In 2004, retired Canadian Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, a hard-of-hearing person, filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against Radio-Canada concerning captioning, particularly the absence of real-time captioning on newscasts and other live programming. As part of the settlement process, Radio-Canada agreed to submit a report on the state of captioning, especially real-time captioning, on Radio-Canada and RDI. The report, which was the subject of some criticism, proposed an arrangement with Cité Collégiale, a community college in Ottawa, to train more French-language real-time captioners.
English-language specialty networks owned or co-owned by CBC, including Bold and Documentary, have the lower captioning requirements typical of larger Canadian broadcasters (90% of the broadcast day by the end of both networks’ licence terms). ARTV, the French-language specialty network co-owned by CBC, has a maximum captioning requirement of 53%.