The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal

The challenges of the digital age: informing, enlightening and entertaining

“The CBC is exactly like a private company, but… just a bit more complicated.” These are the words used by Michel Bissonnette, Executive Vice-President of French Services at CBC/Radio-Canada, at our forum to describe the role of today’s public broadcaster in the digital age.

A matter of culture and identity

For Michel Bissonnette, CBC/Radio-Canada’s role as a public broadcaster is above all to be a guardian of culture and Francophone identity. He remembers that not too long ago, regulations made it possible to ensure the production and diffusion of original Canadian and French Canadian content. Quotas imposed by the CRTC thus allowed several generations of Quebecers to see and recognize themselves in content broadcasted on TV or the radio. In this way, an entire independent production industry was able to emerge and become known for its expertise here and elsewhere in the world.

For the Executive Vice-President of French Services at CBC/Radio-Canada, this era is over. The digital has made physical barriers disappear, which now allows for content to circulate without any regards to borders.

The second obstacle—language—is also disappearing, especially among young adults. Today, over 55% of Francophones from 18 to 34 years of age are subscribed to the powerhouse Netflix! According to Mr. Bissonnette, this statistic shows that for the younger generation, content’s language and origin are criteria that matter less and less.

Competing against international giants

Amazon, Netflix, Apple, etc. The rise of these giants is a point of concern. An increasing number of them are establishing themselves in Canada, with tremendous budgets that a public broadcaster cannot match, unfortunately. The consequence? An impact on revenues, which in turn affects the industry’s ability to finance original French-language content.

“Our only weapon of defense is our creativity.”

For Michel Bissonnette, defender of culture and Francophone identity, original content is what’s at stake. The conservation and promotion of our culture is not only the government’s business: it also has to be our business. This way, CBC/Radio-Canada will be able to ensure its role as a public broadcaster, which is to inform, enlighten and entertain, even in the digital age.

Innovation, collaboration and creation

In addition to investing in original content and encouraging independent production, it’s important to develop new reflexes within the industry that will enable us to stay afloat in the digital age. We must do things differently and work together! This is why in December, Radio-Canada established three measures to help independent producers break into global markets:

  • The negotiation of strategic partnerships with four Canadian and international distributors
  • An investment of $2.5 million to support the development of projects for international markets
  • The launch of an online platform to facilitate the exportation of documentary content

With the rise of fake news, CBC/Radio-Canada continues to rely on its journalistic integrity and in-depth practices. The public broadcaster also plans to continue to demonstrate innovation and originality by using new technological and communication tools to produce content that is always original, engaging and relevant. By continuing to position itself as a leader for both its content and its format, the public broadcaster will thus remain at the service of citizens.

“To remain competitive, the CBC must continue to perform its mandate to inform, enlighten and entertain Canadians, but in the digital age. Our strength lies in finding a balance between these three pillars.”

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