Excerpted from cbcunlocked.ca, a site run by locked-out CBC employees and hosted by the Canadian Media Guild.
When they launched the lockout in mid-August, CBC executives may have calculated that summer is the slowest season for ad revenue. And that they were bound to take a hit in September as viewers drifted off to watch the premieres of heavily hyped American shows. In other words, there wasn't much to lose. But ads have never supported more than a fraction of the broadcaster's budget. CBC annual reports show that revenue from advertising and program sales averaged about $5.4 million a week before the hockey lockout.
The big dollars - upwards of $17 million a week in parliamentary operating grants - continue to roll in, regardless of how much the taxpaying viewer is getting for the money.
CBC publicist Jason MacDonald tells CBCUnlocked that "to suggest the CBC is profiting from the lockout is seriously misguided. We are a not-for-profit." MacDonald says money not spent on wages is paying for a replacement schedule and will eventually be spent on luring back audiences when programming is normalized. He also suggests there will be costs when the dispute ends just to get the machinery of the CBC up and running.
But the problem, says Media Guild president Lise Lareau, is the sense that the CBC is not hurting financially. "It sounds legitimately possible that it has an incentive to lock us out."
Conservative MP Bev Oda has called for CBC president Robert Rabinovitch to appear before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to answer questions about how the lockout is affecting the CBC's bottom line. Liberal MP Sarmite Bulte has asked for a probe of the corp's spending of its federal grant money during the lockout.
As managers scramble to avoid going to black, the network's ratings paint a mixed picture. Flagship television newscast The National was drawing about 700,000 viewers during the seven weeks before the lockout. In the first three weeks of the lockout, the replacement news show from the BBC drew a respectable 450,000, while CTV attracted about 842,000 viewers for its 11 pm newscast.
Michael Moore objected to the CBC's decision to air his film Bowling For Columbine during the lockout, but 717,000 Canadians watched it on Sunday, September 18.
Apart from the unpaid wages and whatever ad revenue is still coming in, the CBC has a great deal of cash to play with. Its parliamentary grants include about $11 million a week to keep it afloat outside Quebec and Moncton, which are not affected by the lockout because employees there have a separate union.
The Canadian Media Guild last month urged the government to withhold the grants during the lockout, but nothing has happened. Federal NDP leader Jack Layton, who has joined picket lines across the country, says, "It is completely inappropriate to use public funds to help CBC management undermine public broadcasting."
Also on the savings side of the ledger, the CBC is not paying many of the usual costs of full programming: long distance transportation for reporters and crews, materials for sets and so on. On the cost side, it has had to spend on supplemental news services and royalties to make up for lost content. There is extra security around CBC buildings, all closed except for Toronto and parts of the Ottawa headquarters.
And all those managers aren't working all those extra hours for free. A confidential memo leaked least month outlined that managers will be compensated an extra 15 per cent hourly for each hour of strike work, $52 for each hour worked beyond eight hours in a regular working day, plus lump sum payments of $100 to $700 week depending on the extra hours of "strike-related duties."
Wayne Easter, a Liberal MP from Prince Edward Island, says the extra money has removed an incentive to reach a settlement.
A former federal solicitor-general, Easter has written to the Cabinet asking for legislation to prevent Crown corporations from offering bonuses to managers during labour disputes. "If managers had to work double the hours and were paid the same salary as before the lockout, there'd be a heck of a great incentive for them to settle this thing quickly."
CBC spokesperson MacDonald responds that "it would be misinformed to say that managers who are working around the clock to keep our services online want the lockout to last one second longer than it has to."
on the record cbcunlocked.ca