Now we have to be better than France, too

I don’t know if we should even dignify Susan Sachs’ freelance piece in the Globe with too much attention. Maybe just enough attention, which in a way is the Stursberg philosophy.

The news hook is Sarkozy’s edict that French public TV will go ad-free within two years. The article ritually compares the CBC with France; then, as all CBC comparisons must do, it includes a comparison to the BBC. Sachs points out that “alternative revenue sources” will be needed to make up the French €450 million shortfall. Then there’s a discussion of programming priorities – Sarkozy wants French public TV to be unlike commercial TV, while Stursberg just wants more people to get exposed to “Canadian content.”

The article notes that ad sales here are tanking and that’s only going to get worse; what isn’t discussed is the fact that even highly-watched CanCon has audience figures only marginally higher than the competition’s. CBC can’t do ten times better with Wild Roses than CTV does with CSI: Miami or whatever. It’s a business of small differences; it is a business of margins. Stursberg wants just a little more attention paid to CBC programming and somehow thinks that will translate into disproportionately more revenue. It won’t.

Anyway, those are differences that don’t matter in this discussion. What matters is funding. CBC can’t get along without funding from TV commercials because the government isn’t going to hand over any more money. (Apparently the budget won’t be cut next week, but it won’t go up, either.) France public TV’s ad revenue alone amounts to most of CBC’s budget. It doesn’t really matter what kind of programming either service puts on the air. One fact is true of both: Without advertising, each needs a larger government subsidy.

But what about the BBC? They don’t have commercials, but they show nasty Hollywood product, the article pretty much tells us. Yes, they do – but everyone pays a tax on their television sets in the U.K. (The BBC also has a much more aggressive sales arm – there’s been a Canadian sales office for decades, and channels like BBC Canada and BBC America are a nice easy way to earn royalties.)

But the French have a TV licence fee, too. So what’s their problem? Why can’t their TV licence fee pay for everything that advertising can’t? It sounds like French TV is overspending; it does not sound like French TV is underfunded.

It also sounds, yet again, like the way to solve the CBC’s budget crisis is not to shitcan Intelligence and hope that tons of secretaries tune in to Sophie and buy the Procter & Gamble products advertised between scenes. The way to do it is to put a tax on TV sets. Unthinkable? Mostly. But forcing the Privates to shove money in a kitty to prop up the Corpse might be somewhat easier to imagine.

Ad revenues and government subsidies are not a zero-sum argument. There are other places to find the money. We just don’t want to go there.