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I want my BBC

While most of the world concentrated on the cuts the BBC was sustaining at home, BBC Worldwide was quietly canvassing the Canadian regulatory body for a license for BBC Canada, a digital joint effort with Canada's Alliance Atlantis Communications....
May 1, 2000

While most of the world concentrated on the cuts the BBC was sustaining at home, BBC Worldwide was quietly canvassing the Canadian regulatory body for a license for BBC Canada, a digital joint effort with Canada’s Alliance Atlantis Communications.

And I’m glad. The prospect of the BBC emigrating to my home and native land is thrilling – a broadcaster whose main programming thrust doesn’t involve seemingly endless series about little girls growing up in P.E.I. (With apologies to non-Canadians everywhere, see Webster’s under Bland.)

Most Canadians (unless they are fortunate enough to get PBS broadcast spill-over, or have tuned in to regionals like TVOntario) have never experienced a public broadcaster with an identifiable personality – a broadcaster who just gets on with the business of exploring the world with their viewers without trying to brand its content as ‘relevant for Canadians’.

It is a shame the CBC, Canada’s own national pubcaster, hasn’t caught on to what makes Canadians tick. For some odd reason, the CBC’s mandate for Canadian content has been interpreted to mean that there must be a physical manifestation of Canada on the screen at all times. (Anything that takes place away from our shores is usually cut into a segment to fit within the confines of one of the CBC’s existing magazine formats.) But where are the feature docs and the theme nights? Where’s the CBC’s natural history unit? Hell, where’s the animation that Canadians are world-famous for?

It is a little ironic that by so narrowly interpreting its focus on domestic content, the CBC has made itself more vulnerable to foreign competition.

The BBC, on the other hand, is known for the universal appeal of its programming – and what’s really ironic is that by not being so single-mindedly introspective they have not only become a hallowed institution at home, but the service and its programming has proven remarkably exportable.

The CBC approaches television programming like radio programming: lots of little blocks that serve lots of little niches. But, what’s that expression again? Fill your hours trying to please a few of the people some of the time, and you bore the hell out of most of the people most of the time…

Maybe I’m being too hard on them. Canadians are always their own worst critics. Maybe the CBC will undergo a National Film Board-style retrofit. Maybe the next round of cuts will do more than just dump non-tenured employees and remote services. Maybe, as was the case with the NFB, the cuts will force the entire system to be modernized to suit interests and viewing habits of modern Canadian viewers.

Until then, I’m looking forward to nights in front of the telly with the BBC.

If there was just some way I could convince them to broadcast hockey games.

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