Is the North ready for a leaner, digital CBC?
'We don't have a good infrastructure and the infrastructure we have is quite expensive'
The CBC’s new strategic plan announced yesterday shifts the focus from TV and radio to mobile internet devices over the next six years, but some are wondering just how that will play out in the North, where only the major centres have access to the mobile infrastructure many in the South take for granted.
“We don't have a modern standard of infrastructure or even a mobile infrastructure,” says Andrew Robulack, a media consultant based in Whitehorse.
He says the internet and mobile technologies that do exist in the three territories can’t handle a drastic increase in traffic.
“Major centres are pretty good, but once you move out of those centres into the more remote communities, things go downhill pretty fast. We don't have a good infrastructure and the infrastructure we have is quite expensive.”
CBC North's managing director, Janice Stein, is well aware of the broadband challenges.
She’s been based in Yellowknife for the past three years and says she’s been sharing information on this issue with senior CBC managers.
“That’s something that I’ve made very clear to them,” she says. “The broadband challenge in the North is a very real one. Definitely we need to think about a mobile strategy but we also need to think about the present.”
Stein says she’s keeping up to date with plans to expand broadband in the North, and expects to see major changes within five years.
“The key is just keeping on top of when mobile is available in what communities and being ready to go in there and take advantage of that opportunity. To use it as a connection, as a way to speak to our audience.”
Robulack also worries about the cost.
He says viewers may end up footing the bill for a new, online CBC, because in all three territories, mobile and Internet technology is expensive.
“Those costs are transferred to a large degree to home users to regular Canadians who are now going to have to pay a little more to access the internet, especially in the North where we already pay a lot,” Robulack says.
“We’re going to have to buy more expensive hardware. Cell phones and computers are much more expensive to acquire than a television set is.”
Igalaaq, Northbeat future still unclear
No specific programming changes for CBC North have been announced so far, but one thing is for sure.
“We’re gonna shrink. There’s no question about it,” Stein says. “The CBC is going to shrink and CBC North will shrink in terms of the people we’ll have available to do the work.”
As for CBC North’s supper-hours news — Northbeat in English and Igalaaq in Inuktitut — Stein says there will be further discussions about how the changes could affect programming.
Some supper-hour news programs will be shortened from 90 minutes to half an hour.
"Our supper-hour TV is in two languages. It’s the only location in the country that does two languages in one supper-hour.”
Stein says the CBC is committed to its aboriginal language programming.
“There’s a realization it’s one of the principles,” she says. “So yes, we’ll be in language programming. It’s an important service.”
Across the CBC, as many as 1.,500 jobs will be cut over the next four years.
CBC North recently lost six positions due to budget cuts announced in April. Three were in Yellowknife, two in Iqaluit and one in Whitehorse. CBC North's Late Night News was also cancelled.