I am a fan of the CBC. I think the radio programming is excellent and I like much of what their website offers. With respect to radio, I also think they have done a good job of making content available to Canadians through multiple channels (though unfortunately largely in proprietary software formats) with hundreds of archived hours available through Internet streaming, real-time time-shifting through live feeds of all local radio stations, and their experimentation with podcasts. The website also features some useful innovations including RSS feeds (though they need full articles, not just headlines), the CBC Archive, and a large number of opinion pieces.
Unfortunately, the situation is not as good on the television broadcast side, which is falling well behind comparable public broadcasters. As I recently pointed out, the CBC Archive features some great content but it hamstrung by restrictive licenses that do not allow users to do anything other than watch.
Compare the CBC’s tentative approach with other public broadcasters. Last week PBS announced that NerdTV will debut in September with all 13 one-hour episodes available as free downloads under Creative Commons licenses. PBS is trying to catch up with the BBC, the acknowledged leader. The BBC has launched a wide range of interesting initiatives including the Creative Archive, BBC Open Source, and BBC Backstage. All of these initiatives point to an appreciation for the need to go beyond delivering static content by instead providing living content that is freely available for use and experimentation by the BBC’s users.
The CBC has no shortage of critics who believe the time for a public broadcaster has passed. I disagree. The need for a public broadcaster has never been greater. We do not need a public broadcaster to duplicate private stations (as CBC radio recognizes) but rather to follow the BBC’s lead by working together with Canadians to jointly develop Canadian cultural programming through open licenses and open platforms. There is a great opportunity here waiting to be seized. CBC Television’s future depends on becoming a service that fully embraces new technology and the Internet. At the moment, Canadians seemingly get little more than indifference.