Culture, the CBC & the CRTC: both institutions get good marks, but future relevance seen as a challenge

by David Korzinski | March 11, 2015 12:01 am

National survey shows views of cultural protection related to assessments of the two organizations

March 11, 2015 – From Dallas to Downton Abbey, our national sense of culture and identity has long and repeatedly been exposed to outside exposure and influence. In spite of this, most consider Canadian culture to be unique, worthy of, and, critically in need of protection to survive.

Those views go some way to explaining why Canadians also hold generally favourable views towards two major Canadian cultural institutions: the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

These are the findings of a recent comprehensive national survey of 1525 Canadians undertaken by the Angus Reid Institute.

Key Findings:Angus Reid Institute



Canadian culture, unique and special:

Results from this Angus Reid Institute research underline Canadians’ abiding respect for their culture:

Angus Reid Institute[1]


These overall positive views of Canadian culture are noted among Canadians from all walks of life – including across generations, education and income strata, and by political orientation. Views are slightly less enthusiastic among Quebecers than elsewhere in Canada, though most Quebecers agreed Canadian culture is unique and most assigned a rating of 7 or higher on the boring versus special scale.

Canadian culture: “needing protection”

Canadians also believe the nation’s culture needs programs and policies to ensure its continued survival.

The poll also asked Canadians for their overall view on the need for cultural protection:

Angus Reid Institute [2]


Angus Reid Institute

The concern that Canadian culture would be “swallowed up” in the absence of protective policies is most widespread in Quebec and BC, and among women. Large differences are noted across political stripes: on the overall point-of-view question, Liberal and NDP supporters opted for Canadian culture needing protection by a factor of four-to-one, whereas Conservative supporters were evenly split on this overall question.

These findings indicate those who most consider Canadian culture to be unique and special tend to be stronger advocates of the need for protection policies to ensure its survival. The relationship is not massive but it is there, and is an important underlying element of the public opinion landscape. 

Attachment to Canada plays a role:

These questions on Canadian culture were prefaced with an item aimed at gauging Canadians’ overall attachment to Canada. We used a question Angus Reid first benchmarked during the heat of national unity debates in the early 1990’s. The current poll finds:

These current results show little change on this fundamental measure over the past 20 years or more. Then, as now, views differ sharply within and outside Quebec, though a narrow plurality of 42 percent of Quebecers now opt for a deep attachment to Canada. The generational pattern will be disturbing for Canadian nationalists: whereas three-quarters of Canadians over 35 profess a deep attachment to Canada, only half of their younger counterparts chose this most patriotic characterization.

Notably, there is a very strong relationship between attachment to Canada and assessment of its culture. Specifically, those professing the highest level of attachment are almost unanimous in their view that Canada has a unique culture (84% take this view) and that it is “something special” (86% chose a 7 or higher on that scale). Interestingly, views on the need to protect that culture do not show nearly as much variance by responses to the attachment measure.

Canadians on the CBC:

This Angus Reid Institute poll assessed Canadian public opinion of the CBC in a number of key areas:

Favourable overall views of the public broadcaster:

Fully four-in-five (80%) Canadians surveyed expressed a favourable view of their public broadcaster – 21 per cent reported a “very favourable” view, while 59 per cent opted for a generally favourable characterization. This leaves only one-in-five (20%) nationally who voiced an unfavourable view of the CBC (4% opted for “very unfavourable”).

There are some important differences in the CBC’s overall favourability ratings across key population groups (patterns which largely hold consistent on the various other aspects assessed in this survey).

Angus Reid Institute

Angus Reid Institute

Canadians’ consumption of the CBC:

The Angus Reid Institute asked Canadians how often they access CBC programming and information.

Fully 58 per cent of the Canadians surveyed said they tune into CBC TV news and information at least once a week or more; one-in-three (31%) do so every day (17%) or almost every day (14%).

Lastly, in the case of CBC online, one-in-four (28%) Canadians surveyed reporting checking in once a week or more, half of them (14%) almost daily or more.

CBC “engagement index”

The Angus Reid Institute created an overall “CBC engagement index” in order to provide a quick profile of who comprises the public broadcaster’s most committed viewers/listeners and who, on the other hand, is turning away and tuning out. This is an aggregate assessment; readers interested in the audiences for the six specific CBC offerings summarized above are invited to examine the detailed tables at the end of this release.

Angus Reid Institute[3]

The resulting “engagement index” gives us four broad groups of Canadians, segmented by their relative levels of CBC viewing/listening/clicking:

So, who is tuning into CBC?

The CBC engagement index gives us the following insights into the socio-demographic profile of its overall audience.

Are they turned on?

In the case of the CBC it appears that to know them is to love them. Those Canadians most engaged – the heaviest consumers of CBC’s offerings – have a much more favourable orientation towards the public broadcaster.

Angus Reid Institute

In terms of overall favourability, four-in-five of all Canadians give CBC a favourable rating, one-in-five opt for very favourable. This latter figure is 53 per cent among CBC’s devotees, and another 46 per cent indicate generally favourable views – so the overall verdict among the most highly engaged is essentially unanimously favourable.

The CBC committed are 93 per cent favourable overall and 27 per cent are “very favourable”. This positive rating falls off among “the crowd” – still 81 per cent positive but only 11 per cent very positive. The casuals, the lightest CBC consumers, are almost split in their overall opinion of CBC (56% to 44% unfavourable).

As we will see in some of our subsequent analysis of the survey findings, levels of engagement also impact other aspects of Canadians’ assessment and points of view on the CBC and some of the current challenges it faces.

Public concern about recent issues

The CBC itself has been in the news recently. This Angus Reid Institute survey looked at three issues to gauge the extent to which these have caused concern, if any, among the Canadian public. Here, briefly, is what we found:

Prominent CBC news personalities (including Peter Mansbridge and Amanda Lang) accepting speaking fees from companies, organizations and industries they may be covering: The revelation that CBC personalities had accepted speaking fees from organizations in the news has caused somewhat less public concern. A total of 42 per cent of Canadian surveyed said they were very or somewhat (16% and 26% respectively) concerned by the speaking fee revelations while almost as many (37%) said they were not concerned about this. One-in-five Canadians surveyed said they had not heard anything about this.

Angus Reid Institute

For all three of these CBC news developments, this Angus Reid Institute survey finds levels of concern and levels of awareness consistently much lower within Quebec than elsewhere in the country. Indeed, for each of the three, Quebecers were roughly twice as likely as other Canadians to indicate they had not heard of these news stories, and they also voiced much lower levels of concern (in the range of 20 percentage points lower).

The results also show consistently higher levels of concern about these stories among university-educated Canadians, and those living in higher income households.

We also see men expressing more concern about the speaking fees revelations, and older Canadians voicing more concern about the Ghomeshi scandal. (But consistent response patterns by gender and age for the other two news stories respectively).

For each of the three new stories, levels of concern rise steadily with higher levels of CBC engagement. Lastly, by views of the CBC, those more favourably disposed overall were relatively more bothered by the move of HNIC and less by the speaking fee revelations, which are of greater concern to those with an already unfavourable disposition towards CBC.

Money matters: CBC funding

In recent years, the CBC says it has had to make big changes to “match its services and its footprint” to changing realities chief among them, reduced funding. CBC has been coping with budget reductions estimated (on CBC’s own website) at a cumulative $390 million since 2009. The parliamentary operating grant itself has shrunk from over $1.2 billion a few years ago to $960 million this year. Government funding for the CBC is augmented with the corporation’s advertising and other revenue, also under some pressure.

The CBC’s $960 million operating grant works out to approximately $28 per capita. How does this actual figure dovetail with what Canadians think the public broadcaster costs us? There’s a lot of uncertainty on this question. Offered a series of dollar ranges, those surveyed provided the following estimates:

Angus Reid Institute

CBC supporters have long and loudly decried the decline in public funding for the public broadcaster and many have been urging for more generous funding back in what now might be called the CBC’s “good old days”. In the United Kingdom, The CBC’s equivalent, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is held up as the new gold standard with growing audiences and critical acclaim, at home and internationally. The BBC’s per capita funding (raised via TV licensing, not a direct grant) is over $100 per capita and, as CBC supporters point out, the BBC has some major advantages and economies of scale, including: twice the population, one language and a single time zone.

So, do Canadians see the CBC’s federal government funding as adequate? Informed that it equals roughly $28 per capita and asked for their overall view of this funding level, almost half (45%) of the Canadians surveyed described it as “about right”. One-in-three (32%), however, voiced concern that this is “too low, the CBC needs more money to play its role properly”, leaving one-in-four (23%) Canadians who take the view that federal government funding for the CBC is “overly generous, they should have to make do with less money”.

Angus Reid Institute

There are some important differences of opinion on the adequacy of federal government funding of the CBC across key population segments:

Angus Reid Institute

Some doubts about CBC’s relevance

Canadians are roughly evenly divided on the question of whether the CBC is maintaining its relevance. Asked if they think the public broadcaster is more or less relevant to Canada than it was 20 years ago, just under half (48%) of the Canadians surveyed said they believe it is “more relevant than ever” (15% chose this strong characterization) or “as relevant as it used to be” (32%). But the other half (52%) see the CBC as a less relevant institution: a plurality of 44 per cent took the view that the CBC is “becoming less relevant” while almost one-in-ten (8%) said they believe “the CBC is no longer relevant at all”.

As with other aspects of the CBC’s public image, there are rather sharp differences of opinion across population segments:

Angus Reid Institute[4]


Canadians on the CRTC

Turning now to the CRTC, the nation’s broadcasting regulator, this opinion poll examined:

Favourable overall views of the regulatory agency

Canadians express overall favourable views of the CRTC, though with very little intensity of feeling at either end of the spectrum. Asked to describe their overall feelings of the organization, almost two-thirds (64%) of the Canadians surveyed opted for “favourable”, though only a fraction (4% of the total) characterized their view as “very favourable”. This leaves just over one-in-three Canadians (36%) reporting “unfavourable” views of the CRTC, but again only a fraction (5% of the total) described their view as “very unfavourable”.

There are some interesting differences noted across key population groupings:

Angus Reid Institute


Canadians overall have only some familiarity with the CRTC and what it does. One-in-ten (8%) said they are “very familiar, have read and thought about it” and another one-in-three (36%) described themselves as “fairly familiar” with the CRTC. Against this total of 44 percent professing a good degree of familiarity there are 55 percent who said they are “not very familiar, just the main purpose” (43%) or “not at all familiar with the CRTC” (12%).

Reported familiarity with the CRTC increases rather sharply along educational strata from 35 percent of those who have not gone beyond high school rising to 55 percent of Canadians with a complete degree. The survey results also show a fairly wide gender gap in reported familiarity (only 32% of women versus 58% of men). There is also a generational skew with familiarity lower among Canadians under 35 (37%, bumping up to 48% among those over 35).

There is a relationship between familiarity and favourability: those very familiar with the CRTC were evenly split in their overall views of the agency versus an almost two-to-one favourable split among those less familiar; those most familiar are also more likely than others to place themselves at the “very” ends of the favourability scales.

The CRTC’s mandate: priorities and performance

This Angus Reid Institute poll examined public perceptions of the overall mandate of the CRTC. Specifically, Canadians were asked to prioritize six specific areas of agency focus and to provide an assessment of the CRTC’s performance on each. Three of these areas deal with the CRTC’s “content-oriented” objectives while the other three concern their “consumer protection” role. The results of this line of inquiry are summarized below.

Beginning with the content-oriented aspects of CRTC’s mandate, the results show overall these rate as somewhat lower perceived priorities for Canadians but are areas where the CRTC gets its better marks:

Ensuring broadcasters maintain local stations that create and broadcast local news and information programming:

Setting and enforcing “Canadian content” requirements for Canadian broadcasters’ programming as a way to promote Canadian culture:

Requiring Canadian broadcasters to contribute some of their revenues to Canadian content development as a way to promote Canadian culture:

Angus Reid Institute[5]

We also examined some selected aspects of the CRTC’s consumer protection mandate. Here, we find consumers attaching somewhat higher priority and also assessing the CRTC’s performance more critically:

Establishing rules on cell phone companies for billing practices such as roaming charges, contract length and keeping your cell phone number if you switch:

Enforcing rules that govern cable and phone providers’ “bundling” of services and prevents them from giving preference to offerings that might be more profitable:

Establishing consumer protection rules about unsolicited communications, including “do not call” lists and anti-spam regulations:

Angus Reid Institute

CRTC still seen as relevant

Most Canadians continue to see the CRTC as retaining its relevance. Asked if they think the agency is more or less relevant to Canada than it was 20 years ago, one-in-four (24%) of the Canadians surveyed said they believe it is “more relevant than ever” and another four-in-ten (40%, the plurality) said it is “as relevant as it used to be”. This leaves one-in-three (31%) who took the view that the CRTC is “becoming less relevant” while only one-in-twenty (6%) said they believe “the CRTC is no longer relevant at all”.

Views on the CRTC’s current relevance are fairly consistent across the main population groupings. Generationally, younger people are somewhat more likely to believe the CRTC is holding its relevance while those over 35 are somewhat more likely to see its relevance as declining. Across educational strata, it is those with a complete university degree who are most likely to see the CRTC as “more relevant than ever” – almost one-in-three of this group take this view. As seen on other questions, supporters of the Conservatives are somewhat more tepid in their views of the CRTC, while opposition party supporters attach greater relevance to it.

Again, familiarity with the CRTC is a factor. Those who described themselves as very familiar with the CRTC are more likely than those less familiar to take views at both ends of the spectrum: 34 percent said “more relevant than ever” (versus the 24% overall) but 18 percent said “no longer relevant at all” (versus only 6% overall).

And the CRTC’s perceived relevance varies by views on the necessity of cultural protection – those most convinced of its necessity attach higher relevance to the CRTC.

Angus Reid Institute

But online media pose a challenge

Back in 1968 when the CRTC came into being, the advent of online media was obviously not on anyone’s radar. Indeed, the arrival and rapid proliferation of television in the decade prior was nothing short of revolutionary in its own right, and has posed a major regulatory challenge from the get-go. Now, we’ve gone beyond the 200 channel universe and into the ether with the exploding possibilities offered by cultural offerings delivered via the internet. The attendance of video on-demand service Netflix at recent CRTC hearings offers perhaps some foreshadowing that this may be difficult territory for the CRTC to navigate.

This is a contentious subject, but at this point Canadian public opinion already tilts away from a traditional CRTC role where online media is concerned. Asked for their broad view of the CRTC’s role here, a majority of 56 percent of Canadians surveyed took the view that: “Online media should not be subject to the same types of CRTC regulations as traditional media” while a large minority of 44 percent took the opposing view that “The CRTC should regulate online media in the same way it regulates traditional media”.

Angus Reid Institute

There is a considerable difference of opinion on this question across key population groupings:

And so, Canadians’ outlook for the CRTC’s relevance a decade hence is not as solid. Asked for their overall forecast on this question, a slim majority of 52 percent of Canadians said they think the CRTC will “still be important, but declining” a decade from now. Only half as many (28%) tilted towards the CRTC “continuing to play an important role in Canadian culture”, while one-in-five (20%) took the view that the CRTC will be “basically irrelevant” a decade from now.

Angus Reid Institute

Click here for full report including tables and methodology[6]

Click here for Questionnaire used in this survey[7]

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  6. Click here for full report including tables and methodology:
  7. Click here for Questionnaire used in this survey:

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