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The End of the CBC?

PUBLIC WISDOM ON THE CBC, HOCKEY, AND SOCHI (WITH A POLLING THOUGHT EXERCISE)

[Ottawa – February 7, 2014] After years of being in the crosshairs of many Conservatives, the CBC faces some unprecedented challenges. An internal memo from the President spoke of “dark clouds” facing the corporation. The ardently antagonistic rivals at Sun News have recently published an Abacus poll noting that the Canadians are “ready” to sell the CBC. This result is very inconsistent with other polling on the CBC, although it is very consistent with the policy preferences of the sparsely viewed Sun Network.

Whether one sees the cloudy future of the CBC as a source of deep angst or schadenfreude depends very much on one’s position on the partisan spectrum. What is clear, however, is that most Canadians agree on the source of this recent trouble for the CBC – the blockbuster deal between the NHL and Rogers. Let’s have a quick look at how the public saw that deal.

We asked Canadians about Rogers Communications Inc.’s $5.2 billion broadcast deal that effectively gives them exclusive rights to all NHL games for the next 12 years. In short, Canadians are most decidedly opposed to the deal and they foresee dire consequences for the future of the CBC.

If there’s one thing that Canadians follow with near fanatical devotion, it is not the economy and it is certainly not politics – rather, it is hockey. An astonishing 79% of the Canadians we surveyed had heard of the Rogers-NHL deal. By comparison, just 67% were aware that Stephen Harper had prorogued Parliament in 2010 and 66% had heard that Canada was projected to run a budget deficit that same year.

Those who are aware of the deal don’t particularly care for it – these respondents oppose the deal by a wide margin (49% to 28%). Regionally, Albertans and Quebeckers are somewhat more open to the deal, but the only place where this agreement receives plurality support is among the ranks of the Conservative Party (where 46% support the deal). Once again, we see the constituency for the Conservative Party in a fairly different place than the rest of the political spectrum. We don’t think this is driven by deep affection for Rogers and recall the Conservative government is championing easing some of the oligopolistic practices of Rogers and other carriers, presumably to the applause of their constituents.

So why are Canadians so averse to the deal? Well, there is some uncertainty as to how this deal will affect the various players, but from coast to coast, Canadians of all political stripes seem to agree on one thing – it is bad news for the CBC. Six in ten (63%) say the deal will place the future of Canada’s public broadcaster in jeopardy; compared to just one in seven (14%) who feel these concerns are wildly exaggerated.

Furthermore, of those who expressed an opinion one way or the other, Canadians lean heavily towards the belief that the Rogers deal will negatively impact hockey fans and, somewhat more broadly, Canadians in general. Indeed, the only perceived winner in this deal (aside from Rogers, that is) is the NHL itself (38% foresee a positive impact on the NHL, compared to just 21% who predict a positive outcome for hockey fans and 16% who think Canadians in general will be better off).

Sell Off or Expand?

Let’s return to the question of the future of the CBC. Clearly, everyone agrees that the Rogers deal is a financial dagger to the heart of the CBC. As the leaked memo noted, the profound loss of revenue from the NHL Rogers deal will shake the very foundations and viability of the CBC. With this point of consensus aside, let’s see if this is seen as a good or bad thin and what – if anything – the public sees as a response to these challenges.

According to Sun News, Canadians are “ready” to sell the CBC. Our recent poll, however, comes up with a profoundly different result. It doesn’t ask whether the CBC should be sold but it does explain to respondents where the current levels of public stand it asks whether the public lean to cutting, maintaining, or expanding public funding for the CBC.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) the demise of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada as we know it, a plurality of Canadians (38%) want to see the CBC’s funding increased, while one-third want its funding levels to remain steady (31%). Only a little over a quarter of respondents want to either cut or eliminate the CBC’s funding. It seems difficult to reconcile the dramatic claim that Canadians “favour privatizing the CBC” with our finding that around two-thirds want its funding increased or preserved.

Notably, views of the CBC are largely split along party lines. There certainly are members of the public who would favour eliminating the CBC but they are a very small minority and they are largely supporters of the Conservative Party. Outside of the Conservative Party, roughly half of Canadians want more public funding for the corporation. Conservative supporters, however, don’t share these warm feelings for the CBC, with the plurality of these respondents (35%) calling for the broadcaster’s public funding to be scrapped completely. These results may at least partially explain Conservative supporters’ aforementioned support for the Rogers-NHL deal, given the resulting financial blow to the CBC.

So how can both poll results be right? In short, they can’t. The Abacus poll isn’t readily available and we can’t find the wording or sequencing. It does appear that the question came from a poll with a lot of questions on the economy and fiscal issues. Perhaps selling the CBC is more acceptable in this context. We also wonder if the results may be influenced by the use of an opt- in panel which doesn’t cover those who are unwilling or unable to do surveys online. Even the online portion of respondents are opt-in participants that the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the Marketing Research Intelligence Association (MRIA) note are not scientifically accurate representations of the general population. Abacus is a reputable organization that acknowledges these points in their release and they did not author the headline. In the absence of other evidence, we suggest that the notion that “Canadians are ready to sell the CBC’’ is not an accurate reflection of real public opinion. While Conservative supporters may be more receptive to such a drastic measure, the vast majority of the public want to maintain the CBC and lean to augmenting its funding base. The headline might be congenial with the preferences of Sun News and perhaps even the current government. It is, however, a misrepresentation of current public opinion.

In summary, Canadians are worried about the Rogers-NHL deal and the consequences for hockey fans and the CBC alike. For the next few years, Rogers will carry the burden of proving to Canadians that it can preserve (and perhaps improve upon) the hockey experience, as hockey fans aren’t likely to tolerate the degradation of their most beloved pastime. Indeed, when it comes to hockey, Canadians have been known to set cities ablaze for less.

Canadians predict 20 medals at 2014 Winter Olympics

In a fascinating book from a few years ago, James Surowiecki noted that under the right conditions, the average “wisdom” of a crowd could achieve insights which would be inaccessible to even the most able individuals. This approach has been borrowed by some pollsters to deal with the problem of forecasting future events (such as election outcomes). For instance, a wisdom of crowds approach used by ICM Research during the 2010 United Kingdom general election accurately predicated the election outcome and produced results comparable to the final polls conducted by British Polling Council members. Applying this model to the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, we asked Canadians how many medals they believe Canadian will win in February. Responses were all over the map. Some respondents predicted that our athletes would come home utterly empty-handed, while others ventured guesses of upwards of 40 medals. When we take the average, however, we get a very sensible estimate of 20 medals, down from our record performance in 2010, but consistent with our average haul over the last 20 years.

Click here for the full report: Full Report (February 7, 2014)

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