With the cancellation of Arctic Air, it is very apparent that the CBC does not listen to its viewers – the ones who pay the tax dollars that help keep the lights on. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been keeping an eye on Arctic Air’s Facebook page. The number of Likes for the show went from 20 300 on March 17th to 21 063 as of a few minutes ago (that could change while I’m writing). Yes, that is only a total increase of 763, and most of those have come in the last few days, but almost every single comment on that Facebook page speaks the same theme: Please don’t cancel Arctic Air. CBC’s Facebook staff have not replied to a single comment. Ignoring your audience is not viewer engagement, something the executives continually tout about.Since the series’ cancellation was announced on March 17th, emails have been sent by loyal viewers requesting that the show be saved. The vast majority of those emails have gone unanswered. It would appear that preserving our culture and our production industry is only convenient when it’s election time. One viewer contacted Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who is her MP – he replied, instructing her to contact CBC directly. To my knowledge, no other MPs have replied to emails. Any reply coming from the CBC itself has towed the corporate line: “budget cuts, viewership” blah, blah, blah. APTN sent out a reply that I’m aware of, stating that the request another viewer emailed stating that perhaps APTN could find a home for Arctic Air on its production schedule, thus keeping the show alive, would be forwarded to the production department.
Way back in May of 2011, the CBC carried a news story in which then-Minister of Canadian Heritage and Languages, MP James Moore, stated very clearly that “his government believes in the CBC as a key cultural institution and has no plans to cut its funding following his party’s recent electoral victory.” In fact, the Minister had also stated his support of the Five Year Plan – Everyone, Every Way (PDF) – which the CBC had released in February 2011.
“We believe in the national public broadcaster. We have said that we will maintain or increase support for the CBC. That is our platform and we have said that before and we will commit to that,” Moore told CBC News in Vancouver on Tuesday morning. “The CBC is the infrastructure around which Canadian arts and culture is built, so of course it is central and it is key,” he said. “It is essential for respect for all of our official languages and all of the regions of the country — broadcasting in aboriginal languages in the North. We believe in the national public broadcaster. We have said that we will maintain or increase support for the CBC. That is our platform and we have said that before and we will commit to that.” source
Apparently they instead planned to wait until the warmth of their electoral win had worn off before whittling away at the CBC – which the Feds did one year later in May 2012, announcing that CBC’s budget had to be trimmed by 115 million dollars. Granted, the CBC had the majority of their eggs in the HNIC basket, which turned out to not be a smart move as far as operations go, and today’s audience is much different than the one that eagerly awaited Sunday night’s Beachcombers episode. There was hope that the CBC was evolving with the times when an expanded deal was struck with Netflix – until we noticed that Arctic Air was not included in the show list, even though people around the globe were watching it online, and CBC was losing out on those licensing fees. How did Arctic Air get a global audience? The same way many people around the world find new shows to view – torrent. We don’t condone illegal downloads, but it’s really not that hard to find. Truly a lost opportunity by the broadcasters in gaining audience and legal income, but if they aren’t going to get with the times, the people will find a way.
While I have no clue how to run a broadcast network or a show production, I do know that Canadian broadcasters toy with their viewers – because they can, and no one stops them – but that’s another, bigger argument. On the one hand, they claim that Canadian viewers do not care enough about Canadian content, that they are not invested enough in the process, and prefer to watch the American shows. Well, I can tell you that in our house at least, that yes, we do watch American shows. For example, we watch Almost Human, Reign, Arrow, Tomorrow People, Once Upon A Time, Bates Motel, The 100, the Witches of East End – all American network shows. All made in Canada, and some are simulcast on Canadian networks. Hm. We also watched the now-cancelled Red Widow, Human Target and Alcatraz. American network shows. All made in Canada. We also watch Vikings and Game of Thrones. Canadian co-productions. As was The Borgias.
We watch(ed) Canadian shows on Canadian networks, too – Motive, Continuum, Arctic Air, Flashpoint, Bomb Girls, North of 60. While there are a number of Canadian shows we don’t watch on a regular basis, we get invested in the shows we do watch, the same as other viewers. We are engaged in their stories, and it is very seldom that we get to see Canada being Canadian on a show, let alone see the show actually teach some history and culture, that shows such as Arctic Air strike a particular cord with us. I also must disclose that as Scott moved “Adam’s plane” from location to location, we did have a financial interest in the show – but this also gave us an opportunity to get to know the crew behind the camera, which only serves to deepen the connection to the show as each episode airs with scenes Scott saw in the making.
Arctic Air was often compared to North of 60, with some viewers stating that the latter was done better, I think that with the direction Arctic Air’s writers were taking the show, and if this season had ended the way it was supposed to, we’d see the story lines delve deeper and become even more meaningful, perhaps exceeding the scope of North of 60.
To paraphrase what Scott said on the Save Arctic Air Facebook group (whose membership grows daily), if we wanted to watch trash shows on other channels we could. We want to watch a quality Canadian drama on a Canadian network, so we chose to watch Arctic Air. A show that offered compelling characters, evolving stories and beautiful scenery from parts of this vast country we may never get to see. Viewers from across the country credit Arctic Air with sparking their own interest to visit the northern regions, which they have done, and plan to do again. Far too much value is put on a skewed ratings report and far too little on the value of connecting our country – something the CBC has mandated time and again, yet ignores when convenient.
It doesn’t pay to get too drawn into a show, particularly if it is not meeting the numbers a network wants, because it will get cancelled. This also happened with Endgame on Showcase. Viewers loved that quirky show – and even though it was only legally aired in Canada, it too had a global following and an active, almost successful, Save Endgame campaign ensued after the show was cancelled – on a cliff-hanger. Bomb Girls also received a “Save” campaign, and viewers will get a movie-length episode to tie up the stories. At least Arctic Air’s creators were kind to their viewers in that the story lines were given a feasible ending, and while some of the scenes were changed – Tag was meant to die following a plunge from the ice shelf – the story was wrapped up. That said, it would be very easy for another broadcaster such as APTN to pick up the show and carry on. I would love to see how on earth Dev and Astrid are going to manage planning a wedding and have it take place. So many stories have been left to tell, and now we will never know how they were to unfold because the CBC has basically ignored its viewers, taken away shows they liked, while handing them something they may not want. Of course, in light of today’s budget cuts announcements, who knows what will happen in the near future for the CBC, as the broadcaster’s fate seems to change almost daily, and no one over there seems to see the solution for the cable wires.
When Arctic Air debuted back in January 2012, the CBC made much of its first-night numbers:
“Arctic Air, CBC-TV’s new blockbuster action-adventure drama anchored around a Yellowknife-based maverick airline and the extended family of unconventional people who run it, soared to record heights in its broadcast premiere Tuesday night with an audience of more than one million viewers along for the ride. A total audience of 1.05 million Canadians tuned in (331,000 in the 25-54 demographic) making Arctic Air the second new CBC-TV series of the winter season in as many nights to debut with over one million viewers – and the largest audience to watch the premiere episode of a new CBC-TV drama in a decade.
“This is just further proof of how strongly Canadians will embrace top-quality television that is made and set right here in our own country,” said Kirstine Stewart, CBC Executive Vice-President, English Services.” source
When Arctic Air’s first season concluded:
“CBC says its airline adventure Arctic Air has soared to higher ratings than any of its previous rookie dramas in 15 years. The public broadcaster says the hour-long series averaged almost one million viewers over 10 episodes.
CBC says the show debuted Jan. 10 with 1.2 million viewers and wrapped its run March 13 with a season average of 965,000 viewers. Network boss Kirstine Stewart says the last time a CBC drama debuted to numbers like that was 15 years ago, when Wind At My Back hit the air.
“We’re back to these heights of when the CBC was kind of more in its heyday when it came to dramas,” said Stewart, executive vice president, CBC English services. “Which is fantastic considering how the market’s changed in the last 20 years.” source
At the end of Season 2, the CBC claimed that Arctic Air was drawing in an average of 725,000 viewers per week, and the network touted how it had expanded the viewer experience to the second screen.
“Leading the charge in social television history and second screen experiences in North America, Arctic Air has developed a transmedia storytelling event for a thrilling season finale. This interactive episode features a gripping plotline that takes place in parallel to the events happening on the TV screen, providing access to an additional online perspective to complete the story.
Sadly, Kirstine Stewart left CBC for Twitter Canada soon after this announcement, but when Heather Conway took over the position vacated by Kirstine last September, she assured us that she considered the CBC to be the most important cultural institution in the country.
Conway said Canadians come to the CBC for a national perspective on world and local events, and that she wakes up regularly listening to CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. “It’s the place where Canadians come to tell Canadian stories. It’s where the Canadian point of view around the news and how we look at the world all happens,” she said.
Amid budget cuts at the public broadcaster, Conway said ensuring the content comes first will be particularly important for managing on-air and digital products. “When you’re in a public-sector organization and in particular a cultural one, employees and management alike are mission-driven, right? You’re not here for the money; you’re here because you care about public broadcasting and you believe in it, and I believe in that,” she said.
On audience engagement, Conway said viewers, listeners and readers are attracted to content that’s meaningful to them. “You have to engage people. You have to be meaningful, and that’s our challenge,” she said. “And I actually think the CBC does a pretty good job of that. And you’ve got to keep doing that and take it to a new level.” source
Ms. Conway seemed to echo the sentiments expressed by CBC’s executive in charge of scripted entertainment Sally Catto who, in an interview with Canadian entertainment blog TV, EH? in May of 2013, stated in reply to a question about budgets:
“In the big picture you will see that we have a lot of returning hits. That’s two-fold. We’re so lucky that we have these returning hits. I was just thinking about the fact that years ago, and I’m not just talking about the CBC but the entire industry, we just didn’t have this many Canadian hits. To me it’s a tremendous success that we have (Republic of ) Doyle going into its fifth season, Heartland going into its seventh season, etc.
At the same time you don’t see a lot of new additions and I would say that’s because we’ve had a lot of success, but we just do not have the money to add a lot of new series to our slate, particularly scripted series. I think it’s very much a strategy of building and holding on to our successes. Fortunately we have them, but the impact is in scripted that we can’t add a new series to the slate — we do not have the money to do that. We’ve added an acquisition to the slate, and that financially completely works for us and we love the show. That is the most obvious impact.” source
So, in light of these statements, I really and truly do not understand the reasoning behind the closed doors of the CBC. Why would two successful scripted dramas – Cracked and Arctic Air, both of which have established audiences, with all assets in place – cast, crew, sets, props – be cancelled in favour of bringing in new, unestablished, undeveloped shows? How is this a smart spending decision on the part of the executives? After stating that the CBC needed to set itself apart from the other Canadian broadcasters with their prime time offerings, it now appears that it wants to be just like them:
“Less money and less hockey are driving the CBC to take some programming risks that content boss Sally Catto admits could turn off some traditional viewers. But she says a shift towards darker, edgier fare is ultimately geared towards preserving the public broadcaster’s mandate to stay relevant and connected with Canadians. Chief among its plans for the 2014-2015 season is the dark period western Strange Empire, a serialized saga set in the 1860s that Catto likens to the type of material found on the subscription-based Netflix or U.S. premium channel AMC.
“There will be violence, there will be sex, there’s a brothel in the town – it’s very, very raw,” says Catto, who oversees drama, comedy, children and documentary programming.
“If you look at what Netflix is doing, what AMC is doing, the point is that there seems to be an incredible appetite for serialized programming. And audiences are sophisticated and I think they’re craving it… As part of our strategy going forward, we’re really looking at our programming through the lens of: Is it distinctly Canadian? Is it going to engage Canadian audiences? And is it programming that you would only see in Canada on the CBC?”
Strange Empire comes from Durham County co-creator Laurie Finstad, and takes place after the men in a westward-bound caravan disappear, leaving the women stranded and alone. The women are forced to build new lives in a frontier town run by a “nefarious fellow” who may have had something to do with the disappearances.
“Laurie tends to explore more darker, layered worlds and that was really appealing to us,” Catto says of the series, which is slated to shoot in British Columbia this spring and summer. “It marks a shift in direction for us, going in that more darker and a very bold, serialized route. You’ll see more of that in the years to come.” source – and complete story
As I believe I mentioned above – if we want to watch those “edgier” types of shows, we know where to find them. We turned to CBC’s scripted dramas because they WEREN’T like the shows on the other networks. With the exception of perhaps APTN’s Blackstone, where can we find the types of stories portrayed in shows like Arctic Air? We can’t – because the other major broadcasters don’t carry shows like Arctic Air, and for that reason, we won’t be turning to the CBC for its “edgier, darker” shows, and I apologize in advance to the Canadian cast and crew who will be working on them. Strange Empire does not appear to be the show we’re looking for from the CBC. We expect culturally-relevant, Canadian-centric family drama from the CBC. Unfortunately, though – the Arctic Air sound stage in Aldergrove has been rented to a movie production, the sets have been struck, and the props have been put up for sale. It will not be an easy take-off for Arctic Air should it find a new home.