CBC thinks digital in restructuring plan

Broadcaster embraces a 24/7 breaking news format

TORONTO -- Despite pending job and budget cuts, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. is prepping for a radical restructuring of its news division for the digital age.

As the pubcaster faces increased competition for local eyeballs from CNN, Fox News and other cable nets, the CBC said it will embrace a 24/7 breaking news format for its TV, radio and online news operations.

The CBC said it will adopt an "info-now" approach to newsgathering and delivery to meet a growing appetite among young Canadians for breaking news.

As part of the broadcaster's multiplatform newsroom of the future, the CBC also will break news online first before it services CBC Newsworld, its 24/7 news channel.

That calls from a shift away from traditional thinking that often focused on feeding marquee shows like flagship newscast "The National," while regarding CBC Newsworld and CBC.ca as an afterthought.

Jennifer McGuire, interim head of news at the CBC, also told CBC employees during a countrywide internal meeting that local TV newscasts will expand from one hour to 90 minutes in length.

The local newscasts will start at 5 p.m. and be followed by the British soap "Coronation Street" at 6:30 p.m. and U.S. game shows "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" in the 7-8 p.m. slot.

"Despite the financial challenges we face as the result of a drastic decline in advertising revenue and the continuing erosion in real dollars of our public subsidy, we are proceeding with plans to re-engineer our operations," Maguire said.

The CBC news operation was told in March to chop CAN$7 million ($5.8 million) from its budget and cut 70 staff as the pubcaster attempted to deal with a growing ad revenue shortfall.

As at rival private broadcasters CTV and Global Television, ad dollars and viewers are shifting away from the CBC's main network TV operation to cable channels and online properties.

That has CTV, Global and other Canadian broadcasters currently running to Ottawa and the CRTC, the country's broadcast regulator, for bailout funds and regulatory relief to maintain local TV station news operations.

CTV and Global parent Canwest Global have proposed cancelling or cutting back on local newscasts as they deal with their own steep TV ad revenue shortfalls.

To better deliver news with less money, the CBC proposes to introduce a central news assignment desk for its radio, television and online news operations.

Recent internal market research at the CBC revealed that Canadians value the public broadcaster for in-depth news coverage, but consider rival private broadcasters faster and more consumer-friendly in delivering the news.

To repair that image, the CBC plans to strip "The National" seven days a week, replacing the "Saturday Report" and "CBC News: Sunday" newscasts on the weekend.