The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) did an extraordinary thing on August 20th, 2016: It behaved like a public service media organization.
The CBC responded to public appeals (Change.org petition, Facebook appeal) to carry the last performance of the Man Machine Poem tour by the Tragically Hip after TicketMaster enabled scalpers — including its “wholly-owned, independently-run” resale site Ticketsnow — to scoop the tickets as soon as they went on sale. The CBC, a Crown corporation, interrupted its (highly) commercial coverage of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro to simulcast the final concert in Kingston on all platforms — live and without interruption — across the country and around the world.
That simulcast fulfilled the requirements listed in the CBC’s broadcast mandate, which is outline in section 3 (l) and (m) of the 1991 Broadcasting Act, almost fully and completely. Leading up to the concert, the online, radio and television programming about the band, its music and influence on the Canadian music scene, as well as other artists, was informative and entertaining (3.l). The concert itself was distinctively Canadian (3.m.i), and simultaneously served regional (3.m.ii) and nationalistic functions (3.m.vi). The simulcast was an act of cultural flow and exchange (3.m.iii) that efficiently made use of the CBC’s multiple platforms (3.m.vii). The lead singer Gordon Downie provided the reflection of Canada’s multicultural and multiracial nature (3.m.viii) when he appealed directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was at the Kingston concert, to address the entrenched, systemic and structural oppression of First Nations and indigenous populations in Canada. The mandate requirements for equal French and English representation was unmet because the band is Anglophone, and because the show did not appear on any of the Radio-Canada schedules, just the CBC’s English-language services.
The simulcast fulfilled the CBC’s stated purpose of providing the opportunity for Canadians, and people around the world, to “connect to the Canadian experience”. The level of public engagement and buzz generating support for the simulcast must have been gratifying for the marketing department at the CBC. Online memes and essays, including a piece that cautioned the rest of the world that Canada would be closed during the broadcast* made the rounds leading up to the event. Bars interrupted or delayed scheduled entertainment to show the event on big screen televisions and cities across the country hosted outdoor events with large screens in public venues. Artists and fans have been paying tribute to the band and its music in many creative and inventive ways (CBC Music-10 best covers, CBC Radio-Famous Hip fans, Maybe-less-famous-but-very-creative fans). Food and beverages have been created to reflect the band and its music (LCBO wine). Post-event social media has been full of commentary and photos posted by people across the country and around the world sharing their experiences and feelings.
It was an extraordinary effort, effectively and professionally accomplished. The CBC is to be congratulated for doing the kind of thing a public broadcaster is supposed to do consistently. Without undermining that praise, this success must also be recognized as a warning about the relative condition of the CBC, because it is the exception rather than the rule.
*Jeff Bishop’s status post on Facebook had been shared almost 80,000 times in the week leading up to the final concert.