by James Bradshaw, MEDIA REPORTER, Published Tuesday, Sep. 06, 2016 8:27PM EDT
The date is fixed for Peter Mansbridge to sign off from the anchor’s chair at the CBC, and as the veteran broadcaster himself once predicted, the scramble is on.
With the face of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s nightly newscast due to step down on July 1, tryout season begins in earnest as a host of broadcasters will jockey for position as potential successors. But as the authority of the desk Mr. Mansbridge inherited nearly three decades ago is steadily diluted in a crowded media market, it remains an open question whether the CBC needs a lead anchor who fits the current mould at all.
Perhaps more important, the news that Mr. Mansbridge, 68, is stepping down will focus and accelerate a long-simmering conversation in the CBC’s executive ranks about how The National itself could be dramatically retooled. Many viewers have known the nightly news broadcast as the network’s standard-bearer since the days of Knowlton Nash, and it still reaches a large audience across its networks. But it is structured around a notion of appointment viewing that appears increasingly anachronistic.
More than two years ago, the CBC lurched into a five-year plan to invert its hierarchies and put digital news at the forefront, partly at the expense of television broadcasts. But The National is still an influential force, and precisely how the CBC transforms the program will send a clear signal about the extent to which the CBC intends to remake itself in the coming years.
Since June, 2014, when the CBC unveiled its new strategy, The National’s ratings have remained flat, at an average audience of about one million viewers – three fifths of them on CBC’s main channel, the rest on CBC News Network. That routinely trails CTV National News by a wide margin, and the public broadcaster will be keen to seize on next year’s transition as a chance to start closing the gap.
Mr. Mansbridge’s decision to stay on until Canada Day buys CBC leaders time and presents a blank slate for a redesign spearheaded by Jennifer McGuire, the general manager and editor-in-chief of CBC News. Previous efforts at revamping The National have tended to begin with a blue-sky phase before being whittled down to something more practical, according to CBC sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
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