Saturday, May 12, 2007

Public Consultation! Huh! What is it good for?

"Absolutely nothing!" I imagine the CBC Radio management chorus responding.

Let's take a moment to consider the value of marketing surveys in the operation of any commercial enterprise which hopes to attract and retain customers.

Suppose you are the President of a corporation that is publicly traded. Your product, chocolate cupcakes, has achieved a 10% market share in the snack foods category. Market share data reveals that your customers are fiercely loyal, tending to be elderly (although it is questionable whether it is really only the elderly that enjoy chocolate cupcakes) and consume a consistent amount of cupcakes each day. Your market share of the snack foods category is not growing, but it is not declining either.

Now, for some unexplained reason, you believe that you will have better success in the market with Hot 'n Spicy Dried Turkey Gizzards instead of chocolate cupcakes. You decide to target the dynamic and sprightly 35 - 49 year olds for your new Hot 'n Spicy Dried Turkey Gizzards and cease production of chocolate cupcakes.

What do you do? Do you first conduct market surveys among your current consumers to see if they would prefer Hot 'n Spicy Dried Turkey Gizzards over chocolate cupcakes? Do you also conduct surveys of your target market, the dynamic and sprightly 35 - 49 year olds to determine if they will purchase your Hot 'n Spicy Dried Turkey Gizzards and, if so, how much they will purchase? Once you have completed your consumer surveys, do you hold focus group sessions to see if your target market, as well as your current customers, like your Hot 'n Spicy Dried Turkey Gizzards? And, following your focus group sessions (assuming they confirm your expectations), do you conduct some trial market studies in selected markets to determine if consumers will do what they said they would do in the focus group sessions, and actually buy your Hot 'n Spicy Dried Turkey Gizzards?

Well, if you have any sense, of course you do all of that, and probably much more. As well, since this represents a major change of direction for the company, you may even consider consulting your shareholders at the next AGM before making such a drastic change in the company's product. If your shareholders are also your customers then it makes even more sense to consult both groups. If you are the management of CBC Radio, do you also follow the same course of action? Apparently not - you know better than your customers and shareholders what they want and need!

In the March 19 2007 Globe and Mail article that I have mentioned previously, there is a quote from Ms. Jennifer McGuire, identified in the article as CBC Radio's executive director of programming (text in italics is my addition, not part of the original Globe and Mail article):

"But the CBC said it has tried to avert some of that controversy this time [referring to previous controversy concerning changes made to the Radio One schedule]. "Everybody is always concerned about change at CBC Radio because they [listeners] are heavily invested in it, and that's a good thing", McGuire said. But "we have talked to all the organizations. We talked to composers. We talked to them when we started the study [to overhaul CBC Radio] and when we were thinking about what it meant in terms of programming changes ... That conversation continues to be ongoing."

And, in his March 22 response to a comment from Larry, Mr. Jowi Taylor stated (and I'm sorry to appear to be picking on Mr. Jowi Taylor so much in this blog, but when you have so few spokespersons commenting publicly on the Radio Two programming changes, you have to take your CBC Radio spokespersons where you find them):

As for consultation, there was month after month after month of it with all kinds of stakeholders - from listeners to orchestras to presenters to SOCAN to the musicians' association to... you name it.

Well, isn't that wonderful? Months after months of consultion - apparently even some listeners were included! But did you hear about it? When did you first hear of the programming changes? Did you participate in a survey? Were you invited to a focus group session? Were you in one of the test markets where the new programming was trialed before it was launched nation-wide? Did you see the announcement on the CBC Radio web site? Did you hear the Cross-country Checkup program that was devoted to this topic? Did you see the advertisements in the national newspapers that announced these proposed changes, and solicited consumer (and shareholder) feedback? Well, you might have, but I certainly did not, because I don't believe any of those things took place. I'd like to be proven wrong, but I don't see any evidence of that yet.

And what about the consultations that took place with composers, as stated by Ms. Jennifer McGuire? For another comment on this topic, see Ms. Linda Roger's blog entry of April 2, 2007, titled "CBC changes--Letter from the President of the Canadian League of Composers". I will let Dr. Paul Steenhuisen's words speak for themselves, and not reproduce them here.

I would be interested (as a shareholder in the corporation) in seeing any evidence that CBC Radio can present to show that they did in fact perform due diligence to determine that these programming changes would be of interest to the CBC Radio Two audience and to CBC shareholders. CBC Radio spokespersons, are you out there?


Anonymous said...

I'm a CBC music department employee. That does not make me an apologist, or an expert on the matters you're addressing in your blog. I can't speak on behalf of management. I can, however, verify that a HUGE arts-culture-music study was carried out by an independent firm that questioned Canadians across the country on the kinds of programming they would like to see on Radio 2. It was done like a proper scientific survey--random sample of people and all of that. I have the report of the results in a desk drawer of mine. I can also confirm that the "big bosses" have been meeting endlessly with what they call "stakeholders" in the fields of classical, jazz and other music that used to receive more prominence on R2. I know this because we often hear about the results of these feedback sessions at our departmental meetings. Just because you, personally, haven't been consulted doesn't mean that the classical community hasn't been surveyed. It has. Radio 2 folk are well aware that the changes have upset people, I can tell you that for sure. They've shared the good and the bad feedback with us at our meetings.

James Wooten said...

Thanks for your comments. I appreciate it that you've taken the time to ready my blog and provide your feedback.

I realize that you are not a spokesperson for CBC management, so please understand that the following reply is not intended as an attack on your comments. They are intended for the wider audience and any CBC Radio management personnel who may happen to be reading this blog (as I believe they should).

I don't doubt that a study was conducted by CBC Radio management and that the results led them to implement they changes that have taken place. What I question, however, is the reason for the apparent secrecy in which this study was done and the continued reluctance of CBC Radio management to release the results of the study. If, as CBC Radio management claims, this study supported the recent programming changes, then why not release it to the public? Please see the comments made by CBC management with respect to this survey at the following web site: for CBC management's response to a request to see the survey. In short, the request was denied.

Although apparently feedback sessions are being conducted, I again ask, why not make the results of these feedback sessions available to the public? For example, why not let the public see the feedback submitted by listeners to the "Tell us what you think" link on the CBC Radio Two web site? If CBC Radio management is confident in their decision and confident that they have made programming changes that are being embraced by the listening audience, then why the reluctance to share feedback received from the listening audience? One suspects, of course, that this feedback is mostly negative, and CBC Radio management is not willing to reveal this.

I would expect that any reasonably thorough public consultation would have resulted in an average CBC Radio Two listener becoming aware of the proposed changes well in advance of the actual implementation of those changes. Let me give an example.

There is a shopping mall some distance from my home that I used to shop at in the past, but less frequently in recent years. At least two years ago, signs were put up in the mall inviting public feedback on changes that were being planned for the mall. It was apparent that the changes would involve the demolition of the mall and construction of a new, mixed use facility. As I say, since I no longer shopped at this mall I was not affected by the proposed changes, but watched the process out of curiosity.

Well, sure enough, after at least one year of soliciting feedback the mall owner announced that the mall would be closing and all store owners were given notice. Signs were put up that the mall would be closing in one month's time and, within another month after the mall closed, the mall was demolished. Some who lived in the area were upset, but at least the mall owner solicited feedback and gave everyone time to provide their comments, contact their local councillor, write letters to the local newspaper or do whatever they thought appropriate in response.

In contrast, the most notice that CBC Radio gave its listeners of the impending programming changes was one or two months. It was like showing up at the mall one day to do your grocery shopping, only to find the wrecking ball clearing out aisle three. What is the difference? The mall owner recognized who his end customers were and attempted to solicit their opinions. One presumes that the feedback was such that the mall owner believed he could safely go ahead, demolish the mall, build a new mall and retain and grow his customer base. CBC Radio management, on the other hand, did not advertise these programming changes well in advance of their implementation or provide adequate time for listeners to provide feedback. The mall owner, depending on the success of his store owners for his livelihood, attempted to meet his customers needs (as well as meeting his own profit motive, of course). CBC Radio does not depend on advertising revenues (and therefore the size of its audience) for funding and so can be relatively insensitive to its customers needs - to the detriment of the listening audience.

Marilyn said...

Dear anonymous CBC music department employee,

I too was not consulted over the recent CBC programming changes.

I have been a loyal listener for about ten years.

I am in my mid thirties.

I am a classical musician, albeit amateur.

I LOVED CBC Radio 2. In fact, I would have even called it a huge, integral part of my life. I had almost every single radio show in my favourites menu, as I consulted their sites almost daily to look up recordings as well as to download interviews and podcasts.

And now, at 2:46 p.m. (PST) on September 2nd, 2008, I no longer consider myself a CBC Radio 2 listener. I am so disappointed I could cry. I actually have cried over this, although I'm sure no one there really cares.

Does anyone realize that the people who listen to artists like Neil Young are probably not the people who listen to artists like Diana Krall and are almost certainly not the people who listen to classical music?

So who on Earth is this target audience you are hoping to find? There's only one thing I know and IT'S NOT ME!

Good bye, thank you for the wonderful years, I am going elsewhere. The saddest thing is that I don't thing there is anything as great as what CBC Radio 2 used to be out there.

Marilyn Thorpe