Monday, May 5, 2008

My summary of the CHPC meeting with CBC execs held May 1 2008

Mr. Hubert Lacroix, President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, Mr. Richard Stursberg, Executive Vice-President, English Services and Mr. Sylvain Lafrance, Executive Vide-President, French Services, appeared before the House Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on May 1 2008.

I was not able to attend the meeting but instead watched the video of the meeting on the Parliament video site here.

I’ve attempted to summarize those portions of the meeting relevant to the changes in the CBC Radio Two programming that have taken place over the past year and those changes that have been announced for September. I have based this summary on the notes that I took while watching the video since I do not have access to a transcript of the meeting; consequently, any errors or omissions are mine alone. If you know where a transcript of the proceedings can be found, please let me know.

During his opening remarks, Mr. Schellenberger reminded the committee members that questions that overstepped the bounds of the committee’s mandate according to the Broadcasting Act, or that threatened the CBC’s operational independence, were out of order and would not be considered.

I find it interesting that Mr. Schellenberger felt it necessary to make this remark. The Broadcasting Act clearly states:

40. The Corporation is ultimately accountable, through the Minister, to Parliament for the conduct of its affairs.

So, if Members of Parliament are not allowed to question CBC Executives concerning decisions that are relevant to “the conduct of its affairs”, then who is? Who is to oversee the CBC, if not the elected representatives of the taxpayers, namely, the Members of Parliament?

Fortunately, the Members of Parliament ignored the instruction of the Chairman and proceeded to ask questions concerning recent operational decisions of the CBC.

Mr. Hubert Lacroix then made an opening statement, during which he commented on the Committee’s recent report and the proposed MOU between the government (I assume) and the Corporation. Mr. Lacroix also stated that during the four months that he has held the position of CEO he has met with employees and “stakeholders that work in broadcasting” across the country. It is interesting, however, that at no point in his opening remarks did Mr. Lacroix state that he had met with Radio Two listeners to attempt to understand their concerns, even though there have been protests concerning the Radio Two programming changes taking place for the past year, and certainly within the last month. Are the CBC listeners not important to the conduct of the Corporation?

Mr. Lacroix also stated that in the four months since he has become CEO the CBC has focused on three priorities: its people, its programs and its push to move forward with its strategic initiatives. Once again, conspicuous by its absence is any mention of serving the needs of listeners. Where are the CBC Radio listeners in Mr. Lacroix’s priorities? Clearly not among the top three.

Mr. Lacroix also alluded to the recent protests by the CBC Radio Two listeners on April 11, stating that not all listeners are satisfied with change. However, Mr. Lacroix stated, CBC management will not shy away from making hard changes. What does this mean, precisely? Even if the majority of CBC Radio Two listeners are not in favour of the programming changes, CBC Radio executives are determined to push their changes through? Where will it end? Until there are no listeners left?

During the questions from the committee members that followed, Mr. Bill Siksay, Member of Parliament for Burnaby-Douglas, questioned the CBC executives about the recent changes that have been made to classical programming on Radio Two. Mr. Siksay reminded the executives that in many rural areas there are no alternatives to CBC Radio as very few commercial radio stations feature classical music. Mr. Siksay asked the CBC executives why listeners were being abandoned, especially in Vancouver, where listeners have been loyal to Radio Two?

Mr. Lacroix replied that the recent changes to the Radio Two programming are intended to make Radio Two the greatest showcase of Canadian music in the country and to expose listeners to other genres. Mr. Lacroix also reiterated the point that classical music will remain the most important genre on CBC Radio Two. Furthermore, Mr. Lacroix stated, in September the CBC will begin a streaming audio service on the internet to “stream classical music 24/7”.

This seems to be the crux of the CBC’s argument. (I find it interesting that the CBC executives have not felt the need to promote this viewpoint with Canadians prior to making the programming changes, but instead believe it’s acceptable to make the changes first, then explain their rationale. But this is another topic for discussion later.) Their argument, as I understand it, goes like this: the CBC is Canada’s public broadcaster. Therefore, it is the CBC’s mandate to promote Canadian artists, from every musical genre and every ethnic group represented in Canada. If this means that CBC Radio Two becomes a hodge-podge of music, everything from country music to jazz to pop to classical, so be it. It’s all in the name of cultural diversity! So what if no one actually listens to it!

The problem with this, of course, is that there is no focus on the listener. What does the listener want to hear? There is no focus on the quality of the music. Is it of sufficient quality to be played on Canada’s national broadcasting service? There is no focus on educating the listener. Is the music being featured on Radio Two accepted as being one of the great performances that deserves to be heard?

What if this approach to content was taken by, for example, the National Gallery of Canada? Suppose the National Gallery decided to focus primarily on Canadian artists, rather than considering the merits of the art? Would Canada be better served by being exposed to more Canadian art, albeit at the expense of other works of art from other countries, including the great masterpieces from Europe from previous centuries? Would this not be considered a somewhat provincial attitude?

What if this approach to content was taken by public libraries? What if public libraries in Canada decided to feature Canadian writers, at the expense of other authors from other countries. Would Canadians be better served by having access to more Canadian authors, even if best-sellers from other countries or the classic literature from other countries and other eras was not available, or was still available but not as widely?

Mr. Ed Fast, Member of Parliament from Abbotsford, pointed out that four of the finalists from the “Canadian Idol” competition had backgrounds in classical and choral music. Mr Fast also expressed concern that, as CBC scales back on classical music, fewer Canadians would develop an appreciation for classical music. Mr. Fast asked the CBC executives how they would measure the impact of their decision to reduce classical music on CBC Radio Two.

Mr. Lacroix reiterated his statement that Radio Two would become a showcase for Canadian talent in other genres and that “classical is not going away” on Radio Two, merely sharing the airwaves to better reflect other genres.

Mr. Fast then asked whether the same goal could not have been achieved by establishing another FM channel, leaving Radio Two as a mostly classical channel. Mr. Fast asked whether other options were considered and what consultation took place before these changes were implemented.

Mr. Stursberg stated that studies and consultations took place over the three previous years and that these consultations were the “most far-reaching” in the history of the CBC. Mr. Stursberg also reiterated the point that access to classical music would continue on Radio Two and that a new classical channel would be featured on the internet. Mr. Stursberg also pointed out that 30,000 pieces of music are released in Canada each year, yet only 240 pieces are played on radio. Mr. Stursberg stated that there is a “vast commercial landscape that is not heard” and that the shift in strategy on Radio Two was not meant to denigrate classical music, but instead intended to expose Canadians to music that they have had little access to in the past.

Well, this is all very interesting. If studies and consultations had taken place in the three years prior to the programming changes being implemented, don’t you think your or I (as loyal Radio Two listeners) would have heard about it? Don’t you think there would have been discussions on the CBC web site, on CBC Radio Two itself, in newspaper articles, in town hall meetings, on phone-in shows (on “Cross-country Check-up” perhaps) ? Instead, the changes to the CBC Radio Two programming that were introduced on March 19, 2007, were sprung upon an unsuspecting listening audience with little or no warning. This constitutes the “most far-reaching” consultation in the history of the CBC? What does the CBC do when it want to surprise someone?

As for the statement that there are 30,000 pieces of music released each year yet only 240 get commercial airplay, well, perhaps there is a good reason that only 240 get commercial airplay (if indeed these statistics are true, I have no way of knowing). Could it be that only 240 deserve to be heard? Is Radio Two to become a dumping ground for Canadian content that no one else wants?

Mr. Francis Scarpaleggia, Member of Parliament for Lac-Saint-Louis, stated that he has noticed the change in mix on Radio Two and that if one is looking for classical music, it is getting to the point that “Radio Two is not the place to go” as it is becoming “hit and miss – lounge music, then jazz”. Mr Scarpaleggia also suggest that if the music mix becomes too broad, then in major markets it will get to the point that listeners will disengage from Radio Two and CBC Radio Two’s audience share will fall. Those who want to hear pop music will go to commercial radio. Mr. Scarpaleggia wondered: what will happen if the CBC executives appear before this committee in the future, after CBC Radio’s market share has fallen to one percent (from the current three percent)?

Mr. Lacroix replied that CBC Radio is attempting to replicate the depth and analysis currently devoted to classical music in other genres and that classical music will remain in the 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM timeslot. CBC Radio Two listeners will still know where to go to hear classical music. Mr. Lacroix stated that he would be disappointed if Radio Two listeners moved to other channels and did not “open up to other genres”.

Mr. Scarpaleggia replied that the CBC Radio Two listener may not be able to listen to CBC Radio Two during the 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM timeslot and may want to hear classical in his or her car, or on the kitchen radio. In that case, will the CBC Radio Two listener be lost forever? (The answer to that question is yes, of course the listener will be lost forever. But I realize it was a rhetorical question.) Mr. Scarpaleggia asked if the CBC would create another radio station, if it had sufficient funding.

Mr. Stursberg stated that the CBC could not afford to build another FM radio network. Mr. Stursberg also stated that, as a result of market research, it was becoming clearer that the CBC Radio Two audience was becoming older. It was also clear that the prevailing view that the audience would “grow into Radio Two” was not taking place. Radio listeners in their 40s and 50s were not moving to Radio Two. Therefore, Mr. Stursberg stated, Radio Two would have to be repositioned and, by doing so, would serve the Canadian music industry better. Mr. Stursberg also stated, surprisingly, that he was “not too worried about losing the audience”.

Mr. Michal Chong, Member of Parliament for Wellington-Halton Hills, made several points concerning Radio Two. Mr. Chong compared CBC Radio Two’s decision to revamp its programming to Coca-Cola’s decision to introduce “New Coke” in 1985, stating that the CBC was alienating its core audience. Mr. Chong asked why, if the CBC was interested in showcasing new artists, they were putting new artists on FM radio instead of on the internet. Mr. Chong pointed out that FM listeners tend to be an older demographic, whereas younger listeners tend to listen on-line more often. Mr. Chong also suggested that if the CBC wanted to showcase diversity, a third FM band would be required as is commonly the case with public broadcasters in Europe.

Mr. Siksay then asked whether the CBC executives had any market share data available to judge the success of their programming changes. Clearly, the subject of the discussion had been the changes to CBC Radio Two, yet Mr. Stursberg persisted in trumpeting the audience share of CBC Radio One and CBC Television before finally stating, with an apparent straight face, that no erosion had been seen in the Radio Two audience, and none was expected!

Mr. Siksay asked whether audience erosion had not occurred in Vancouver and Mr. Stursberg replied that it had not. Mr. Stursberg also stated that the CBC would not have a clear sense of the CBC’s market share “until the beginning of next year”, after the new programming had been launched in September.

Mr. Siksay then asked: when did the changes to the CBC Radio Two programming begin? Mr. Stursberg, showing himself to be a master of the understatement, replied that some “small changes” had been made in the past year.

Mr. Siksay then asked whether the CBC did not survey its audience to determine the reaction to these changes and Mr. Stursberg replied that the CBC does not survey its audience, relying instead on the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement. Mr. Stursberg reiterated the point that the CBC has not seen any erosion in market share.

I find Mr. Stursberg’s remarks preposterous. Of course the CBC executives have access to market share data and of course they can assess the impact of the changes in the programming on CBC Radio Two’s market share! They have a full year’s worth of data to assess, from the 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM timeslot, when “Music for Awhile” and “In Performance” were replaced by the crapulent “Tonic” and even the more crapulent “Canada Live”. Unfortunately, members of the public do not have access to this data. While it is true that the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement (BBM) provides access to its "Top Line Radio Reports" here, the fact is that this data covers the time period from 5:00 AM to 1:00 AM Monday to Sunday as one single value - hardly granular enough for a member of the public to determine if, for example, CBC Radio Two has lost listeners in the 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM timeslot during weekdays. One would expect that if the effects on audience share of the move away from classical music would have been felt, it would be in this timeslot. And, the fact is, the BBM have compiled a full years' worth of data for the CBD to analyze - and the CBC, as a subscriber to their service, receives data that is much more specific than available to the general public. If the changes in CBC Radio Two’s evening schedule, first launched on March 19 2007, were such a smashing success, as the CBC executives would have us believe, doesn’t it make sense that the CBC executives would be willing to highlight this success? Or perhaps this experiment has not been so successful after all, and the CBC executives are unwilling to admit this?

After further questioning the meeting was adjourned, and Mr. Schellenberger thanked the witnesses for appearing before the committee.

I find all of this quite astonishing. After a year of programming changes we finally hear, in a public forum, CBC Radio management’s rationale for the changes that have been taking place on Radio Two. If you were the executive of a large corporation planning to implement an unprecedented change in your product, wouldn’t you prepare your customers carefully for such a change? Wouldn’t you advertise this change well in advance, preparing your customer for the change so that, when it did happen, the customer would be prepared for it and perhaps even be looking forward to it? And, before making such a change in your product, wouldn’t you survey your customer base to make sure that your customers were receptive to such changes?

Nothing of the sort has happened in this case. Instead, CBC Radio has attempted to force these programming changes down the throat of their audience and, what is worse, appear to be completely oblivious to the impact that it has had on their audience. They are not willing to change their course and it appears that there is no government body that is willing or able to make them change their course.

What is the Canadian taxpayer to do when a Crown corporation begins to run amok?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Interview with Mark Steinmetz and Chris Boyce on "Inside the CBC"

There is a very revealing interview with Mr. Chris Boyce, CBC Radio’s Director of Programming, and Mr. Mark Steinmetz, CBC Radio’s Director of Music, on the “Inside the CBC” web site. You can find the transcript for the interview on the Inside the CBC web site here.

I have copied the full text of the interview below, for fear that it will some day be removed from the “Inside the CBC” web site.

Note that the interview was apparently added to the “Inside the CBC” web site on April 30, and that comments to this interview will be closed on May 6. So make your comments while you can!

Maffin: There’s been lots of chat these days on the blog, and in the media, and inside the CBC around the changes to CBC Radio Two, specifically the reduction of classical music being played, the addition of a streaming classical music station online and closing the closing the CBC Radio orchestra. It’s been very contentious, and I’ve got a couple people with me from the CBC who will hopefully shed some light and maybe explain some of this. One is Mark Steinmetz. Hi Mark.

Steinmetz: Hi.

Maffin: Briefly, what do you do?

Steinmetz: I’m the Director of Radio Music.

Maffin: And what’s your background?

Steinmetz: I’ve been at CBC for over fifteen years. Was a producer, did disc shows, recorded concerts, recorded cd’s, and went to music school, and that’s it.

Maffin: Chris Boyce is the newly minted Director of Programming. Hi Chris.

Boyce: Hi Tod.

Maffin: You came through the Director of Program Development, and then you had some time at DNTO. Where have you been, briefly, at the CBC?

Boyce: You’re right. Before I got in to management, I was Executive Producer at DNTO and the Content Factory, producing a wide range of content for CBC Radio. And television. Most recently, I was Director of Program Development where I worked developing a wide range of programming, from current affairs, to cultural programming, to music. I just started officially a few weeks ago as Director of Programming.

Maffin: Just by way of disclosure, you used to be my boss when I worked at DNTO. I believe I still owe you five bucks.

Boyce: You were an exemplary employee.

Maffin: That’s so not true.


Maffin: Before we get to the topics at hand and the controversial aspects, I want to ask a couple of questions on the overall environment. Maybe Chris, you might be best to answer this. How has the way that we listen to radio changed in the last five to ten years? Are we listening more or less? Do we listen in different places than we used to?

Boyce: If you look at the overall radio environment in Canada, people are listening to slightly less over-the-air radio. Where it’s most predominant is in the under thirty-five demographic. Thirty-five plus people have lost about an hour of listening a week, still in the twenty hour a week range. The drop off is most noticed when you’re under thirty-five, and incredibly noticeable in the under eighteen demographic.

Maffin: It’s sort of an obvious answer, I suppose, but I guess those people are turning to podcasts and satellite radio. Where are we losing them to?

Boyce: That’s the million dollar question, Tod. I think it’s safe to say that people are finding any number of places, whether it be satellite radio or podcast. Everybody now seems to own an iPod and essentially programs their own music, so in the digital sphere, it’s not just other programmed radio services. It’s people essentially creating their own programming as the technology has enabled them to essentially replicate the experience of listening to a radio station but programming it themselves.

Maffin: I have to say, since podcasting came online a couple years ago, I listen to almost no radio live off the radio now. I subscribe to CBC podcast, NPR, ABC and stuff like that every day. It really changed my listening anyway.

Steinmetz: There’s another fact that we just found out. It’s between, I think, sixteen and twenty-five percent of listeners of traditional radio are actually listening off of their computers, so they’re not even listening to radios, like radio units. They’re listening through their computers. That’s across North America, so that’s interesting, as well.


Maffin: I want to get to that as well, when we talk about changes to the classical music, because I know that one of the things we’re going to be adding is an online radio station. But let’s start more widely with the changes to Radio Two overall. I was looking through the blog comments, and of course, we’ve had plenty. There was a fellow named Alan Shearn, of course, you never really who’s name it really is, so a person who calls himself Alan Shearn reminded people in there, there’s an old saying that says if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. CBC’s certainly changing. I don’t know whether we’re fixing, maybe we are. Does that mean Radio Two is broken?

Steinmetz: No. Radio Two, it’s a quality service. I think there are two things that we’ve realized over the past few years. One is that we’re not adhering to the overall mandate. That is that the Radio Two public space reflects the broad range of music making in this country. We don’t feel that we’re living up to our mandate, and the second reason is we described as a sustainable audience. We’ve got a relatively good audience, but fifty percent of the audience is over sixty-five. We appreciate that audience. We want to keep that audience, but the fact of the matter is the thirty-five to sixty year olds are not coming in behind them. Our audience, over the last twenty years, has grown twenty times faster than the Canadian population. Everyone thinks that the boomers are coming and they’re going to discover classical music, but the truth is that thirty-five to sixty group are not coming to our service. Over the last bunch of years, we’ve been asking ourselves why that is. And there’s many reasons for that, but those are the two reasons. We need a sustainable audience. We need to find an adult audience that will come to us and replenish us and keep us going in to the future.

Boyce: Tod, we have a great classical music service, but the reality of music in Canada today is there’s a whole list of genres of music that people listen to and that are made across Canada. Roots, world, folk, blues, jazz, contemporary music. There’s singer song writers, there’s a ton of incredible music being made in Canada today that just isn’t heard on Canadian airwaves. It’s our responsibility as Canada’s broadcaster to bring that music to Canadians wherever they live, across Canada. For us, that’s what this is about. It’s about bringing Canadian music to Canadians and it’s not really something that anyone else is doing in Canada right now.

Maffin: I wonder if we sometimes end up accidentally shooting ourselves in the foot though. Sometimes we’ll give examples of artists that would be played. I remember when Freestyle was about to launch here in Vancouver. Somebody, somewhere at the CBC mentioned, probably in passing, that among the many Canadian artists they’ll be playing we’ll see some lighter fare. There occasionally be Madonna. Of course the media reported, CBC Radio goes pop radio. I kind of fear we may have done the same thing by mentioning Celine Deon and Joni Mitchell as examples, so let’s set the record straight. When people tune in to the new CBC Radio Two in the fall, what will they hear? Will it be an easy listening station?

Steinmetz: No, it won’t be an easy listening station. It’ll be a station that brings quality music across genres to Canadians. We’ll not be focusing in on the top ten hits of this country, the commercial stations do so at presenting to Canadians. There are thousands of pieces of music across genres, including classical music, made in this country that are not heard. Quality music, across genres. We will be reflecting that music. You’re right about you mention one or two artists, and I think the two artists that were mentioned in passing long ago were Serena Ryder and Joni Michell, and all the sudden that’s what CBC Radio Two’s going to become. I don’t know where Celine Deon came from, but anyway. The fact of the matter is, will there be Joni Mitchell on the service? Yes, there will be some Joni Mitchell on the service, but it’s not going to be exclusively a service that is going to play music just like Joni Mitchell. I guess that’s the key. Whenever you bring up an artists name, then that’s what happens. Anyway, quality music across genres.

Boyce: The bottom line, Tod, is tens of thousands of cuts of music are made every year in Canada. A few hundred of them ever get heard with any regularity on commercial radio, so there is a really deep catalog of great Canadian music that nobody gets to hear. We’re going to put that on the radio.

Steinmetz: That’s right, and the number is often cited as thirty thousand and acknowledged that there are thousands that aren’t very good. And we will avoid those not very good ones, but there are thousands that are excellent and quality recordings that are heard nowhere else, and we will reflect those recordings.

Boyce: And we’re excited because it’s a radio service that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Canada right now.

Maffin: As an aside, I actually have a list of music I think is really bad. Can I just email that to you and maybe we can make some sort of arrangement?

Steinmetz: Sure.

Boyce: A “do not play” list.

Steinmetz: I get lots of those lists, Tod.

Maffin: It kind of raises in a way, I wonder how diligent we would have to be to ensure that we don’t compete in a way. There’s a commenter on the blog, named Dave, who wrote on April first. This is his comment, the new CBC Radio Two will be more like pop stations than it was before, and I think you’ve addressed that, but he goes on to say, it may not occupy exactly the same terrain as a pop station, but it certainly may appeal more to pop listeners, which I think might be true. Therefore, regardless of whether we attempt to compete with the pop stations, we kind of are in a way competing with them, so will we be paying close attention to make sure we don’t match those, or is that not really in our radar?

Boyce: We know what the service is that we want to make. We know what the music is that we think Canadians want to hear, that they aren’t hearing now. We’re going to put it on the air. If that’s something that’s appealing to people who are presently listening to another radio station, that’s great, but for us, this is about what it is to be a public broadcaster in Canada in the year two thousand and eight.

Maffin: To be fair, the numbers on Radio Two are not that great. I think, just over three percent of Canadians, who listen to the radio, tune in to Radio Two.

Steinmetz: That’s right.

Maffin: So how do we defend against charges that these changes are just an attempt to get higher ratings? And are higher ratings that bad?

Boyce: We’re a public broadcaster. Our job is to serve the citizens of Canada. If the citizens of Canada aren’t consuming our service, I don’t think we’re doing a very good job as a public broadcaster. That’s very different though, than going out exclusively to get the largest audience possible, by putting whatever we think will go on the air to attract that audience. For me, attracting Canadians is important, because they are our constituencies. They are our clients. They are the people who we serve. How many of them are listening is only one of a whole bunch of measures that you use to measure success.

Maffin: Was money, at all, a criteria here? How does this change Radio’s Two budget? Does it save us money, or cost us money?

Steinmetz: Neither.

Boyce: We’ll be spending about the same on the service after the change as we were before. What we spend it on, that’s where the change will be.

Steinmetz: I was just going to say that one of the things that will remain the same is that we’re going to bring quality presentation to the schedule. What separates us from the commercial stations, first of all, is we’re commercial-free and that’s obvious, but the second thing is there will still be the contextualization of music across the schedule. There will still be that in-depth look at music, so regardless of genre, the quality of presentation is still something that’s really important to us.

Maffin: Since you brought up the commercial-free point, is it your position to guarantee that Radio One and Radio Two will remain commercial-free? When we’re starting to see a little bit of slippery slope with the podcasts, which are now sponsored, are there any plans, or research, or anything going in to considering adding that to the terrestrial service?

Boyce: We have no plans whatsoever to add any commercial sponsorship to our over-the-air service.


Maffin: Okay, let’s move on to, more specifically, the classical changes, which of course, have gotten most of the attention around this. I presume we’ve done polling on music tastes among Canadians. Do fewer people in Canada like listening to classical music? Is that part of this decision?

Steinmetz: Fewer than what?

Maffin: Fewer than in the past?

Steinmetz: No, it’s basically been between four and six percent of Canadians listen to classical music at some point in the year.

Maffin: So the preference hasn’t changed? It’s not like people are listening to it less as a whole, as a genre? Fair to say?

Steinmetz: No, I think it remains stable. In fact, I know in the digital space the consumption of classical music is actually quite high. The changes are not about classical music. Classical music is doing very well. It continues to do well. Our changes don’t mean the death of classical music in this country. And in fact, as I was saying, on the digital space there’s a great demand for it.

Boyce: These changes are about everything else that we want and need to be doing, rather than anything to do with whether people are listening or not listening to classical music. The reality, Tod, is that as an over-the-air service we have one music channel, and it’s what is the range of music that we need to put on that channel. The beauty, as Mark says, of the digital space is that we have way more flexibility in targeting music to niche audiences. Come September, if you’re in to classical you will be able to listen to a classical web radio station. Same for jazz, singer song writer or contemporary Canadian compositions. Part of this is the reality, all of those music genres exist on Radio Two, we just have the ability in the digital sphere to target to people’s interests a little better.

Steinmetz: Yeah, you heard it here first actually, Tod, because we haven’t announced it yet, but we do want to add a fourth station, a contemporary classical music, all one hundred percent Canadian composed art music digital streamed. We intend to launch that as a fourth one. We’re saving that announcement for a couple of weeks from now, but there, you heard it here first.

Maffin: What does “art music” mean?

Steinmetz: Good question. I guess it is composers in this country who come from the classical music tradition. It’s not electronica. It’s not contemporary new popular music. It used to be [called] serious [music].

Maffin: Will it dive in to the area that perhaps, Brave New Waves used to cover, which was further on that edge?

Steinmetz: We feel that Radio Three does a lot of that similar kind of programming. There was a show we had on the air ago called Two New Hours, and it’s that kind of contemporary music we’re talking about. We haven’t designed the playlist. We haven’t designed what it’s going to be, but it will be that genre, sort of twentieth century, twenty-first century Canadian composed music.

Maffin: Mark, how does that process work, you mentioned designing playlists and things?
Steinmetz: We’ll be putting a group of producers together to come up with what it would sound like. We create intentions of where we want to go. We set criteria. Then producers get together and they, through program development, come up with what the musical framework and what the musical world and tone is going to be. That kind of work still has to be done.

Maffin: Did I read right that we’re calling them Radio Four, Radio Five and Radio Six?

Steinmetz: Nope.

Maffin: Okay.

Boyce: At this point, we’re still figuring out how they’ll all be branded. To be honest, for the online stations we’re still figuring out exactly what the playlists will look like, and what the range of music is. At this point, we know we’re doing them. We know the broad areas that we’re going in to, but we haven’t finished the developmental work on exactly what they’ll be, Tod.

Maffin: So how many stations?

Steinmetz: We’re looking at four. Generally, one will be a jazz station, one will be a classical music station…I should call them streams actually. I think that’s a better word. One of them will be this contemporary music one that I was talking about. And then one will be feature singer song writers’ songs across genre.

Maffin: Will there be commercials on those streams?

Boyce: There certainly won’t be commercials, per se. There may be a short, ten second sponsorship message, like a podcast, but certainly no commercials.

Maffin: Are these hosted stations? Will we actually hear someone introducing and chatting, or is it essentially like Radio Three has a station on the internet, but it’s primarily just music, music, music, back-to-back, with some pre-taped host?

Boyce: It’ll be mostly a music-focused service.

Maffin: So no live hosts:?

Boyce: Again, that’s some of the details we’re working on, but the expectation is the focus is on the music.

Steinmetz: Yeah, and you’ll know it’s CBC Radio Two.


Maffin: Let’s talk about the orchestra briefly. The only question I really have here is why close it?

Steinmetz: Why close it? Because we had to make choices. We had to make a choice about where we wanted to direct the money that we have. We thought about it for a long time and we feel that by reallocating the money to other music productions across this country, including classical music, including [orchestral] commissions…It was a very tough choice, but we felt that was a better use of the money overall.

Boyce: It’s interesting, Tod, the CBC Radio Orchestra was created seventy years ago at a time when there were no other orchestras in Canada creating Canadian classical music. Seventy years later, there are essentially, over forty orchestras across the country. The situation that led to the creation of the orchestra is very different than the situation we find ourselves in today. As Mark said, this is about getting the most bang for the buck. It’s about the most efficient use of resources, and it’s a very, very difficult decision to make. Nobody wants to see the orchestra go, but that’s the reality that we work within.

Maffin: How much money in real dollar terms was it consuming?

Steinmetz: Can’t go there. I think in media it’s between five hundred thousand and a million dollars.

Maffin: And do you dispute the figures the media have come up with?

Steinmetz: No, I don’t, but budgets change year to year. What I can tell you though, ten years ago the Radio Orchestra did more than it did today. As years go by, it’s hard to sustain, and to keep cutting back the season, keep cutting back the concerts became not an option.

Maffin: Just to play devil’s advocate and be fair, the decision to cut back concerts and you mentioned slowly reducing, that’s not something that just happens by osmosis. There’s a decision at the CBC to reduce the level.

Steinmetz: Yeah, that’s right. We made a decision.

Boyce: But it’s not a cost cutting move, Tod. It’s about using the limited resources we have in the way that will create the most impact across the country. That’s the bottom line.

Maffin: Okay, and that makes sense. The details on that I’d love to get a little more sense of. Does this mean we’re going to become a grant giving organization, or we’ll just record more concerts, or are we going to commission specific pieces? Where will that money, specifically [Sound Cuts Out].

Steinmetz: We’re not going to be a grant giving organization, but we are going to be upping what we call the commissions budget here for orchestral commissions. That’s for sure to make up for the decision that we made about the orchestra. Then we’re going to be reallocating to music productions, recording concerts, more concerts than we had before. That’s the goal.


Maffin: Anything that I’ve missed in this quick interview that you want to add?

Boyce: I’m just really excited about what we’re launching in September. For the first time there is going to be a truly Canadian music service that reflects the music that’s being made across Canada to Canadians. To be honest, Tod, I’m really excited. I think it’s an amazing opportunity for Canadians to get something that they’ve never had access to before. I can’t understate the impact I think this is going to have for Canadian musicians and for Canadian audiences.

Maffin: Fantastic. How can people continue to add their thoughts in to this dialogue?

Boyce: If people are looking for more information about what we’re doing, there’s information on the Radio Two website, CBC dot C-A slash Radio Two. There’s a little section that you can look at, which talks about the new Radio Two, what we’re doing, what our plans are. We’ll be updating that as we head towards the launch in September.

Maffin: There’s always, of course, commenting on the CBC blog at Inside the CBC dot com, and CBC dot C-A slash contact is a web form there where people can send their opinions in to the CBC, and those emails do get read. We actually have a department. I don’t know how many people it is, a dozen I think, or more, who read those responses, collate them, put them in front of senior managers, as well, so those messages do get through.

Steinmetz: Oh yeah. We see them all.

Maffin: Just a quick housekeeping note. Some people may wonder why Jennifer McGuire is not on this call. Jennifer, of course, was quoted in the media for a lot of these things. That’s because at the time, she was largely responsible for communicating this. She has now moved on to another role inside CBC News. Mark Steinmetz, Director of Music for CBC Radio. Chris Boyce, Director of Programming. Thank you so much for your time today.

Steinmetz: Welcome.

Boyce: Thanks, Tod.

I find it interesting that Mr. Steinmetz and Mr. Boyce are only now beginning to explain the rationale for the changes that have been taking place at CBC Radio Two for the past year. I applaud their attempt to explain their thinking in this interview with Mr. Maffin, even if it is only on the “inside the CBC” web site, which I suspect very few CBC Radio listeners know about.

The changes that are being made to the CBC Radio Two programming are unprecedented in the history of CBC Radio. And, to be quite frank, the execution of these changes has been a fiasco equally unprecedented in the history of any corporation, either public or private. The only new product introduction that I can think of that rivals CBC Radio’s botched attempt to change their offering to consumers is Coca-Cola’s attempt to introduce “New Coke” in the late ‘80s. Fortunately, Coca-Cola realized their blunder and reintroduced “Coke Classic” in an attempt to placate an outraged clientele. Will CBC Radio management eventually realize their mistakes and reintroduce “Radio Two Classic”. No, they won’t, because they are not dependent on their consumers for funding. Public funding means they have the luxury of toying with the programming until they drive their audience away, to Classical 96.3 FM in Toronto or to Sirius or XM satellite radio in those Canadian cities that have no commercial classical stations that are alternatives to CBC Radio Two.

There are many excellent points made by those who have left comments to this article. David’s comment that “It is rarely a good business decision to alienate customers you already have - what if the ones you think you will get don’t actually switch to your side? Then you’ve lost them all.” is especially relevant. Why is this so obvious to CBC Radio listeners, but lost on CBC Radio executives? Is it because some of the CBC Radio listeners actually work in competitive industries and understand what it takes to attract and retain customers, and how difficult it is to attract new customers? Because they have some real-world experience in running a business that must offer a product or service that their customers want, otherwise they will go out of business?

There are many points in this interview that I could comment on. However, I will only repeat a point that I made in a letter to Ms. Jennifer McGuire on June 7, 2007, and that is still relevant to the present discussion:

“I agree that the mandate of CBC Radio should be to deliver programming that is meaningful to Canadians. What, however, is programming that is "meaningful to Canadians"? Should it attempt to reflect every region, every ethnic group, every musical genre that may be performed in Canada? If you attempt this then it is my opinion that the result will be a musical melange that will be of interest to only a very few. The programming will become so fragmented and unpredictable that you will lose your audience to stations where the programming is more consistent. If you succeed in broadening the scope of the programming, only to reduce the size of your audience, have you truly succeeded in making CBC Radio more relevant to Canadians?”

Thursday, May 1, 2008

My letter to the members of the House Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, April 30 2008

I sent the following letter (as an e-mail, I'll follow up by sending letters by postal mail) last night to each of the Members of Parliament listed below:

  • Bill Siksay, NDP culture critic
  • Denis Coderre, Liberal Heritage critic
  • John Godfrey, Liberal party
  • Jim Abbott, Parliamentary Secretary for Heritage
  • Gary Schellenberger, Chair of the House Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage
  • Maria Mourani, Vice Chair of the House Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage
  • Andy Scott Vice Chair of the House Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage
  • Michael D. Chong, Conservative party
  • Dean Del Mastro, Conservative party
  • Ed Fast, Conservative party
  • Hedy Fry, Liberal party
  • Luc Malo Bloc Quebecois
  • Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal party

The meeting of the House Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage at 3:30 PM today will be televised, according to the meeting notice. Have a look on CPAC and let's see what our elected representatives have to say to the CBC executives!

It is my understanding that there will be a meeting of the House Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on May 1, 2008, and that Mr. Hubert Lacroix, Mr. Sylvain Lafrance and Mr. Richard Stursberg have been invited to the meeting. I understand that the purpose of the meeting is a "Study of Plans and Priorities of CBC/Radio-Canada". I am writing to bring to your attention the following points, which I believe should be especially relevant for such a discussion:

1. I, and many other Canadians, do not believe that CBC Radio is adequately serving the needs and interests of Canadians.

2. I do not believe that CBC Radio management is attempting to solicit the opinions of the CBC Radio listening audience in a manner which allows the listening audience to have a meaningful voice in the choice of programming.

3. I believe CBC Radio management is making programming decisions which do not reflect the needs and interests of Canadians and is doing so based on information that they are unwilling to share with the CBC Radio listening audience.

4. I believe that CBC Radio is unwilling to let listeners comment on the programming changes that have already been made and are operating CBC Radio in an aura of secrecy that is not acceptable for Canada's public broadcasting system.

I provide the following as evidence for each of the above points:

1. I, and many other Canadians, do not believe that CBC Radio is adequately serving the needs and interests of Canadians.

Please see the petition concerning the increasing amount of pop music played on CBC Radio One at the following web site:

To date (April 30, 2008) this petition has been signed by 2,001 individuals.

Please see the petitions concerning the changes made to the CBC Radio Two programming schedule on March 19, 2007 at:


To date (April 30, 2008) these petitions have been signed by 248 and 5,004 individuals, respectively.

Please see the membership of the Facebook group "Save Classical Music at the CBC" and the comments made by these members. To date (April 30, 2008) this group has 15,038 members.

Please see the membership of the Facebook group "Save the CBC Radio Orchestra". To date (April 30, 2008) this group has 7,673 members.

Please see the comments made on the Facebook event page for the "Raise a Ruckus for Radio Two", held on April 11, 2008 in cities across Canada.

Please see the comments made concerning the recent programming changes to the evening schedule of CBC Radio Two at the following web sites:

Please see the newspaper column written by Mr. Hugh Anderson in the Montreal Gazette on April 9 2007 at this address:

Please see the newspaper column written by Mr. Jeffrey Simpson in the Globe and Mail on March 29 2008 at this address:

Please see the newspaper columns written by Mr. Russell Smith in the Globe and Mail on March 13 and March 20, 2008:

2. I do not believe that CBC Radio management is attempting to solicit the opinions of the CBC Radio listening audience in a manner which allows the listening audience to have a meaningful voice in the choice of programming.

The changes made to the evening programming of CBC Radio Two on March 19, 2007 were made without consulting the CBC Radio Two listening audience and without providing advance notice of the planned changes. There was no opportunity for the CBC Radio Two listening audience to comment on the planned changes before they were introduced. Instead, these programming changes were launched on March 19 2007 as a fait accompli.Subsequent changes to the weekend programming and the recently announced changes to the daytime schedule were also made without consulting the listening audience. The result has been a storm of protest from CBC Radio Two listeners, as noted in point #1 above.

3. I believe CBC Radio management is making programming decisions which do not reflect the needs and interests of Canadians and is doing so based on information that they are unwilling to share with the CBC Radio listening audience.

CBC Radio management has alluded to public consultation that was done prior to the programming changes being announced. I refer you to an article in the March 19 2007 Globe and Mail in which Ms. Jennifer McGuire is quoted as saying: "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." However, conspicuous by its absence is any mention of consulting the CBC Radio listening audience.

CBC Radio management has also referred to an "arts and culture study" which is driving many of the recent programming changes. In the meeting report of the New Music Community and CBC Radio, it is reported that CBC Radio is unwilling to make this study public as it is an "internal document". You may view the entire meeting report at the following web site:

To my knowledge, the management of CBC Radio has never released the contents of this report to any interested group.

4. I believe that CBC Radio is unwilling to let listeners comment on the programming changes that have already been made and are operating CBC Radio in an aura of secrecy that is not acceptable for Canada's public broadcasting system.

Although the new CBC Radio Two evening schedule was launched on March 19 2007, there has been no public forum accessible from CBC Radio Two's web site for listeners to comment on the new programming. There is a web site ( that claims to be the "official" CBC Radio blog, but this site has been closed to further public comments on the new CBC Radio Two evening schedule since April 10, 2007. Furthermore, since there is no link to this web site on the CBC Radio Two web site, I do not believe it is known to many listeners or users of the CBC Radio Two web site. There is also a link to provide feedback to CBC Radio (the "Tell Us What You Think" link) but this does not allow one to read comments left by other listeners, and there is no means to see replies left by CBC Radio management. Subsequent changes to the weekend programming have similarly been introduced without allowing CBC Radio Two listeners the opportunity to comment on the programming changes.

I am writing to protest against the behaviour of CBC Radio management since, by excluding the participation of the listening audience in the operation of CBC Radio, CBC Radio management is not adhering to the requirements of the Broadcasting Act, 1991. I am referring specifically to the following clause:

3.(1) It is hereby declared as the broadcasting policy for Canada that

a) the Canadian broadcasting system shall be effectively owned and controlled by Canadians

The Broadcasting Act, 1991 also states:

40. The Corporation is ultimately accountable, through the Minister, to Parliament for the conduct of its affairs.

I therefore urge you to recommend that CBC Radio management take the following specific actions when planning future programming changes:

1. Establish a web site where listeners can post comments. All comments should be permitted, except those that are derogatory, defamatory, use profanity or are otherwise unacceptable in a public forum. The comments should be visible by all users of the site.

2. Post the "arts and culture survey" mentioned above on the CBC Radio web site, with a link that is easily found on the main page of the CBC Radio web site.

3. Release any other surveys of the listening audience that have been done in the past three years and that are being used to justify any further programming changes.

4. Announce any further programming changes three months in advance of their implementation. These announcements should be made on the CBC Radio web site, with a link that is easily found on the main page of the CBC Radio web site.

5. Solicit listener feedback on any programming changes before they are implemented and display this feedback on the CBC Radio web site, with a link to this feedback that is easily found on the main page of the CBC Radio web site. CBC Radio management should not implement any future programming changes if the weight of public opinion, as determined through the feedback received, is not in favour of the proposed programming changes.

6. Establish a Listener's Council, formed from volunteers from the listening audience, performers and members of the arts and culture community to participate in the discussion and implementation of any future programming changes.

I believe that the above recommendations, if implemented by CBC Radio management, will be a good first step in returning CBC Radio to those who deserve to have a voice in the conduct of the corporation - the shareholders in the corporation, who also happen to be the taxpayers of Canada.


James Wooten