Thursday, October 30, 2008

Are the CBC Radio Two programming changes successful?

So, you may be wondering, have the programming changes that the CBC implemented on Sept. 2, 2008 been successful? What is their definition of success, anyway?

Well, in numerous statements to the press and to concerned citizens, CBC management has stated that the programming changes introduced on March 19, 2007 (the cancellation of 'Music for a while', 'In Performance', the 'Arts Report' and the 'World at Six' news broadcast on CBC Radio Two) and on Sept. 2 2008 (too numerous to list here) were intended to make CBC Radio Two more relevant to Canadians and to attract a wider, 'more sustainable' audience. CBC have thus defined one of the criteria upon which they are to be judged: number of listeners. Ergo, an increased number of listeners means success, a decreased number of listeners means failure. Dismal, abject failure. Has the CBC been successful, according to this criteria?

For an outsider, it's hard to tell. One source of data is the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement, which makes 'Top Line Radio Statistics' available on their web site. What are 'Top Line Radio Statistics', you ask?

The BBM 'Top Line Radio Statistics' is a list of the radio stations in a given market (called the 'Central Market Area' by the BBM) and the number of listeners who have tuned into that radio station 'for at least one quarter hour during the week'. The time period that the BBM releases to the public is Monday - Sunday, 5:00 AM to 1:00 AM. So, if you tuned into a given radio station sometime during the day, on any day of the week, you could be counted by the BBM as having listened to the station.

I realize this data is not sufficiently detailed enough to draw many conclusions, but it's all we poor plebes have. Has Tom Allen's new show, from 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM, drawn more listeners, for example? Is Rich Terfry's new show, 'Drive', a roaring success? We listeners don't know. We have to rely on the CBC to tell us.

But we can start to draw some conclusions, even with the limited data that we have. Did CBC increase their audience after the March 19, 2007 programming changes? The BBM stats can give us some indication. The BBM Top Line data is now available for the third survey period in 2008, which includes July 7-20 and August 4-31. The second set of CBC programming changes, of course, took place on Sept. 2 2008, so are not covered by this survey. It will be interesting to take a look at the S4 2008 data once it's available.

Let's take a look at each major CBC market, starting with Ottawa, which I have a particular fondness for. The BBM Top Line data is available here, but I have put this data into the form of a graph to make it easier to digest. What are the results? Well, as it turns out, CBC Radio Two has lost 13,300 listeners in the Ottawa market, comparing pre-change listenership (before March 19, 2007, using S1 2007 as the last data point) to post-change listenership (using S3 2008 as the final data point), or approximately 20.8%. Not surprising, given the crap that is being played on CBC Radio Two these days.

"But", you may be saying to yourself, "if the total number of radio listeners in the Ottawa market is down, then it would make sense that CBC Radio Two listenership is down, wouldn't it?".

Yes, that is very true. However, as no doubt your investment advisor is telling you right now, if your mutual fund's value has declined, but less than the overall market, then that's a Good Thing. If your mutual fund's value has declined more that the overall market, then that's a Bad Thing. And what happened to the radio market in Ottawa during this period? It declined 4.5%, making the 20.8% decline in listenership for the CBC Radio 2 station in Ottawa a Very Bad Thing indeed.

How about Toronto:

Listenership for CBC Radio Two in Toronto decreased 29,100, or 14.0%. The total market in Toronto is down 2.6%. Bad Thing for CBC Radio Two.

Vancouver? Listenership decreased 49,100, or 21.4%. (Vancouver is a noted hotbed for CBC Radio Two listnership. It must be the Jurgen Goethe connection.) The total market was down 1.6%. Bad Thing for CBC Radio Two.

Montreal? Listenership is down 16,400, or 32.6%. The total market is down 9.7%. Bad Thing for CBC Radio Two.

Winnipeg? Listenership is up 3,100, or 8.3%. The total market is also up 4.8%. Good Thing for CBC Radio Two. (What's going on in Winnipeg, you might wonder? A bad mosquito season kept everyone indoors this summer, listening to the radio?)

Calgary? Listenership for CBC Radio Two is down 9,100, or 13.9%. The total market is down 5.5%. Bad Thing for CBC Radio Two.

Edmonton? Listenership for CBC Radio Two is down 19,200, or 34.2%. The total market is down 1.3%. Very Bad Thing for CBC Radio Two.

So, success, or dismal, abject failure? If you are from Winnipeg, as Mr. Chris Boyce is, you might call this a success. However, if you live in any of the other urban centres surveyed by the BBM, you might consider the CBC programming changes a dismal, abject failure.

As I mention above, the stats are available on the BBM web site. You don't have to take my word for it - look at the data yourself. As Mr. John Gordon used to say, "let the numbers speak".

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