Thursday, November 26, 2009

Latest review of CBC Radio 2 market share

Well, it’s that time of year again, the end of a quarter and time for us to review how CBC Radio 2’s market share has changed since the CBC management embarked upon the disastrous restructuring program that was initiated in March 2007. As you may recall from previous analyses featured here, we are comparing CBC Radio 2’s market share from S1 2007, the last quarter before the CBC began to restructure CBC Radio 2’s programming and the latest quarter’s market share (S3 2009, as measured by the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement).

You may also recall that the CBC management initiated the program changes to broaden the appeal of CBC Radio 2 in an attempt to make CBC Radio 2 ‘more relevant to Canadians’ and, presumably, to gain more listeners. We now have a full ten quarters of market share data with which we can assess the success of Phase I of the restructuring and four quarters of data to use in assessing the success, or lack thereof of the final phase of the restructuring, Phase III.

So, how has the restructuring program fared? Not so well, as it turns out. While total radio listenership has increased 3.4% (or by 695,800 listeners) in the cities surveyed by the BBM, the total market share for CBC Radio 2 in these same cities has declined by 13.1%, or by 92,800 listeners. Obviously, this is not good if your intention when initiating these changes was to increase listenership.

What can we say about this? That CBC management was misguided in initiating these changes? That they should have consulted the listeners of CBC Radio 2 before launching this new programming? That, once begun, CBC management should have listened to the storm of protests that resulted from the announced changes? That CBC should recognize their errors and try to correct them? That those responsible within the CBC for making these changes should be held accountable for the havoc they have wreaked? All of the above, and much more.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The new 'CBC News Network', aka 'CNN'

Ms. Jennifer McGuire, fresh from her success in restructuring CBC Radio Two, has apparently moved on to tackle the stodgy, moribund CBC News Division, renamed the ‘CBC News Network’, or 'CNN' as it will hitherto be known. Here are her remarks concerning the recent changes that have taken place at CBC News, as submitted in Letters to the Editor of our national newspapers.

First, the National Post, in a letter published Friday, Oct. 30 2009:

Re: Thanks For Watching, And For Tweeting, Oct. 22.

We're grateful that your reporters have taken the time to weigh in with their views of recent changes at CBC News, including CBC News Network and The National. We knew going in that many in our audiences would have an opinion and be happy to share it. In fact, we celebrate this extraordinary engagement as proof that Canadians have a strong connection with and sense of ownership about CBC News.

We don't expect consensus on the colour of new graphics or whether anchor and chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge should be reissued a chair (the focus of quite a bit of commentary thus far) but are encouraged by the significant increase in viewership (double, in some cases) to many of the new programs. As we settle into our new forms, however, we can unequivocally say that we remain committed to authoritative and trustworthy public service journalism. And that we will continue to bring news that's relevant to Canadians to them in all the various ways they now demand.

Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor-in-chief, CBC News, Toronto.

Next, from the Globe and Mail, Thursday, Oct. 29 2009:

We’re grateful your reporters have taken the time to weigh in on recent changes at CBC News, including CBC News Network and The National. We knew going in that many in our audiences would have an opinion and be happy to share it. In fact, we celebrate this extraordinary engagement as proof that Canadians have a strong connection with, and sense of ownership about, CBC News.

Change can be difficult. We don’t expect consensus on the colour of new graphics or whether Peter Mansbridge should be reissued a chair, but we are encouraged by the significant increase in viewership (double, in some cases) to many of the new programs. As we settle into our new forms, however, we can unequivocally say we remain committed to authoritative and trustworthy public service journalism.

Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor-in-chief, CBC News, Toronto

I particularly enjoy the ability of some executives to use language in such a way that a public outcry of disbelief, shock and outrage can be made to sound like a happy occasion (‘we celebrate this extraordinary engagement as proof that Canadians have a strong connection with, and sense of ownership about, CBC News’)! Just as I celebrate my extraordinary opportunity to visit the dentist every six months, or to pay my taxes each year.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Welcome to The Happy Hour

Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, they do. I’m referring of course to the CBC’s re-vamp of CBC Newsworld and 'The National'.

While the topic of this blog is the restructuring of CBC Radio Two and my essentially futile interactions with CBC management, Members of Parliament and other concerned organizations in protest of the CBC Radio Two changes, I have to comment on what the CBC has done to 'The National'.

‘The National’ was my only remaining link to the CBC. I’ve long ago given up on CBC Radio Two and, for that matter, CBC Radio One. I’ve switched to Wi-Fi Internet radio and Sirius Satellite radio for radio. For TV news, I still depended on ‘The National’, watching each evening at either 9:00 PM or 10:00 PM.

Once again, CBC has taken us by surprise, announcing the new CBC News programming merely days before the event – sort of a blitzkrieg of restructuring. While apparently there are many new programs, and changes, on CBC Newsworld, I have only experienced the changes to ‘The National’ to date.

It seems that the management of the CBC has decided that the previous version of ‘The National’ was too serious and that Mr. Mansbridge and the correspondants should ‘lighten up a bit’. How else can one explain the almost bubbly exchanges that take place between Mr. Mansbridge and Wendy Mesley, or the fluffy segments featured on the newscast? The broadcast on Tuesday evening included many examples, such as the report on teeth whitening parties. Surely, there are events taking place in the world of greater importance than the emergence of unlicenced practitioners of teeth whitening? Yet, as far as I noticed, there was not a single report concerning events in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa or South America on Tuesday night’s broadcast. Are we to believe that there are no news-worthy events taking place in these regions?

As well, it seems that someone within the CBC is seeking revenge against poor Ms. Mesley. That is the only possible explanation for dressing up Ms. Mesley in an H1N1 protective suit and sending her out on the streets to determine the reactions of passers-by on Monday’s broadcast, or for sending her out on the street again on Tuesday’s broadcast to ask people to deposit a token in either a jar representing the U.S. budget for Education or a jar representing the budget for NASA. At this point, I found the whole thing too silly to continue watching and turned it off. There may have been more serious news in the remaining fifteen minutes of the Tuesday evening broadcast, but I doubt it.

Sadly, this re-vamp of CBC News follows hard on the heels of the CBC’s similarly disastrous restructuring of CBC Radio Two. Did the CBC not learn anything from the CBC Radio Two experience? Who is responsible for these bungled attempts to make the CBC more relevant to Canadians and, more importantly, why are they allowed to continue wreaking havoc within the CBC?

Friday, July 24, 2009

CBC Radio Two: doing less with less

What's going on with CBC Radio 2 lately? I have to admit I haven't been paying much attention - the car radio is tuned to my Sirius satellite radio preset frequencies and at home we listen to internet radio using the Wi-Fi receiver, so I haven't had much interest in following changes to the Radio 2 schedule. On those occasions when I'm in the car without my satellite radio, I sometimes encounter Radio 2 while scanning the FM frequencies.

I see that Tom Allen is now doing double duty, on "Radio 2 Morning" and a new program, "Shift", from 2:00 - 3:30 PM. "Tempo" runs from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM instead of, I believe it was, 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. And "Radio 2 Drive" is now on until 7:00 PM, followed by "Canada Live" until 8:00 PM. Finally, "Tonic" and "The Signal" close out the evening.

What is behind all of this schedule tweaking? Is it an attempt to recover lost audience share by trying to find the right time slot for these programs? Could it be that it is not the time slots, but the content of the programming, that is responsible for the lost audience share?

I see also that "Tonic", now beginning at 8:00 PM instead of 6:00 PM, promises a mix of "Jazz, Soul and R&B to wind down your day" - I seem to remember that it began life as strictly Jazz. Could it be that there isn't a large audience for an all-Jazz format? Could it be that CBC Radio 2 is finally admitting that no one really wants to listen to Jazz at 6:00 PM?

You will also notice from the program schedule that CBC Radio 2 now covers 18 hours of Monday-to-Friday programming with only six announcers. I seem to recall CBC Radio 2 having more program hosts before the CBC Radio 2 restructuring, which began March 19, 2007. I suppose you could cite this as an example of doing less with less. Aren't there labour laws to prevent organizations from cutting back staff and dumping the same amount of work on the remaining staff? Isn't there a union for radio hosts? Perhaps not.

And what happened to Jurgen Gothe and "Farrago"? I can't find any announcements on the CBC Radio 2 site concerning the fate of Mr. Gothe. I suppose Mr. Gothe was unceremoniously dumped by the corporation, or perhaps decided to leave on his own. We are all, of course, poorer for this.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Two years later - have the CBC Radio Two changes been a success?

As I mentioned in my March 30 blog entry, it has now been two years since the CBC initiated its program of Radio 2 restructuring.

Phase I of the restructuring began March 17, 2009 with the cancellation of the "World at Six" news broadcast, the replacement of "Music for a while" with "Tonic", the replacement of "In Performance" with "Canada Live", the cancellation of "Two New Hours" and the introduction of "The Signal", the cancellation of "Brave New Waves" and the cancellation of "Northern Lights". Phase III was completed in September 2008 with the cancellation of "Here's to You", "Studio Sparks" and "Sound Advice" and the replacement of "Disc Drive" with "Radio 2 Drive" and "Music and Company" with "Radio 2 Morning". So, you may be wondering, has it all been worth the pain and agony that the CBC has inflicted upon its audience? Has the new programming been successful?

To answer this question I continued the analysis of CBC Radio Two's market share that I first did in my October 30 2008 blog entry using audience share data from the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement. Since we now have market share data including the period Sept. 1 2008 - Oct. 26 2008 (S4 2008, in BBM's terminology) and Jan. 5 2009 - March 1 2009 (S1 2009), we can compare CBC Radio Two's market share before the changes were implemented; i.e. before Phase I of the restructuring was implemented and the market share after the changes were implemented; i.e. after Phase III was completed. Since we have data for S4 2008 and S1 2009 we can get a good picture of how CBC Radio Two's market share has changed as this represents seven months of elapsed time since the completion of Phase III.

Much to my surprise, I found from the BBM data that radio listenership has actually increased in the major cities surveyed by the BBM, increasing from 20.7M in S1 2007 to 21.4M in S1 2009, an increase of 3.3%! In an era of MP3 players, internet radio and ubiquitous CD players this should be considered nothing short of astounding. It seems that there is a place for good old broadcast radio in our era of new technology after all!

But what about CBC Radio Two? How has it fared? Well, not as well. In a period of increased radio listenership CBC Radio Two actually lost listeners, losing a total of 49,000 listeners, or 6.9%, during the period from S1 2007 to S1 2009. As anyone with a lick of sense will tell you, to lose listeners in a growing market is very bad indeed, especially if you are trying to become more relevant to your audience, as the CBC apparently is trying to do. The chart below summarizes CBC Radio Two's market share during the period S1 2007 to S1 2009, as well as the total radio listenership in the major markets surveyed by the BBM. You can check this data for yourself using the BBM Top-Line Reports at the BBM web site.

The CBC has responded to reports of declining market share for CBC Radio Two in the past by saying that CBC Radio Two "needs to find its audience". One would think that if the "new 2" hasn't found its audience six months after its launch, it's never going to find it.

Most public corporations have a predictable response to a failed strategy. Either they admit their mistake and revise the strategy, or management is replaced or the corporation fails. The management of CBC Radio - answering to no one, apparently - has the luxury of being able to continue on their merry way to self-destruction, oblivious to declining market share and the ire of their audience. (For radio, that is, television is another story, as recent events have borne witness.)

Monday, March 30, 2009

An anniversary to remember.

An anniversary for the CBC passed recently and I didn't mention it in this blog. What anniversary was that, you might ask? Why, it was the second anniversary of Phase I of CBC Radio Two's disastrous attempts at restructuring its programming, which began March 19, 2007.

Of course, we didn't know at the time that it was simply Phase I of a larger program. No, the CBC Radio Two listening audience merely thought it was an ill-advised restructuring of the evening programming - the cancellation of the "World at Six" news broadcast, the replacement of "Music for a while" with the much-reviled "Tonic", the replacement of "In Performance" with the cretinous "Canada Live", the cancellation of "Two New Hours" and the introduction of the crapulent "The Signal" and the cancellation of "Brave New Waves" and "Northern Lights". Oh, and I forgot to mention: the cancellation of the "The Arts Report" and Joe Cummings during the "Music and Company" morning broadcasts. Well, I suppose it was unfair that the evening schedule should bear the brunt of the restructuring.

Following Phase I of the CBC restructuring was Phase II - the cancellation of "Symphony Hall", "The Singer and the Song" and the removal of Howard Dyck from "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera". And, following swiftly on the heels of Phase II like a rabid dog chasing a postie came Phase III, the cancellation of "Here's to You", "Studio Sparks" and "Sound Advice", and the replacement of "Disc Drive" with "Radio 2 Drive" and "Music and Company" with "Radio 2 Morning". The announcement of Phase III, of course, resulted in a storm of protest, letters written to the editors of newspapers, protests in the streets on April 11, 2008, the creation of Facebook groups in protest and much general hand-wringing. But it all came to naught. The CBC continued on its merry way in spite of the protests of its listeners.

Two years have passed since the beginning of Phase I and the CBC is very much in the news lately. Last week the CBC announced program cancellations and staff reductions in response to a budget shortfall, blamed by CBC management on the loss of revenues from television advertising during this global recession. The CBC has even announced that they may have to resort to asset sales - the sale of buildings owned by the CBC - to meet their budget. Of course, global recession aside, the lack of funding increases for the CBC over the past several years and the Conservative government's refusal to provide additional funding to the CBC during this time of crisis can also be blamed for the current mess the CBC finds itself in.

But who is really to blame for the crisis at the CBC? Greedy mortgage lenders, bankers and insurance companies who precipitated the global financial crises leading to the current recession and the resulting loss of advertising revenue? Sub-prime borrowers who borrowed too much money to buy houses they couldn't afford and whose subsequent defaults on their mortgages lead to the uncertain value of the asset-backed commercial paper that the banks invested in? Alan Greenspan, for lowering interest rates in 2001, only to initiate a program of interest rate increases in recent years leading to sub-prime borrowers being unable to meet their mortgage payments when their adjustable-rate mortgages reset to a higher interest rate? Canadian voters for electing governments who failed to increase funding for the CBC over the past several years? Or perhaps CBC management, for failing to adequately manage their working capital such that they could withstand a recession?

I suspect that the answer is, to some degree, all of the above. But there is another aspect to consider.

Imagine this scenario. Imagine that a right-wing government is in power, a government which does not believe in the need for a public broadcaster and which does not have the moral courage to propose the dismantling of the public broadcaster, but instead prefers to let the public broadcaster wither and die through lack of funding. Suppose too that the public broadcaster, in a misguided attempt to make itself more relevant, has gutted its programming, replacing a classical music schedule with a hodge-podge of contemporary, bland music, thereby alienating its core audience to the extent that that core audience feels compelled to protest the public broadcaster's actions to their Members of Parliament, to the Minister of Heritage, to the national newspapers, to the public broadcaster's Board of Governors - in short, to anyone who will listen. The right-wing government, seeing the public dissatisfaction with the public broadcaster, views this as a green light to continue their program of starving the public broadcaster in order to eventually abolish the public broadcaster through attrition. Suppose that the public broadcaster's once-loyal audience, who would have previously protested job layoffs, program cancellations and regional station closings and may have attempted to counter the right-wing government's attempts to kill the public broadcaster just can't be bothered anymore because they feel they have been betrayed by the public broadcaster and are no longer willing to stand up for the public broadcaster. Would the public broadcaster find itself in a state similar to the state that the CBC currently finds itself in? Perhaps. Could the public broadcaster be blamed for not only giving the right-wing government the ammunition with which to shoot it, but also giving it the gun and instructions on how to use it? Most certainly. As ye sow, so shall ye reap. What goes around, comes around. Insert your favourite aphorism here.

Of course we're all losers in this scenario, especially those CBC employees still working at the CBC, the CBC employees who have taken early retirement, either forced or in disgust at recent actions of CBC management, as well as the laid-off CBC employees who are all entirely blameless for the misguided actions of CBC management during the last two years. Oh, but I almost forgot, there are some winners. Namely, those members of CBC management who will still receive their bonuses for 2008.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Whither the CBC? Wither the CBC!

The National Post has been running a series of articles and columns for the past week on the future of the CBC. The title for this series was "The State of the CBC", but it could just as easily have been titled "Whither the CBC" or, more appropriately, "Wither the CBC". In any case, a number of well-known columnists, commentators and pundits have written about the current state of the CBC and its prospects for the future.

On Saturday, Mr. Robert Fulford provided this article, titled "An on-air bureaucracy". His submission was accompanied by a column titled "What Canada wants" by Ms. Kirstine Layfield, identified at the foot of the column as being an "executive director of programming for CBC Television".

I've copied them both below. Have a look at both, and see for yourself whether Ms. Layfield's column is not a sterling example of the type of CBC-speak that Mr. Fulford decries.

First, Mr. Fulord:

An on-air bureaucracy

Robert Fulford, National Post Published: Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ottawa won't close down the CBC, no matter how many contributors to the National Post yearn to see the end of it. A minority government could never stand the storm of public anger that would follow, egged on by an army of self-righteous journalistic defenders.

CBC viewers and listeners, it's true, are a minority, but even if only 100,000 Canadians actually love it, 100,000 Canadians can make an unbearable amount of noise, particularly if they believe they are on the side of virtue, truth and "Canadian values." Even governments with large majorities, while despising the CBC for chronic unfairness, have never seriously threatened its existence. They have grudgingly allowed it to remain alive -- though keeping it, from the CBC's point of view, on starvation rations.

That also means that Ottawa won't substantially increase the CBC's funds in the imaginable future, no matter how much the company's president begs. A generous grant to the CBC in this economic era would be even more politically troublesome than killing it, even if Stephen Harper wanted to be generous.

For now, at least, change will have to come from inside. That's just as well, because that's where the problems lie. The most profound failures, in style and attitude and ambition, can be found among CBC employees, both junior and senior, and the corporate culture they have jointly created. It's true the government sometimes interferes and has always burdened the corporation with far more tasks than it can be expected to accomplish. But that's nothing beside the self-created atmosphere in which CBC employees work.

They are over-managed and over-manipulated, wretched servants of focus groups and demography charts. So far as a viewer and a listener can tell, they are not excited about their work and do not expect that we will be. Many crucial figures among them are pure managers who could work anywhere with equal satisfaction.

They lack the animation that comes from a belief that what you are doing is unique and valuable.

In mass communications, which demands spontaneity and imagination, they show little originality and barely a hint of daring. This comes through when they acknowledge, condescendingly, that they are appealing to the young. The melancholy results usually appear to be the work of 30-year-olds instructed by 45-year-olds on how to appeal to 20-year-olds.

Broadcasters who came to the CBC with dreams of making great programs instead find themselves conscripted into a nightmare of sclerotic bureaucracy in which everything matters more than broadcasting. What counts most is the endless, baffling shuffle of titles and responsibilities, a byzantine turf warfare.

To work at the CBC is to live in a world of memos, usually concocted by bosses whose insecurity dictates that they write in incomprehensible gibberish. Memos explain that the bosses want to "Ensure that all managers have development plans based on leadership competencies according to identified timelines," which are "part of ongoing efforts to better align resources and workflow with evolving needs." (I've lifted two sentences from two different --but both actual--CBC memos.) The tone is deadening, joyless, self-defeating.

We can see the results on The National, the news flagship of CBC television, an emblem of all that's wrong. The journalists delivering the news are afflicted with an emotional flatness that seems to be built into the regulations. Feeling has been so carefully banished that every story is delivered in the same tone, right down to the sing-song ending. Journalists manage a thin smile when there's an item intended to be amusing and pull a long face when describing death. That's their emotional range, A to B. They apparently imitate the sternest and dullest of the U. S. network journalists. They look as if they're terrified that something bad will happen -- not in the news, but to them.

Richard Stursberg, the vice-president of English-language services, knows the CBC culture has to change and hopes to lead the revival. Despite his curious habit of declaring programming triumphs that nobody else has noticed, he's emerged as an average executive with average plans whose results will be average, if that. The only hope of those dreaming about a resurrected CBC is that there are fresh and largely unknown talents sprouting inside the corporation and that their up-from-below pressure will eventually work serious changes. No one else is going to do it.

Next, Ms. Layfield:

What Canada wants

Kirstine Layfield, National Post Published: Saturday, March 21, 2009

People say the CBC is chasing eyeballs. Personally, I have never met an eyeball. I have met Canadians from across our great country who have eyes -- and ears and hearts and minds. They have a thirst to understand their world from a Canadian perspective and a desire to hear their own stories and music. This is the audience of the CBC.

Lately, there has been much debate concerning the CBC. Many politicians have suggested that the CBC should focus on "service," not "ratings." Yet of all people, politicians should know only too well that being a public service requires the support of the public. The public needs to be engaged, its needs and desires need to be understood and acted upon. Its support and approval needs to be earned. In the case of politicians, the public votes to give them a mandate.

In media terms, a public broadcaster needs to have the input, support and the "vote" of its public audience to know that it is on track and providing a valued service. Success for a public broadcaster must be measured by the extent to which the public supports and endorses its programs.

The BBC understands this.

The BBC is fully supported by U. K. taxpayers. It is in the envied position of requiring no advertising dollars to pay for the service. BBC Television, widely regarded as the best public television service in the world, makes provocative documentaries, thoughtful dramas, engaging comedies and is renowned for its news coverage. But that's not all: Last week, it ran the Hollywood film Meet the Parents. It airs U. S. series -- Damages, The Wire and Family Guy -- back to back. On weekends, it runs Formula One racing and professional sports such as football.

The BBC is not chasing "eyeballs for advertisers." Rather, it is in service of its public, providing a wide breadth of programming.

And its content looks similar to what the CBC has been broadcasting these past few years. We too respond to our Canadian public with a variety of great content -- a range of genres from arts to quiz shows, the classics to popular music, a vast majority proudly homegrown and broadcast across multi-platform services.

The CBC is battling for ground in the ad market because if we didn't, half of our television budget would disappear. Services such as Radio 3 and commercial-free CBC radio, programming in eight aboriginal languages and commercial-free kids programming come with a cost that the government appropriation does not entirely cover at a price of $34 per Canadian. And it can't be imagined in these economic times that our government funding would, or even should, increase.

So the CBC competes with private broadcasters. But what is a private broadcaster in Canada anyway?

Nordicity, an independent firm specializing in broadcasting, valued the federal regulations that provide private broadcasters with the right to substitute U. S. content at between $270-million and $330-million. Other provincial and federal government subsidies such as tax credits and the Canadian Television Fund add another $165-million in cash support to the privates. Canada, in short, has a heavily subsidized media industry in which private companies compete for public money, and the CBC, in turn, competes for advertising dollars.

And by all measures, the CBC is working, engaging more radio listeners than ever. We are producing the most Canadian content -- indeed, our spending on Canadian programs is more than all the privates combined. Our television shows are watched by 30% more Canadians than just three years ago. In fact, for the first time in our history an overwhelmingly Canadian prime-time schedule of homegrown dramas, comedies, documentaries, current affairs and sports has drawn more Canadian viewers than the overwhelmingly U. S. schedules of the privates. is the number one news and information Web site in Canada.

A young man named Amaar remarked that when watching CBC's Little Mosque on the Prairie, for the first time he heard his name describe a character who was not a terrorist. Family viewers gather to watch Heartland from Calgary. Viewers watch 50-year legacy Hockey Night in Canada and yell at Ron and Don in English -- and in Punjabi. People hear more variety of Canadian music on Radio 2 than they ever had access to before.

People are talking about the CBC. Canadians are watching and listening to the CBC. And for the CBC, that is the vote that counts most of all.

Aside from the irritating rah-rah tone of the column, I find a couple of factual points to dispute. The first is the statement:

"Nordicity, an independent firm specializing in broadcasting, valued the federal regulations that provide private broadcasters with the right to substitute U. S. content at between $270-million and $330-million. Other provincial and federal government subsidies such as tax credits and the Canadian Television Fund add another $165-million in cash support to the privates. Canada, in short, has a heavily subsidized media industry in which private companies compete for public money, and the CBC, in turn, competes for advertising dollars."

The right of private broadcasters to substitute U.S. content may indeed be worth $270 - $330 million, but of course this is not cash in the hand for the private broadcaster. So no public subsidy here.

Secondly, tax credits have value only in so far as income is earned - once again, it is not cash in the hand paid out by the government to the public broadcaster. So, once again, no public subsidy.

Indeed, the Canadian Television Fund may provide cash to the private broadcaster, but I have no information on the extent of this funding or what percentage of the $165 million it constitutes. I'll leave that as an exercise for the interested reader to pursue.

Another point I object to is this:

"And by all measures, the CBC is working, engaging more radio listeners than ever."

Well, perhaps for CBC Radio One, but CBC Radio Two has been a dismal failure, losing listeners in all of the major Canadian cities surveyed by the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement. Why not address this point as well.

And finally, I find these statements laughable:

"Lately, there has been much debate concerning the CBC. Many politicians have suggested that the CBC should focus on "service," not "ratings." Yet of all people, politicians should know only too well that being a public service requires the support of the public. The public needs to be engaged, its needs and desires need to be understood and acted upon. Its support and approval needs to be earned. In the case of politicians, the public votes to give them a mandate.

In media terms, a public broadcaster needs to have the input, support and the "vote" of its public audience to know that it is on track and providing a valued service. Success for a public broadcaster must be measured by the extent to which the public supports and endorses its programs.

The BBC understands this."

Well, clearly, the CBC doesn't. How do you account for the protests that have been taking place for the past two years over the changes in CBC Radio Two? Are these protests not an example of the "input" and "vote" of its audience?

The CBC must be able to face up to reality if it's to be successful, and Ms. Layfield's column is an indication that the CBC will continue to delude itself into believing that it has the support of Canadians.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Advertising on CBC Radio Two? Why not?

The following letter appeared in today's "Letters to the Editor" section of the Globe and Mail:

Tuned in, tuned out


March 21, 2009

St. John's -- It is difficult to understand why CBC president Hubert Lacroix is so eager to keep assuring us there will be no advertising on radio (CBC Plan To Freeze Executive Salaries, Cut Bonuses Gets Poor Reception - March 20). He might as well introduce advertising on Radio 2; it goes with the kind of wishy-washy pop music that has replaced the CBC's unique and culturally distinct classical music and jazz programming.

The new listeners Mr. Lacroix is trying to attract would most likely not object to having the programming spiced up with advertising.

Advertising would have the additional advantage of funding bonus payments to reward CBC executives for having successfully gotten rid of an old community of loyal listeners and dedicated supporters.

Well said, Mr. Bassler!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The CBC: Who cares?

I noticed several articles about the CBC in the National Post and Globe and Mail over the last several days. On Saturday, the National Post carried the article "CBC tunes in to a new reality". Also on Saturday, Jeffrey Simpson's column in the Globe and Mail, entitled "A beleaguered CBC should ask itself: Who cares?". And today, in the Globe and Mail, there was an article about the cancellation of a meeting between the Heritage Minister, James Moore, and the CBC's board of directors.

Now, I'm not sure what prompted this sudden spate of articles on the CBC - I was out of the country for two weeks, so may have missed something - but is seems to have been prompted by the fact that the CBC recently requested an advance on its annual public funding to compensate for falling advertising revenues and the fact that this request was turned down by the Minister of Heritage, Mr. Moore.

Also, it appears that there is some controversy over the decision by the CBC to run more U.S. programming in the evening television schedule, in the hope of attracting a larger audience share and thereby boost advertising revenues. Mr. Moore is quoted in today's Globe and Mail article as having said the following on Tout le Monde en Parle:

"The reason that taxpayers provide a subsidy to the CBC is to give each Canadian, in every part of the country and in both official languages, the opportunity to see [Canadian] news, stories and dramas. Frankly, I can tell you I don't like it when I see the CBC cancelling Canadian content, and we see Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune."

Well said, Mr. Moore.

There are several points raised in the articles mentioned above that I could elaborate upon, but since this blog is primarily concerned with CBC Radio Two (or "CBC Radio 2" as the CBC insists on calling it) I'll focus on Mr. Simpson's column.

I found Mr. Simpson's column so insightful that I've copied it below. Have a look.

A beleaguered CBC should ask itself: Who cares?

Jeffrey Simpson

March 14, 2009

Heritage Minister James Moore rejected more funding for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. this week. Nothing new in that.

Governments have been saying no to CBC for decades. Why?

This government said no in the context of a stimulus budget that showers money everywhere. The few groups that were ignored - academic and medical researchers, for example - complained. Their complaints echoed in the media and in Parliament.

CBC, by contrast, really didn't complain. It just asked quietly for an advance on next year's allocation, according to news reports. In the meantime, the corporation's board will meet Monday to ponder the impact of declining advertising revenue.

The public broadcaster's ongoing dilemma is clear and painful, its response clear and counterproductive.

CBC's public allocations have been declining for years. Per-capita public funding is about a quarter that of public broadcasters in Britain and Germany and less than half that in France. Only New Zealand supports its state-financed public broadcaster less, according to a study by the Nordicity Group, a consulting firm specializing in broadcasting.

CBC executives argue that between 1995 and 2004, CBC received 9 per cent less government funding, while public money for the arts in general rose by 39 per cent. Said CBC president Hubert Lacroix earlier this year, "the last permanent increase in our basic funding goes back to 1973."

Seven years ago, the government gave CBC a discretionary, yearly sum of $60-million for Canadian programming. The Commons heritage committee recommended a per-capita increase to $40 from $33 in CBC's appropriations, instead of the yearly, discretionary sum. The government ignored the committee.

Presidents, chairpersons and CBC union leaders have exhausted themselves pleading CBC's case to governments of both political stripes over many years - to very little, if any, avail.

After Ottawa climbed out of deficit in the mid-1990s, almost every public policy and institution received more money, except CBC, including under the supposedly tight-fisted Harperites. So a shortage of public money cannot explain CBC's woes.

CBC's defensive answer, given privately of course, is that governments always hate the broadcaster because they don't like its news coverage and think that they can penalize it because CBC is a public agency.

A sliver of truth resides in that observation, but that sliver does not explain why other countries' public broadcasters get more. Nor can the explanation be solely that the Harperites have a special grudge against CBC, as they do, because CBC didn't get much from the Liberals either.

Much more plausible by way of explanation is that in the age of media proliferation, CBC is not nearly distinctive enough, so that increasingly people ask: Who cares? The sound that greets CBC's fate has been resounding silence, including from those whom you might expect to defend it.

Listen to NDP Leader Jack Layton, who likes all things public and has seldom seen a cause for which more public money was not needed.
Said he of more money for CBC: "We'll have to look at any request that comes forward very carefully." In other words, even Mr. Layton isn't willing to go to bat for CBC.

Think of Dean Acheson's memorable quip that "Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role" and apply it to CBC. It has disillusioned core audiences but not found others that really care.
CBC's answer to funding problems has been massive popularization in the search for audience maximization. A deep disdain for intellectualism pervades both English-language television and radio - or what CBC executive Richard Stursberg, quoting a British government white paper, called "worthy" programming.

The result is an ersatz, albeit Canadianized, private broadcaster calling itself a public one. A tiny handful of CBC board members sharply disagree with this direction, but they have been beaten down. The entire management of English CBC believes in the strategic direction and defends it vigorously.

Management changed Radio 2 into an ersatz private network (minus commercials), but has not (as yet) increased audience share. What CBC achieved was to alienate a chunk of its core audience - the one that really cared about CBC - and replace it with another that is only indifferently attached to CBC because so much of the programming is available elsewhere.

The same phenomenon besets television. The Hour, for example, could just as easily be on MuchMusic or CTV. Political commentary apes that of private television, with discussions revolving not around substance but who is winning, what are the political calculations, who is up and who is down - questions that for most viewers evoke the response: Who cares?

As long, therefore, as CBC pursues this strategic direction, it will have the worst of all worlds in the search for public money. It will have alienated core audiences who might have cared enough to fight, and exchanged them for audiences for whom CBC is just one choice among many, and therefore not worth getting excited about.

Mr. Simpson has captured the very essence of what is wrong with the CBC. In attempting to popularize CBC radio in an attempt to capture a larger audience, the CBC has alienated its core audience and ensured that it will become even more difficult for it to convince the government (and taxpayers) to fund it.

Imagine what would have happened in March 2007 if CBC management had issued an appeal to its listeners, telling its loyal audience that it required more funding to maintain its current programming. Imagine if the CBC had put it as bluntly as this: if we don't get more funding from the government, we'll be forced to cancel classical programming on CBC Radio Two, start importing game show programming from the U.S. for evening television broadcasts and will not renew our licensing agreement for the Hockey Night in Canada theme song.

What would have been the result? Why, Canadians would have been up in arms! Letters would have been written to the editors of the national newspapers, to Members of Parliament, to the Minister of Heritage in support of the CBC, demanding increased funding for the CBC! Loyal Radio Two listeners would have donated money to the CBC in response to PBS-style campaigns for donations! There might have even been people marching in the streets in support of increased funding for the CBC!

Well, if you've been reading this blog or paying attention to recent events, you know what happened. Instead, CBC management tried to implement their programming changes without explaining what their overall plans were and without prior announcements making it clear to listeners what was happening until it was too late. First came the March 2007 programming changes. Then - as best I can recall - further changes in the autumn of 2007, finally culminating in the destruction of the CBC Radio Two programming in September 2008.

What was the result? Of course, letters were written to MPs, to the Minister of Heritage, to the newspapers. People started blogs (such as this one) in protest. People marched in the street in protest. But they were not marching in support of the CBC. No, they were writing letters and protesting against the CBC. So the CBC lost one of its most valuable assets in any fight with the government - the support of its listeners, who also happen to be taxpayers and, more importantly, voters.

So Mr. Simpson is correct. Who cares about funding for the CBC now?

Well, I for one care. In fact, I care quite a bit. I resent the fact that I am funding a public corporation with my tax dollars that does not care one whit for my opinion and that seems determined to run itself into oblivion.

The National Post article states that the CBC funding is currently $34.00 per capita. Note that that is not $34.00 per taxpayer, but $34.00 for every man, woman and child currently living in Canada. If you're a taxpayer, how much are you contributing to the CBC?

Just as a quick check on the figures, we can take the 2008 budget for the CBC as $1,115,424,000 and the population of Canada as 33,212,696 (as of July 2008). The per capita funding thus works out as $33.58. So the figure of $34.00 per capita seems to be correct.

However, if we take the labour force participation in Canada (18,245,100) during 2008 as a proxy for the number of taxpayers, then the CBC funding per taxpayer works out as $61.14. (Yes, I know that this does not include retirees and others who are not in the labour force who also pay taxes, but as I said, I'm using the labour force participation rate as a proxy for the number of taxpayers in Canada. If you have a figure for the number of taxpayers in Canada, you can do the calculation yourself and figure out how much each taxpayer is paying.) So you, if you are paying taxes in Canada, paid (on average) approximately $61.14 for the CBC in 2008.

Well, I for one would like my money back.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

WiFi Radio: The Death of Broadcasting, Part II

The following article appeared in this morning's National Post. It uses the term "WiFi radio" to refer to the "internet radio" that I used in my blog on the "The death of broadcast radio":

Radio in tune for digital revolution: Deloitte

'It's The Future'

Grant Surridge, Financial Post Published: Wednesday, January 21, 2009

While the vast majority of radio listeners in Canada still tune in to old-fashioned analogue signals, some observers say the medium may finally be on the verge of a digital revolution. And radios that connect to the Internet will push such change forward.

"Radio is really the last medium to go from analogue to digital," John Ruffolo, Deloitte's senior technology leader, said yesterday.
The accounting firm predicted the widespread adoption of so-called WiFi radios as part of an annual list of predictions for media and technology trends.

The devices in question look like normal radios, with digital displays, speakers and tuning knobs. But they pick up thousands upon thousands of Internet radio stations from around the world free of charge.

"It's the future of radio," said Alex Bowden, a salesman at Bay and Bloor Radio in downtown Toronto. He said the store has seen an uptick in sales of the devices, especially over Christmas, as prices have gone down.

The cheapest units retail for about $200. They connect to the Internet on their own or through an existing wireless router.

Analogue radio has stood down the advent of television, satellite radio and various digital incarnations. But Mr. Ruffolo contends WiFi devices will present a solution to consumers who are unwilling to pay for satellite radio, but tired of a limited selection of analogue signals.

Jacques Parisien heads the radio business at Astral Media Inc., the country's largest radio broadcaster.

He said WiFi radios present an opportunity for broadcasters to expand their analogue audience.

However, for the time being, Astral remains focused on analogue radio, where the vast majority of advertising and listeners are still situated.

In the first three quarters of last year, the U. S. Radio Advertising Bureau said online ad revenues accounted for about 9% of total radio income.

Mr. Parisien said that figure is likely even smaller in Canada.
David Bray, a radio industry analyst based in Toronto, called the idea that WiFi radios would herald a widespread shift in the way people listen to radio "wildly improbable."

He said he expects that there will eventually be a digital shift in the radio business, but it is far too early to tell if consumers will spend several hundred dollars to buy new radios.

He said that where there is no WiFi coverage -- such as outside of large cities -- such portable devices would be useless. "You're limiting yourself to urban locations where WiFi coverage is in place," he said.

According to data from the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission, about two-thirds of Canadian households subscribe to high-speed Internet connections.

There are still issues to be resolved over tariffs broadcasters must pay to musicians to compensate them for playing their music over the Internet, Mr. Bray said.

The challenge for radio broadcasters who want to compete in a cyber universe filled with thousands of stations will be to organize themselves so that consumers can find them.

"They'll have to be categorized in an easily searchable format. Absolutely," he said.

Of course, I fully agree with Mr. John Ruffalo, the Deloitte analyst who wrote the report and predicts that WiFi radio will replace today's analogue radios. Although the cost of WiFi radio is relatively expensive when compared to analogue radios, the cost will come down as production ramps up. Remember when LCD TVs cost over $4,000? The same TV can now be purchased for less than $1,000.

Mr. David Bray missed the point entirely, however, when he states that WiFi (or Internet) radios will be useless in areas outside the Metropolitan regions where WiFi coverage is not available. WiFi radios will, I expect, be only used in conjunction with WiFi transmission from your own in-house wireless router, not with commercial WiFi services. And, although the penetration of wireless routers may not be that high yet, I expect that soon every household that has broadband internet will soon have a wireless router in the home. When every child in the house, not to mention adult, has their own laptop, it will become impractical to connect to the internet through wires - hence the widespread deployment of wireless, and wireless routers. WiFi radio will just ride this trend.

The other point not mentioned in the article, and the point that I was trying to make in my previous blog entry, was that WiFi radio (or internet radio, as I called it) will mean the death of broadcasting. A broadcast radio station could not, for example, play U2 exclusively since the audience within broadcast range would be too limited, and the resulting advertising revenue too small. However, if you can reach U2 fans world-wide, then you can tailor your advertising to that segment of the population which are also U2 fans, and who are in the target market segment for your product. This is, of course, the dream for every advertiser. So, with the emergence of WiFi radio, I expect that radio stations will move to the internet, expand their reach, narrow their focus and consequently be able to target their advertising more precisely. Thus the advent of narrowcasting, as opposed to broadcasting.

What has this to do with CBC Radio Two? Well, as you can see, CBC Radio Two has moved in precisely the opposite direction - becoming a 'broader' broadcaster, attempting to reach an even wider audience with its mish-mash of every conceivable musical genre available in Canada, in the end satisfying no one. CBC Radio Two is not evolving, rather, it is accelerating its own devolution into a dinosaur.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Articles from the "Audio Ideas Guide" Web Site

A reader of this blog was kind enough to bring my attention to some articles on the "Audio Ideas Guide" web site.

The first, "The Noo Radio Tiew, Amateur Radio Paid for by You", begins with the following letter to the editor from the Globe and Mail:

"When I was growing up, bodily functions were discreetly referred to as number 1 and number 2. In this vein, the new programming for CBC Radio 2 is definitely number 2.

Sandra Levy, Victoria"

Hah! That made my day. And it's still early in the day.

Other articles on the Audio Ideas Guide web site on the topic of CBC Radio Two are "Wrecking Radio 2: The Sequel & Growing Opposition" and "CBC Radio Two: Intelligent Music Selection becomes a Sausage Factory". Have a look. They're well-written, informative and funny to boot.

Friday, January 16, 2009

ABC - Australia Beats Canada? Anything but CBC?

No, ABC is "Australian Broadcasting Corporation". Similar to our CBC in Canada.

It has now been just over two weeks since I began listening to internet radio and I’ve quickly developed some preferences for the radio stations that I listen to.

I initially saved Ottava (Japan), Bayern 4 Klassik (Germany), RNE Radio Clasica (Spain), Radio Classique (France), Radio Stephansdom (Austria), Sveriges Radio (Sweden) and Radio New Zealand Concert FM into my list of favourites. But it is ABC Classical FM (from Australia) that has become my everyday, all day station.

Why? Well, first of all, it’s due to the selections that are featured on ABC Classical FM. Selections are played, for the most part, in their entirety. And it is not the “Top 40” classical format that you may hear, for example, on Classical FM in Toronto.

There’s also something enjoyable about hearing news from Australia. While you still hear the world news, you also get the local news stories from Australia that can be an interesting change, compared to the mundane local news available in Canada. And it’s refreshing to know, for example, that the high temperature will be 39 celsius in Alice Springs today, when it’s -30 degrees celsius in Ottawa.

The format of ABC Classical FM reminds me of CBC Radio Two, before the CBC’s disastrous attempts at restructuring CBC Radio Two. I became curious – just how successful is ABC Classical FM in Australia? To answer this question, I took a look at the AC Nielsen radio surveys in Australia.

There are some differences between the surveys done in Australia and the ones done by the BBM in Canada. For a start, there are eight surveys done each year in Australia compared to four in Canada. In Australia, both regions and major metropolitan areas are surveyed, whereas only major metropolitan areas are surveyed by the BBM.

So, I decided to compare the market share of ABC Classical FM in Sydney (population 4.2M) with that of CBC Radio Two in Toronto (population of the GTA 4.8M). I could have done similar comparisons between Canberra and Ottawa, perhaps, and Melbourne and Montreal, Brisbane and Vancouver, but I have only a limited amount of time that I can devote to this blog. So I only compared Toronto and Sydney.

Not surprisingly, both ABC Classical FM and CBC Radio Two had a similar market share in the S8 2005 (S4 2005 for Canada) survey – 2.2%. But, as you can see from the graph below, the trend for CBC Radio Two in Toronto has been declining, while the trend for ABC Classical FM in Sydney has been increasing.

What’s wrong with those aussies? Don’t they know that classical music is dead? Don’t they know that they have to represent all musical genres in Australia, to showcase music performed by Australian musicians? Don’t they know that their role, as a public broadcaster, is not to feature music that will not normally be programmed by commercial radio stations and that will enlighten and educate their listeners, but is instead to try to appeal to the widest possible audience by featuring a mish-mash of genres spread out over various times of the day?

Apparently they don’t – and thank God for that.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

CBC Radio Two: for the Geography-challenged.

From the Letters to the Editor section of the Globe and Mail, Tuesday, Jan. 6 2009:

Tune in to geography?


January 6, 2009

Ottawa -- So CBC Radio 2 has a scheme to send 49 songs from above the 49th parallel to Barack Obama to make him more aware of Canada (Naming Those Tunes That Define Canada - Review, Dec. 30).

Mr. Obama probably knows this, but it appears the CBC does not: Most Canadians live south of the 49th parallel; music that originated in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Moncton, Halifax, St. John's or anywhere in PEI wouldn't qualify. Even places like Sault St. Marie, Sudbury and Chicoutimi lie south of the 49th.

The CBC management should realize that when ordinary Canadians feel compelled to ridicule their programming choices in the national newspapers, something is seriously wrong. And it's not something wrong with the ordinary Canadians.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Have we no pride? Apparently the CBC doesn't.

From the "Letters to the Editor" section of the Friday, Jan. 2 2009 Globe and Mail. Even the Americans are outraged at the CBC Radio Two restructuring, not to mention puzzled by the idiocy of CBC management in implementing these changes:

Have we no pride?


January 2, 2009

Columbia, S.C. -- Will CBC Radio 2's current tsunami of idiocy never cease (Naming Those Tunes That Define Canada - Dec. 30)? Having just heard the dazzling Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman sing in Beethoven's 9th Symphony on U.S. National Public Radio, and having recently seen the brilliant Michael Schade on the stage of New York's Metropolitan Opera House, I find myself exasperated and embarrassed by the CBC's offer to send the next American president 49 songs - and this to let Americans know about Canadian culture.

Canadians, please note: Your high art is known everywhere on Earth. Its virtual abandonment by CBC Radio is shameful and ridiculous. Forget the 49 and this silly contest, and remember the dozens of world-class performers from one sea to the other, take pride in them and bring them back to the airwaves, at least for the sake of Canadians getting to know their own artistic glory.