Saturday, January 30, 2010

CBC Radio 2 market share: the BBM "Fall" survey

Readers of this blog may ask: why does he keep this up? Why continue to track CBC Radio Two’s market share, when apparently no one gives a damn? Well, the answer to that question is this: someone has to keep track of the success or failure of the CBC’s grand experiment in their attempt to dictate their tastes to the CBC listening audience. If I don’t, who will? The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage? Members of Parliament? The Board of Directors for the CBC? You would think so, but as far as I can tell none of them are doing this. So it’s up to me, as Don Newman used to say, to “keep them honest”.

You may recall from past analyses (S3 2009, S1 2009, S3 2008) that 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, with the latest quarter’s market share (the “Fall Survey”, as measured by the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement). The CBC initiated the CBC Radio 2 programming restructuring in March 207 to make CBC Radio 2 “more relevant to Canadians”. One would assume, therefore, that market share is the primary means to determine whether CBC Radio 2 is “more relevant to Canadians”, correct? After all, if fewer people are listening to CBC Radio 2 then, by definition, it must be less relevant to Canadians.

If you have been following these analyses you may have noted a consistent trend. While the total radio audience in the markets tracked by the BBM has been flat or increasing, CBC Radio 2’s market share has fallen. The latest quarter is no exception. While the total radio listening audience has decreased by 3.2% in those markets surveyed by the BBM since S1 2007, CBC Radio 2’s audience has declined by a whopping 38.4% since S1 2007! The following chart tells the tale:

It should be noted that the latest quarter’s results include a change in survey methodology by the BBM. In the past, the BBM relied on listeners to maintain a diary to record the stations that they listened to during the survey period. The BBM has now introduced the PPM (“Portable People Meter”) to record audience listening habits. The PPM does not rely on the survey respondent to record what they are listening to; instead, it automatically records the stations that the respondent is listening to.

Recent news reports (National Post, Dec. 17 2009) have highlighted the differences observed between the diary survey data and the PPM data. Some have suggested that respondents were previously fudging their diary reports, either intentionally or unintentionally, to appear more sophisticated. So, instead of saying they were listening to “CDUD, Classic Rock from the 70’s 80’s, 90’s and today”, they may have been saying that they were listening to “COOL, Cool Jazz for the Urban Über Hipster”. Or they may simply have unintentionally been over or under-stating their listening habits. Whatever the reason, there are some glaring differences between CBC Radio 2’s audience numbers for S3 2007, the last survey to used diary data (with the exception of Montreal, which has been using PPM data in all recent surveys) and the Fall 2009 survey, where PPM data is used for Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton for the first time. It should also be noted that the drastic decline in CBC Radio 2 listenership was also observed for the Montreal market when the Montreal survey changed from diary data to PPM data, so we can only assume that the PPM data from those markets which are now using PPM measurements is correct.

What, then, does this tell us? It seems to indicate that the CBC’s experiment with CBC Radio 2 has been a big, fat, resounding failure. Why does no one seem to care about this? Have CBC managers been denied their bonuses for this year because of this abject failure? Did their managers note in their performance review that they completely misread the market and should try to improve their performance in this area? Has anyone been reprimanded for destroying a much-loved Canadian institution, that being CBC Radio 2?
And what have the CBC Board of Directors been doing all this time with respect to overseeing the operations of the CBC? What oversight of the CBC has the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage provided? What have our Members of Parliament been doing? As far as I can tell, no one has been paying attention, with the exception of those former listeners to CBC Radio 2 who have given up on CBC radio in disgust. I may be wrong and I wish someone would tell me that I am. But as far as I can tell, no one seems to give a flying hoot.

Friday, January 15, 2010

CBC Radio 2 Overhaul - more cheerleading from the desperate

The following article appeared in the January 11 edition of the National Post. You can read the article on the National Post’s web site here. I’ve also copied the text below in case the link to this article is ever broken, as often happens in the world of the internet.

CBC Radio 2: The mix fix

16 months after CBC’s overhaul of Radio 2, it’s like the all-classical version never existed — in a good way

T’cha Dunlevy, Canwest News Service
Published: Monday, January 11, 2010

"Hi, I'm Laurie Brown. Welcome to The Signal." These are a few of my favourite words. And I can hear them six nights out of seven on what just might be the best show on Canadian radio.

It's The Signal, like the lady said, on CBC Radio 2. Therein, Brown presents an array of evocative sounds, from the simply pretty to the esoteric and experimental, all with a fluidity and grace that can take you to unexpected places.

Much like Radio 2 these days. The dust has settled following the station's controversial makeover 16 months back, when it completed the transformation from an almost all-classical format to more varied programming featuring everything from indie-rock to folk, jazz, world and pop, with a little classical thrown in for good measure. The overarching emphasis is on Canadian content.

Brown arrived in 2007, at the early end of the change process. A veteran arts reporter for CBC-TV, it was her first foray into radio.

"I came to CBC and said I wanted to be able to do a music show that was capable of playing any kind of music, that was all about new music and about discovery," she says.

To her great surprise, her words fell on open ears: "For the first time in my entire career, CBC management was totally in sync," she said. "I hit the magic word: 'discovery.' I can't tell you how refreshing that was."

Another key player in Radio 2's overhaul is Rich Terfry, host of the station's recently expanded afternoon Radio 2 Drive. Also known as acclaimed rapper Buck 65, Terfry took over from revered DiscDrive host Jurgen Gothe in September 2008, replacing the classical symphonies of yore with a more youthful playlist.

He has been settling into his "first real job" ever since, weathering the initial storm of protest by keeping his head down, and emerging with one of Radio 2's most popular shows in the process.

"I don't look at emails," he said, reached at his Toronto home last week. "But I do get a sense of the people in the country, all over the country. After a while, you feel like you're beginning to develop a relationship with the whole country."

That's music to the ears of CBC programming director Chris Boyce, who sees Radio 2's metamorphosis as an opportunity to redefine the station's relationship with Canadians.

"We went into this with the theory that there is an amazing range of music being made in Canada," he said, "and very little of it is being heard by Canadians over the airwaves. We've been able to broaden the range of music being played on the station, being played on radio. It's been fantastically successful, if that's the measure."

It's not, or not the only one. Ratings matter, too, and Radio 2's are more or less on par with what they were before the change. The station reaches just over one million Canadians per week -- which is down 10% with a 2.7 share of the national market compared to its previous 3%.

So almost the same number, if not the same people, are tuning in. The average age of your typical Radio 2 listener before the facelift was a golden 65. It's now a sprightly 52.

"It's getting more evenly distributed," Boyce said. "To me, changing our audience is as important as increasing it. Is it about chasing younger listeners? No, we're a public broadcaster -- it's about serving all Canadians."

One of Radio 2's biggest coups has been its newfound support of Canadian independent music. A recent edition of Radio 2 Drive featured songs by Sarah Slean, Sarah Harmer, Chantal Kreviazuk, Native pop singer Elisapie Isaac, Sam Roberts, Joel Plaskett, K'naan, Stars, Feist, as well as established Canadian and international acts including Kate Bush, Wilco, Bob Dylan, Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Police and Drive hero Neil Young, who gets a daily tribute.

"Speaking not so much for myself but for Radio 2," Terfry said, "and listening to what management has to say, they want the show to be [one where] if people really want to know what's going on in Canadian music, what's up-and-coming, who are the artists making an impact, listen to this show and you'll know.

"The problem with that, the challenge from the beginning, is to get people to care about Canadian music. The average person doesn't."
The average person hasn't had much of an opportunity to care. Spin your way across the radio dial and you'll find station after station playing a mind-numbing loop of chart-topping pop, most of it from south of the border.

So for our national station to be presenting a homegrown alternative is a sort of quiet revolution. There has been resistance to Radio 2's makeover, from both the media and hardcore classical fans.

The latter can still hear their music during the daytime and on weekends, it should be noted, and all the time online on the first of Radio 2's four specialty channels: classical, jazz, Canadian songwriters and Canadian composers.

What's harder to hear is the emerging dialogue of a country coming to terms with its multi-textured musical identity. From Bob Mackowycz (weekdays) and jazz singer Molly Johnson's (weekends) eclectic Radio 2 Morning show to mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah's Tempo, Tom Allen's genre-spanning ( "from Bach to Bachman, Haydn to the Hip") early afternoon Shift, Andrew Craig's Canada Live and Katie Malloch's jazz show Tonic in the evening, there is lots to listen to.

Weekend offerings include Newfoundland musician Tom Power's Deep Roots, Bill Richardson's Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, Randy Bachman's Vinyl Tap and the ever-gregarious George Stroumboulopoulos's new Strombo Show on Sunday nights.

It's a lot to fit into a week without coming off like an allover-the-place college station. The trick is to have it all make sense, and create a flow from one show to the next.


General manager and executive director of CBC Radio's English services Denise Donlon has come a long way from co-hosting CityTV's The New Music with Laurie Brown in the late '80s. She became MuchMusic's VP and general manager in 1997 before becoming president of Sony Music Canada from 2000 to 2004. She arrived at CBC in September 2008, just after Radio 2's transformation:
Her opinion "I agree with the changes. [Radio 2] was really a service that was very niche before -- which is great for commercial radio, but as a public broadcaster, it meant so much Canadian music had no other area for exposure."

On the naysayers "You can't make everyone happy. ...We're trying to please not only our audience, but the Canadian cultural community, independent artists, major label artists, the classical community. We're serving many masters to celebrate the best of Canadian music."

On the bright side "There's a real depth of conversation and richness of programming; any other station would be racing to commercials, while we're talking about all kinds of things."

The most remarkable statement from the article is this:

Ratings matter, too, and Radio 2's are more or less on par with what they were before the change. The station reaches just over one million Canadians per week -- which is down 10% with a 2.7 share of the national market compared to its previous 3%.

As I pointed out in my letter to the National Post, it should be remembered that the goal of the CBC’s restructuring of CBC Radio 2 was to make Radio 2 more “relevant” to Canadians. Presumably, one measure of relevance is the number of Canadians listening to Radio 2. After all, how can Radio 2 be relevant to Canadians if no one is listening?

Yet, as T’Cha Dunlevy states in the news report, CBC Radio 2’s audience share has fallen 10% (according to his/her figures) since this grand experiment was initiated. In fact, recent BBM results indicate a more alarming loss of market share of approximately 38.4% in the major markets surveyed by the BBM. See my next blog entry to follow. For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume a loss of market share of 10%.

In a public corporation, any corporate initiative which resulted in a loss of market share of 10% would result in those responsible for the intiative being sacked, or at least being given other responsibilities where they can do less damage. Has this happened at the CBC? Apparently not – management at the CBC is too busy patting themselves on the back at the so-called success of the Radio 2 experiment. Meanwhile, formerly loyal CBC Radio 2 listeners have abandoned CBC Radio 2 for other media which are more to their liking, such as satellite radio or Wi-Fi radio.

Please, tell me again – how is this good for CBC Radio?