Sunday, November 28, 2010

How have you adapted to the demise of CBC Radio 2?

How have you adapted to the demise of CBC Radio 2?

For many long-time listeners CBC Radio 2 was an integral part of their lives. When a part of your life is taken away from you, you have to adapt. Generally, you find a substitute for what has been taken away. If Coke is not available, you drink Pepsi. If Pepsi is not available, you might drink a no-name Cola. There are usually substitutes for most products or services.

Not so for Classical music radio stations. In the case of classical radio, CBC Radio 2 was the only game in town in most Canadian cities. I wrote one of my early blog entries on this subject on May 4 2007. What do you do without a source of classical music? Some readers suggested playing CDs. Others suggested listening to your iPod. I discovered other radio stations in the Ottawa/Gatineau area but I eventually found each of these wanting.

I soon discovered the pleasures of Sirius Satellite radio and wrote about it in a blog entry on Nov. 24 2008. It took some time, but I eventually developed my Sirius Satellite radio installation to be an acceptable substitute for CBC Radio 2, with the help of a roof-top satellite antenna and a radio repeater installed in the attic. I eventually grew my Sirius Satellite radio installation to three radios: one for the bedroom, one for the kitchen and one roving unit for car. It’s true that you could use a single unit for all three purposes, but I prefer leaving the house units where they are. I’m sure Sirius is happy with this arrangement too.

Even though I was very satisfied with Sirius Satellite radio, I found another source of Classical music: WiFi internet radio. While some may think of internet radio as listening to music streamed over the internet on your PC, in this case “WiFi internet radio” refers to a device which is dedicated to receiving internet streamed music over your home WiFi router. It looks just like an AM/FM radio, except that it connects to the internet and can receive any radio station worldwide which streams its programming over the internet. The internet radio also has an FM tuner and can play MP3 files, but I use it for internet radio only.

I soon had some favourite stations, which I described in a post on Jan. 16 2009. Ottava from Japan, Radio Stephensdom from Austria, Bayern 4 Klassik from Germany, Concert FM from New Zealand and ABC Classics from Australia. I must admit, I even broke my self-imposed ban on all things CBC by listening to CBC Radio Classical. I began to narrow my listening to just a few stations. Ottava was interesting at first, but I found there are long periods of spoken introduction to each piece. Unless you are a student of Japanese and are practising your verbal comprehension of Japanese, it starts to become tedious.

The same is true of Radio Stephensdom and Bayern 4 Klassik. At first I enjoyed listening to the news and trying to follow the broadcast using my extremely limited knowledge of German. But I don’t know enough to follow, and the spoken broadcasts became less interesting.

Concert FM from New Zealand and ABC Classics were interesting to listen to too. It was refreshing to hear news from the other side of the world, and to hear the weather forecasts for cities in Australia during the depths of the Canadian winter. (I learned that broadcasters in Australia will use the term “and fine” to refer to, I assume, sunny weather; for example, “The forecast for Brisbane today is 34 degrees and fine.”) I still listen to ABC Classics from time to time.

As I note above, I broke my self-imposed boycott of all things CBC Radio by listening to CBC Radio Classical. I eventually realized, however, that this is the white bread of radio broadcasting. It has no character, no context, nothing but the same top-40 classical hits streamed over the internet. It’s not radio; it’s Muzak for classical listeners. The periodic interjection of “This is so-and so and you are listening to CBC Radio 2 Classical” became annoying in the extreme. Even so, I continued to listen to CBC Radio Classical until, not surprisingly, my internet radio would no longer connect to the site. Can’t the CBC get even this right?

So what am I listening to now? When I’m in Toronto, I listen to 96.3 FM, CFMZ FM, Moses Znaimer’s classical music station. When I’m at the cottage, I listen to CFMZ. And I recently found that I can tune into CFMZ over my internet radio when I’m in Ottawa. So we listen to CFMZ.

It’s true, the announcers on CFMZ can be a bit irritating at times – I won’t name names – and the commercials can be even more annoying. But I find it comforting to hear Robert Upward’s traffic reports for Toronto, even when I’m in Ottawa and they’re of no use to me. Jean Stilwell has the sexiest voice in perhaps all of Canadian broadcasting and I would tune in to her program just to hear her read names from the telephone book. Even some of the commercials become part of the fabric of your life.

Which brings me to the point that I have been leading up to all along, in a somewhat long-winded and round-about manner: radio is all about ambience, context and connections. We listen to radio stations because we have some connection to the announcers and programming that is meaningful to us in a context that is familiar or because we have developed such a connection over time. The programming and announcers become part of our own history and the daily fabric of our lives, whether it is listening to Joe Cummings and the Arts Report and Tom Allen’s ‘Cage Match’ while you are shaving in the morning, Howard Dyck and Choral Concert while preparing breakfast on Sunday morning, Jurgen Gothe talking about the cats while you are driving home in the evening, Robert Upward reading the traffic report and telling us about the congestion on the DVP, Jean Stilwell laughing her husky laugh while you are drinking your second coffee of the morning or Danielle Charbonneau (the previous holder of the 'Sexiest Voice in Canadian Broadcasting' title) while you are drinking your pre-dinner drink. Radio is all about context, ambience and connection with your day-to-day life.

Overseas radio stations can be enjoyable but it’s much more difficult to make a connection to a foreign broadcaster or foreign country that makes the station integral to your life. CBC Radio 2 Classical is just too bland to ever make a meaningful connection. The new CBC Radio 2 is too variable, too unpredictable and too annoying to ever make that connection, at least with me. The old CBC Radio 2 had those connections but broke them forever for many listeners. This is what the management of the CBC has failed to understand and what has led them to make some disastrous decisions, in my opinion.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Latest CBC Radio 2 survey data: the "S9 2010" results

Two years have now passed since the CBC completed their restructuring of the CBC Radio 2 programming.

As you may recall, the first phase of the changes to the CBC Radio 2 programming occurred in March 2007. The last survey of the CBC Radio 2 audience listening to the “old” programming conducted by the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement was, in the BBM’s terminology, S1 2007. The most recent survey available on the BBMs web site covers the period from July 26 – October 24 2010 and includes data for Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver and is based on data compiled using the Portable People Meter, or PPM. Radio audience survey data for Winnipeg and Ottawa is based on data compiled using diary data and so is not available for this period, the last survey period for these markets covering the period March 1 – April 25 2010. I term the period from March 1 – April 25 2010 “S4 2010”, to be consistent with prior survey naming, but it should be noted that the BBM does not use this term.

Anyone interested in the success or failure of the new programming on CBC Radio 2 can therefore compare the current audience for CBC Radio 2 with the audience for the “old” Classical format. Since the goal of the restructuring of the CBC Radio 2 programming was apparently to increase the total audience, we would expect that the CBC Radio 2 audience has increased in the major markets surveyed by the BBM. At the time of the programming changes, the management of the CBC admitted that they were going to alienate many loyal listeners, but contended that they would gain additional listeners and would therefore increase the total audience for CBC Radio 2. So what actually happened?

As readers of previous entries to this blog are no doubt aware, the audience for CBC Radio 2 has plummeted. Changes in the survey methodology from diary data to the PPM data are no doubt one factor, but the decline in the CBC Radio 2 audience was evident even before the changeover to the PPM measurements. The audience has declined 41.4% in Montreal, 39.4% in Toronto, 67.1% in Vancouver, 56.3% in Calgary and 45.2% in Edmonton. This is a decline in market share of almost unheard of proportions. The charts below summarize the results for S9 2010. Note that the last survey for which full market data is available is S4 2010, which included data for Ottawa and Winnipeg.

While it is true that the total radio audience has declined in each of these markets, with the exception of Montreal English broadcasting stations, the decline in Radio 2's audience has been much more dramatic.

Many former listeners of CBC Radio 2 will not be surprised by this. You may recall that listeners protested the changes in most large Canadian cities in April 2008. There was a public outcry when the extent of the CBC’s plans were revealed to the Canadian public. Although the audience was vociferous in their condemnation of the CBC’s plans for the new programming, the CBC management proceeded with the restructuring in the face of overwhelming public opposition.

Consider how other corporations have implemented change and how they have reacted when their customers reacted negatively to such change. The most well-known example of a marketing debacle is, of course, the introduction of “New Coke” in the late eighties. For those few who may not know the story: Coke attempted to increase the market share for Coca-Cola by introducing a new formula for Coke that they dubbed “New Coke.” Their customers were outraged. New Coke sales plummeted. Coca-Cola relented and reintroduced “Coke Classic” to placate their customers, offering both “New Coke” and “Coke Classic”. Sales recovered and “New Coke” was quietly retired by an abashed Coca-Cola corporation.

Consider a more recent example. The Gap recently decided to change their logo. Their logo! Customers were outraged and protested. The Gap, having learned something during the past twenty years from other corporate missteps, quickly retreated, admitted their mistake and reinstated their old logo. Note that nothing apparently had changed with respect to the merchandise, shopping experience or pricing. The only thing that was altered was the logo! Yet the management of The Gap was quick to realize that they had made a mistake and recovered from the mistake in order to keep their customers happy.

Not so the management of the CBC. Not only did they ignore the public outcry that greeted the initial announcement of the restructuring of the CBC, but have apparently been oblivious to the declining audience of CBC Radio 2, judging by the lack of public statements to their shareholders, the taxpayers of Canada.

You can’t get away with stuff like this if you are a company operating in a competitive environment. If you’re a corporation that lives off the public purse, apparently you can.