Friday, December 16, 2011

Joy to the World, Sunday Dec. 18 on CBC Radio Two

One of the few programs on CBC Radio Two that survived the Great Purge of 2007 - 2009 is Joy to the World, the annual program of Christmas music broadcast by the European Broadcasting Union and carried by CBC Radio Two.

This year's broadcast is this Sunday, December 18. Here is the schedule for the program, copied from the CBC Radio Two site:

Joy to the World: EBU Day of Seasonal Music, December 18, 2011

9:00 HELSINKI, Finland: The Helsinki Chamber Orchestra and soprano Maria Cristina Kiehrat present a program of vocal and instrumental from the 16th and 17th centuries at the Kallio Church. Our day begins with the Kallio Church bells.

10:00 ENSCHEDE Netherlands: The Discantus Ensemble with director Brigitte Lesne present medieval Christmas music for voice and handbells at the Grote Kerk in Enschede.

11:00 RIGA Latvia: Percussionist Rihards Zalupe, sax player Oskars Petrauskis and keyboardist Raimonds Petrauskis perform a program called "Mixed Christmas" live from the studio at Latvian Radio.

12:00 REYKJAVIK Iceland: The Carmina Chamber Choir with director Arni Heimir Ingolfsson and lute player Karl Nyhlin present an Icelandic Renaissance Christmas from Langholt Church in Reykjavik.

13:00 TALLINN, Estonia: The Rondellus Early Music Ensemble present a live program of medieval music with fiddle, hurdy-gurdy, psaltery, bagpipe, lute, percussion and voice from St Nicholas Church in Tallinn.

14:00 MONTREAL Canada: The annual Sing-In from the Church of St Andrew and St Paul features musicians and audience in music for the season.

15:00 COPENHAGEN Denmark: The Danish Radio Vocal Ensemble and the Middle East Peace Orchestra led by Henrik Goldschmidt presents a program of seasonal music in Danish, Arabic, Hebrew and English at Christian's Church in Christianshaven.

16:00 PRAGUE, Czech Republic: Musica Florea and soloists will present 2 choral works by baroque composer Jan Dismas Zelenka at the historic Church of St Simon and St Jude, dating from the 1620s.

17:00 WATERFORD, Ireland:The world-acclaimed celtic DanĪ Ensemble presents a concert of Irish Christmas music at The Local pub in Dunvargan, County Waterford, Ireland.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Will Kirstine Stewart save the CBC? - Globe and Mail, July 29 2011

This article appeared in the July 29th edition of the Globe and Mail. The decline in market share for CBC Radio 2 is mentioned, almost as an aside. Clearly, radio is not that important!

Will Kirstine Stewart save the CBC?
Michael Posner
Globe and Mail Update (with correction)
Published Friday, Jul. 29, 2011 7:08PM EDT

Some years ago, a young Canadian television sales executive found herself at a trade market in Hong Kong. At an industry party, she and a colleague decided to visit a fortune teller.

The colleague, Isme Bennie, was told that she would soon confront several major transitions in her life, including moving house. The predictions all proved accurate.

And the young exec? Kirstine Layfield (now known by her maiden name Stewart) was told that she would one day become prime minister of Canada. That, needless to say, hasn't happened – yet.

What Ms. Stewart has become is executive vice-president of the CBC's English services. Arguably the most powerful job in Canadian broadcasting, it has never before been held by a woman. Not only is it the most powerful, it is, without doubt, the most daunting job. As the CBC prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary this fall, it may be approaching a historic crossroads.

“The best she can do is keep the CBC in the game,” one CBC insider says.

Ms. Stewart remains optimistic. “Everyone is engaged by the same questions,” she allows in a recent interview. “It's a big brain challenge. But there's real opportunity here, to remake the modern public broadcaster and keep it relevant.”

The eldest daughter of British immigrants to Canada, Ms. Stewart, just 42, has a degree in English literature from the University of Toronto. With her former husband, teacher Ken Layfield, she has two daughters, Brigitte and AnnaLise. After each birth, she returned to work within six weeks, while her husband took paternity leave. “I wouldn't necessarily recommend it,” she once explained, “but it was what I needed to do to keep doing what I was doing.”

The marriage effectively ended several years ago. Earlier this year, she became engaged to Zaib Shaikh, star of Little Mosque on the Prairie. She says a wedding date has not been announced – a polite way of saying she does not want to discuss her private life.
Since winning the job last year, her first order of work seems to have been housecleaning. In the past year, the heads of CBC drama (Sally Catto), sports (Scott Moore), digital (Steve Billinger) and radio (Denise Donlon) have all departed.

“What we've done is take out a layer of management,” Ms. Stewart explains. “There were multiple levels reporting to me and we wanted to flatten that out.”

Ms. Stewart's conversation tends to sound like that. Outwardly cool, if not icy, she has clearly mastered the vocabulary of modern corporatese, all those “bottom lines” that, “at the end of the day,” will allow us to “move the yardsticks.”

But Isme Bennie, who hired her as a receptionist in 1988 at Paragon Entertainment, straight out of university, cautions against any impulse to underestimate Ms. Stewart. “Kirstine started by answering our phones and left as president of distribution,” she says. “She is smart and resourceful. She takes initiative.”

At the CBC, Ms. Stewart succeeded Richard Stursberg, a brilliant Machiavellian who had been, in roughly equal measure, feared, respected and loathed.

Mr. Stursberg departed suddenly last August, after CBC president Hubert Lacroix, the public broadcaster's government-appointed and largely invisible power behind the throne, grew weary of his gamesmanship. Mr. Lacroix nurses an ambitious agenda, which is to reshape the corporation for the 21st century. Rightly or wrongly, he decided Mr. Stursberg was not the person to realize that agenda.
Enter Ms. Stewart, then head of network programming. Before joining the CBC in 2006, she had earned her spurs as a VP at Alliance Atlantis (overseeing eight channels), Hallmark Entertainment (managing a budget of $300-million (U.S.) and a staff of 750), and Trio, a now-defunct U.S. channel.

Under Mr. Stursberg, she scored largely with reality shows, although one gamble – a simulcast with ABC's The One: Making a Music Star, hosted by Mr. Stroumboulopoulos – backfired. The show was cancelled after two weeks.

Critics, among them Ian Morrison, spokesman for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, also complain that the CBC's ratings gain has been built on the back of cheap, lowbrow American imports, such as Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.

Yet the ad revenue generated by these game shows, Ms. Stewart argues, helped the CBC underwrite five other shows that yielded million-plus audiences – Battle of the Blades, Dragons' Den, Rick Mercer Report, Republic of Doyle and Heartland. As part of its effort to Canadianize its prime-time schedule, Ms. Stewart has promised to cancel the game shows next year.

As things stand, the CBC's numbers are doing well – BBM Canada surveys indicate it has vaulted past Global in prime time. “The jump in ratings was all Kirstine's doing,” a former CBC senior executive says. “She's a very smart programmer. Richard … listened to her.”

Those who monitor the CBC's often Byzantine politics think that Mr. Lacroix has followed a time-honoured tradition in cultural institutions – choosing a leader distinctly different than the one being succeeded. “Hubert did not want another Richard,” says an industry executive close to the corporation. “Kirstine is a safer pair of hands, and will dutifully and efficiently carry out the mandate.”

Howard Bernstein, a former TV producer who has worked for the CBC and other broadcasters, is highly critical of the corporation's leadership. In a recent post on his media criticism blog, he wrote, “Today, in the post-Stursberg CBC the Stursberg philosophy lives on: go light, get numbers, avoid depth and at all costs don't allow serious culture anywhere near the lineup. …”

He also writes, “Kirstine Stewart, once Stursberg's leading yes woman, is surprise, surprise carrying on as if Stursberg were still telling her what is what.”

Any suggestion that she might be “Sturs lite” makes Ms. Stewart bristle. “I'm surprised by that association,” she says. “Richard had a huge beneficial effect on the CBC, in terms of processes. But people are looking for programming leadership. That's where I come from. The future is about content.”

And in a follow-up e-mail, she adds, “The label ‘lite' is one I've seen levied too often at female execs to now let pass by without comment. … It's an awfully convenient way to put someone, in this case me … in a box. It trivializes and makes diminutive the goals I have for the CBC and for this role … I won't be a copy of anyone, lite or otherwise.”

The challenges Ms. Stewart faces are also far from trivial. In a world run amok with television choice, she must simultaneously maintain the CBC's thin market share, stay competitive in the increasingly vital digital sphere, strengthen ties to the regions, reflect the fast-changing Canadian demographic while fulfilling its triple-barrelled legislated mandate – “to inform, enlighten and entertain.”

And that's just the big picture.

Critics, such as The Globe and Mail's own John Doyle, have noted that while prime-time TV ratings have soared, the once-thriving oasis of serious arts and culture programming has become a wasteland; audiences have evaporated. In news and current affairs, which has borne a disproportionate burden of budget cuts, morale is moribund. And Radio 2's ratings have collapsed, since abandoning its largely classical music format in 2007.

Then there is Hockey Night in Canada – the CBC's most popular show (accounting for 30 per cent of its audience) and its single most powerful engine of advertising revenue. The broadcaster's contract to cover the National Hockey League expires in June, 2014. A bidding war for rights is inevitable, one the cash-strapped corporation will be hard-pressed to win, without allies.

Looming over it all is Stephen Harper's Damoclean sword. The Conservative government may act on its ideologically driven impulse to destroy public broadcasting by slashing the CBC's annual $1.1-billion appropriation. (It earns an additional $700-million from advertising and other revenue.)

Meanwhile, the corporation's fundamental dilemma remains: To the extent that the CBC must justify its federal subsidies and attract advertisers, it must be populist. But to the extent that it is populist, it risks becoming a clone of commercial broadcasters, and forfeits its signature identity as Canada's cultural lodestone.
Until she seeks political office, as her fortune teller predicted, it will be Kirstine Stewart's burden to find a balance for an organization whose own future prospects appear less auspicious.

Michael Posner is a Globe and Mail feature writer.
Editor's Note: Kirstine Stewart, executive vice-president of the CBC’s English services, has not dated George Stroumboulopoulos. The original newspaper version and an earlier online version of this article have been corrected.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Four years later, and what have we learned?

It has been over four years since the CBC implemented the first phase of the restructuring of CBC Radio Two and four years since we began this blog. What have we learned during that time?

I doubt that the CBC has learned very much from this experiment or taken the experience to heart. I’ll try to state some of the more obvious points that I believe the CBC should have learned.

First of all, listen to your customers. This is a basic point that is taught in business schools, preached by management consultants and ignored to the detriment of corporations. Bitter experience has taught most corporations – the ones that survive, at least – that a corporation ignores the opinions of its loyal customers at its own peril. I’ve referred to the example of New Coke as the classic (no pun intended) example of a company misreading the tastes of its customers. Corporations have learned this lesson many times over since then.

Not so the CBC. When the CBC Radio Two restructuring was announced there was a storm of protest. Letters were written to the newspapers, petitions written (including mine), web sites started (including this one), FaceBook groups begun. Protests were held on the streets of major Canadian cities in support of the “old” CBC Radio Two. Hearings were held in Parliament. All was for naught. The CBC did not change its course. The CBC stubbornly stuck to its guns in spite of impassioned pleas from its audience.

And what was the result? The audience for CBC Radio Two has been decimated. In Vancouver, the audience for CBC Radio Two has fallen 61.7% from its pre-restructuring levels, while the total radio listening audience in Vancouver has fallen only 24.1%. An audience decline such as this is nothing short of astounding. The same is true for the other major cities for which we have recent audience data: Montreal, down 44.1%, Toronto, down 44.2%, Calgary, down 59.8% and Edmonton, down 40%. The only bright spots for the CBC seems to be Winnipeg and Ottawa, for which we have no recent data. We await the spring radio diary data for recent audience data for these cities. Results such as these are the raw material for future business school cases.

The second point is that the public broadcaster exists to offer an alternative to commercial radio stations. A public broadcaster that does nothing more than offer a pale alternative to commercial radio is in danger of having its funding cut. A declining audience certainly doesn’t help.

What is to become of the CBC? I expect that it will muddle along, becoming increasingly irrelevant. There will be ever-more persistent attempts to cut its budget. CBC executives will continue to plead the case for a public broadcaster before Parliamentary committees. The public will become increasingly indifferent to the plight of the CBC, having been driven away by the dictatorial decisions of CBC management. Eventually the CBC will fade away, existing only as archived shows on .mp3 files on iPods, iPads and iPhones, as a new audience discovers the glory of what once was a revered Canadian institution.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The $75 iPod Tax - the Big Lie!

You may have seen the recent Conservative Party attack ads on TV that state that the “Michael Ignatieff-led coalition” wants to introduce a “$75 iPod tax”. Where did this supposedly new tax on iPods come from, and why is it $75?

Well, like much of the Conservative Party advertising, this “iPod tax” is an immense stretch of the truth. On March 16 2010 the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage voted to include “devices with internal memory” in the definition of “recording medium” in the new copyright legislation, Bill C-32. The purpose of this revised definition was to ensure that devices with internal memory, such as the iPod, are considered as recording media, just as blank cassette tapes and CDs are considered recording media.

There is currently a tax on blank cassette tapes and CDs which is apparently intended to compensate recording artists for material that is copied onto the blank cassette tapes and CDs. With the definition of “recording media” broadened to include “devices with internal memory”, recording artists might also be partially compensated for performances that are copied onto a variety of devices, including MP3 players and iPods. So it is highly misleading, if not an outright lie, to refer to this as an "iPod tax" since it will, I assume, cover every device that can be used to record digital music, including your PC.

Why should we, as former CBC Radio 2 listeners, care about Bill C-32? And what does this have to do with CBC Radio 2, the subject of this blog?

Well, first of all, all those who care about classical music should be interested in ensuring that performers receive fair compensation for their recordings. While I am sure that the Rolling Stones are not going to be impoverished by the explosion of digital music sharing and downloading, the average performer of classical music could see their livelihood threatened. So we should all be in favour of Bill C-32, at least in this provision.

What has this to do with CBC Radio 2? Well, if we are ever to see CBC Radio 2 return to its past glory, I would like to think that there are musicians who can make a decent living by recording classical music.

Now, onto the Conservative Party attack ads. I think the following video captures the essence of the issue quite well. Have a look.