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.

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