Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The CBC: running madly off in all directions

This article appeared in the Feb. 14 2012 edition of the Globe and Mail, and on-line here.

One has to wonder what's going on in the CBC. First, CBC management decimates the Radio 2 audience by making some ill-considered changes to the programming, then runs madly off in all directions by launching digital music channels that only a small percentage of Canadians are likely to listen to. What happened to the concept of serving all Canadians, not just those with high-speed internet connections?

CBC enters digital-music arena
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 6:00PM EST
Last updated Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 6:22PM EST

The CBC has taken a giant new step into the competitive digital-music arena. On Monday, the public broadcaster unveiled CBC Music, a website and mobile app with 40 radio stations covering genres from indie rock to classical. To keep listeners coming back (that all-important “stickiness” in digi-speak), the service also includes create-your-own  playlists and selections of songs by young artists such as Toronto’s Austra and Montreal’s Plants and Animals.

It’s not only a bid to attract more listeners, but also opens up “a whole bunch of ways to connect with them that [was] difficult to do on terrestrial radio,” said Chris Boyce, CBC’s executive director of radio and audio.

This comes as broadcasters are increasing their presence in the world of apps: Astral recently launched new mobile apps for its radio stations, with bonuses such as exclusive in-studio performances. Meanwhile, subscription streaming services such as Rdio are once again on the rise, offering users access to massive libraries of streaming music for a fee.

“Gone are the days when people first heard a new track of music on the radio,” Boyce said.The CBC isn’t trying to compete with online music retailers such as Apple’s iTunes, though. Instead, the site links to iTunes. And no, it doesn’t replace CBC’s on-air music. There are currently no plans to eliminate the Radio 2 music station, Boyce said.

The win

The CBC attracts savvy programmers. CBC’s independently spirited Radio 3, for example, brings listeners everything from singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards to local Charlottetown band, Milks and Rectangles. Now that expertise can be applied to a broad spectrum of genres, with streams devoted to Canadian classical composers, some of the best homegrown jazz and alt pop. CBC Music could become a key arbiter of the best, if lesser-heard, music out there.

The miss

It’s still radio: You can’t jump ahead to the next song when listening to a stream. So while CBC Music caters to the new-media crowd, it requires old-media patience. You can jump forward or back while listening to playlists though. (Radio 3 host Lana Gay’s colourful list, including The Gruesome’s garage rocker Hey, is a highlight at the moment). Still, the nascent service only has a precious few playlists so far. And features of individual artists have a grand total of seven acts right now.

The competition

The pay service Rdio gives users access to a huge library of music for a monthly fee. Astral’s free apps are an extension of its stations, with added content such as app-only performances of hot acts. In comparison, CBC Music feels like the CBC – with a wider cross-section of music, unencumbered by the tight programming formats of private radio stations.

The next big thing

Spotify, officially unavailable in Canada, is nevertheless seen as a standard bearer with its personalized playlists (Obama just posted his) and its highly searchable library of artists. CBC Music, by comparison, is more like enhanced radio. Yet some digital radio sites, like American public broadcaster NPR, have taken a sharp direction toward nuanced, esoteric music. The question is whether users will want more breadth or more eclecticism? More searchability or more of a curated radio feel? 

What the CBC and the industry knows for sure is that we always want more music.

With files from Steve Ladurantaye


Anonymous said...

This story has a likely link to the recent report about CBC dismantling its music library.


Greg Quill's article on the CBC Music launch, in The Star, includes this key note:

"What won’t be available on CBC Music is more than 60 years of recorded music stored in CBC’s own radio and TV archives, comprising millions of live and commissioned performances by Canadian artists, from Glenn Gould and R. Murray Schafer to Rob McConnell, Don Messer and Murray McLauchlan."

Instead, CBC Music is apparently sourcing all the content for its 40 channels from a deal struck with the private company AVLA Inc. AVLA President Graham Henderson is also President of the CRIA, Canada's equivalent to the RIAA. (It's recently changed its name to Music Canada in an effort to distance itself from its reputation.)

The motto for Henderson's CRIA/Music Canada is "Representing Canada's Major Labels".

Now CBC Music/Music CBC is limiting its audience on its new channels to hearing only streaming tracks from the major labels and those "indies" who are naive or ignorant or greedy enough to not care who they're lying with to make a buck. (CBC Radio 3 will still host the music of tens of thousands of indies, but, only AVLA-licensed tracks will be heard on the new service.)

That's the sound of a greatly diminished musical resource that belongs to Canadians.

James Wooten said...

There was also Guy Dixon's article in the Globe and Mail about how the CBC is dismantling their library of CDs and LPs. I copied the article in a January post:


Barry Kiefl said...

Please see this piece on Radio 2:

James Wooten said...

A very insightful and well-written post on your site, Mr. Kiefl! I encourage everyone to read this piece for an insider's view on how the CBC operates.

As for whether we will every see CBC Radio 2 return to its glory days: sadly, I believe those days are over. As Mr. Keifl points out, CBC management are too obstinate to admit their mistakes, numerous though they may be.