Wednesday, 9 September 2015

CBC TV is Addicted to Sports and Selling Your Eyeballs to Advertisers

CBC TV has broadcast NHL hockey on Saturday nights for over 60 years. CBC executives thought it was a sacred right, until Rogers bid $5.2 billion for all national NHL rights in 2013 and took control of Hockey Night in Canada. Until that fateful day, no one at CBC could imagine a HNIC hosted by anyone else but Ron MacLean and Don Cherry.
Once upon a time CBC also had Expos and Blue Jays baseball, as well as CFL and NFL football, Raptors basketball, the Olympics and a variety of other sports. Sports were the main audience and advertising engine of the CBC schedule for decades. At some point CBC programmers began to think CBC couldn’t exist without sports. Besides, the sports leagues do all the marketing and create the audience demand; all the CBC has to do is cover the action on the ice or the field. That requires a lot less effort and imagination than creating original drama or comedy programs.
With the advent of sports channels starting in the 1980’s many of these sports properties were lost to TSN and Sportsnet, as were many of the executives, producers, technicians, etc. who developed their programming skills at CBC Sports. But the addiction to sports, despite the fact that there were two sports channels who would gladly air anything on CBC, using the on-air and production talent developed by the Corporation, remains unabated to this day.
In fact, CBC expenditures on sports reached a new peak in 2014, $236 million or 47% of all program expenditures. This easily surpassed the money spent on news and information ($170 million) and almost tripled the combined dollars spent on drama ($61 million) and other entertainment ($25 million) or a total of $86 million. In the years just prior to 2014 sports expenditures had hovered around $150 million annually, dipping slightly in 2013 when the NHL season didn’t start until mid-winter. In 2014, CBC bid for the rights to air the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, which meant sports expenditures suddenly accounted for almost half of all programming dollars.

Ironically, when CBC won the rights for the Olympics and soccer, it didn’t keep them exclusive to CBC but rather sold some events to TSN and Sportsnet and private radio, thus negating some of the value to CBC. Double irony is that the sports channels have declared they won’t bid on the Olympics because they are unprofitable. They support the idea of CBC bidding on the games and selling them access to selected events cheaply. Likewise, Rogers after securing NHL national rights was pleased to take over the full CBC network at no cost to Rogers on Saturday nights. This can undoubtedly be justified by bean counters at CBC but is it the role of the public broadcaster?
CBC still airs Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights but all editorial decisions are made by Rogers. Moreover, all ad revenue generated by HNIC is retained by Rogers. The impact of this is massive on CBC revenues. This past spring, the first with Rogers in control of HNIC, overall CBC English commercial revenue fell from $123 million to $54 million, mostly the result of an approximate 70% decline in TV ad revenues, raising the question as to whether the CBC should be in the business of selling viewers to advertisers. Is it really a “business” for anything other than major events like the Olympics?
To feed the insatiable cost of sports CBC has to find money from other sources (besides selling some events to TSN and Sportsnet). One is advertising revenue; it is relatively easy to attract advertisers to the Olympics, although the CBC English and French TV ad revenues in 2014 don’t appear to have grown proportionally in 2014. Another is to cut expenditures in TV drama/comedy programming. That area saw budgets shrink from $85 million in 2013 to $61 million in 2014, a 29% hit, mostly to independent producers who sell their programs to CBC. A third source of funds to support the habit is to harvest money from CBC Radio, which has seen its budget cut dramatically over the years by some 27%.
The overall program budget of CBC TV hit a new high in 2014, surpassing $500 million for the first time. In other words, TV has seen no budget cuts while CBC Radio has been slashed. Elsewhere, I question whether this is lawful. Who would have guessed CBC TV program expenditures would hit an all time high the year staff (mostly in radio) was being cut drastically and CBC executives were crying poor?
Some would say, so what, it’s the best the CBC can do in an era of shrinking budgets and audience fragmentation. Besides, that’s what the audience wants. True, people love sports but has CBC ever asked the audience if all the sports programming could be found on other channels, would they prefer a CBC focused more on quality drama and entertainment? More pointedly, why does CBC’s French-language sister network, generally considered a relative success, follow the exact opposite strategy, leaving sports to the two French sports channels and leading the market rather than following it? Let’s examine how Radio Canada spends its programming dollars.
CBC French TV has a programming budget of about $300 million annually and its budget too has held steady while French Radio since 2009 has seen a decline in its budget of some 29%. French TV has also been harvesting the funds of French Radio. Spending on TV sports by Radio Canada is so minuscule in recent years, the numbers can’t be fitted into the graph. However, in 2014 spending on sports increased to $22 million, the amount Radio Canada had to contribute, probably reluctantly, to cover the cost of the Olympics and FIFA. Ad revenues of French TV increased by only about $10 million in 2014, so the Olympics/FIFA were in net terms a money loser for the French network.
In 2002 the VP in charge of French TV, Michelle Fortin, who subsequently left to run the Quebec provincial public broadcaster, made the decision to cease airing NHL games. It was a controversial decision and CBC was called before a Parliamentary committee to explain. She told me at the time that after Quebec lost the Nordiques and thus the Canadiens-Nordiques rivalry, the NHL was less important to Francophone audiences. Radio Canada has a history of being hesitant to commit to mega-sports events like the Olympics.
What does the French network spend its money on? CBC French TV spends over half its programming dollars on drama ($63 million) and other Canadian entertainment ($90 million) or $153 million in total. News and information is also a major program expenditure, $122 million in 2014, slightly less than the previous two years, perhaps again to pay for the 2014 Olympics. So, incredibly, the smaller French network outspends CBC English TV by almost 2:1 in drama and entertainment. Does CBC’s Board of Directors or the government understand this and does it not signify that a serious review of CBC is needed? This is the first time these data have been compiled. 
What does it mean for the future? The indubitable media critic, Simon Houpt, recently asked the question, what is wrong with the Canadian film industry? His analysis reveals a parallel situation; Quebec films are far more successful than those from English Canada. The box office receipts of some English films are hilariously depressing.
In the case of CBC TV, we need only look at the financial data to understand that if most of the money is spent on securing rights to and producing sports and so little on drama and entertainment, one can only expect modest success in drama and entertainment. International experience shows us that quality TV, other than programs from the massive U.S. entertainment industry, can only be achieved with public funding, ideally from a dedicated fee or tax. The BBC is successful because everyone who owns a TV pays about $250 annually to support it. CBC should be funded in a similar way, directly by the public. CBC is clearly underfunded and is eating its young and abusing its elders to survive. A properly funded and focused CBC should be one of the first items addressed by the next government.

Additional data:

Monday, 3 August 2015

The BBC is About to Repeat Canada's Mistake

As the BBC approaches its 100th anniversary, the venerable broadcaster is in a pitched battle for its future.
The newly-elected Conservative government wants to reduce the financing and the scope of BBC activities; it has just phased out a £750m subsidy that substituted for 'free' TV licence fees for persons aged 75 and over. This is in addition to the elimination of a £245m subsidy that had for decades funded the BBC World Service. Now both must be funded by others' TV licence fees or some other funding source.
The biggest share of BBC revenues comes from the TV licence fee, which a household is required to pay if they watch (live) TV. Much like a driver's licence but there is no exam to pass.
The Canadian experience provides a lesson on how not to fund the BBC. Canada abandoned the licence fee in the 1950's on the premise that TV, which was being introduced, was too expensive to be funded by individual households, especially since only a handful of homes had a TV in the early days. From that day to this the CBC has been subjected to tortuous annual negotiations for direct government funding. Abandoning the licence fee and not replacing it with another mechanism allowing the public to pay directly for public broadcasting was a mistake.
Every year the CBC must plead for government grants and the Corporation is continually on tenterhooks. On several occasions with the onset of a recession governments have made drastic cuts to the CBC budget as part of general austerity programs. There have also been times when funding has been cut ostensibly because of perceived journalistic bias or alleged inefficiencies. The public has no say in these cuts.
Canadian politicians, not surprisingly, are just like British politicians, regularly accusing the public broadcaster of bias. Pierre Trudeau once even asked the CRTC to rule on CBC bias. This at least confirms that the public broadcasting system is open and robust. But it can lead to unfortunate outcomes. The leader of the Canadian Senate recently asked whether the CBC should be out of news entirely, which would basically neuter the CBC and deny Canadians of an important voice. Able-minded politicians should relish the attention granted by public broadcasting journalists who are by definition the most impartial, although management must be vigilant about possible biases in programs.
Lacking direct public funding and given the vagaries of annual grants from Parliament, CBC has sought out revenues from two other natural sources, advertising and subscriptions. Advertising on CBC TV has made the service indistinguishable from commercial networks and undermined one of the core purposes of public broadcasting, which is to examine all aspects of society, including government, without real or perceived servitude to any interest group. CBC TV has lately even resorted to turning over valuable prime time hours of its schedule to commercial broadcasters (Rogers NHL games and TV series).
CBC has successfully raised limited revenues in recent years from subscriptions but then, desperate for revenue, ran ads on these channels for any interest group or business that would pay. Subscriptions to individual services are increasingly difficult today as TV is becoming platform agnostic and, of course, it is not feasible to collect radio subscriptions.
If subscriptions are the way to fund public broadcasting then it should likely not be for individual services. Just as the current BBC licence fee covers the cost of not only TV but also radio and other BBC services, an overall fee added to the bill of pay TV and internet providers (fixed and mobile) could fund all BBC services. This is a concept being explored in Canada, since the present mechanisms to fund CBC have failed miserably.
British consumers would likely willingly accept this new subscription fee, since it would replace the licence fee. The cost of collection would likely be no more or less than the 3-4% it costs to collect the licence fee. Canadian consumers would be more reluctant and so a widespread educational campaign would be required.
Only those households without internet access or pay TV (via cable, satellite or IPTV) would be excluded from the new subscription fee. Those who subscribe would be required to pay the fee in order to receive pay TV or internet, thus no need to force payment by legal means.Ofcom estimates that over 80% of British homes had residential internet access in 2014 and over 60% had smartphones. Many of those without fixed or mobile internet would have some form of pay TV and it is probable that less than 5% of homes have neither, roughly equal to the 5% of homes who currently evade paying the licence fee. Many are likely to be low income homes and/or with persons aged 75-plus and they would not be required to pay the BBC subscription fee. If the subscription fee was based on a percentage, it would mean those who spend the most on pay TV/Internet, would pay more than those who spend less on these communication services.
What BBC services should be offered in future and how to manage them efficiently is another critical issue.
The BBC should seek to serve the whole public since virtually all pay for it but BBC need not continuously "chase ratings." The licence fee is an annual fee, not a daily or weekly fee. Reaching all members of the public on some regular basis or even occasionally with programs or services that are meaningful would suffice, not precluding some programs with wide popular appeal.
As for the concern that the BBC duplicates programs of commercial broadcasters, it can be argued that quality standards of BBC productions only rarely are equaled by commercial British productions. Generally, only U.S. programs funded by the huge American market and their worldwide audience can equal BBC quality and entertainment value.
Commercial broadcasters, understandably, will do whatever necessary to shift costs to the bottom line to profit. The BBC, being funded directly by the public, has the freedom to invest in quality and need not answer to the demand for profits. But it must be efficient and BBC management, ideally drawn from a professional broadcasting talent pool, must constantly evaluate the merits of all programs and ensure the BBC spends wisely and not just equals but exceeds commercial broadcasters.
Certainly, it is a challenge to argue that BBC should be seeking online readers as well as viewers and listeners, given the proliferation of newspapers and other news sources online. BBC internet services would seemingly be better suited to providing mostly audio-visual content and to work with rather than compete with newspapers for readers.
With long term stagnation in government funding, fragmentation of the advertising and subscription markets, CBC TV is today but a shell of its former self and commands a fraction of the BBC's audience share. Today, in weeks without a major sporting event on offer CBC TV captures only about 1 hour of the average Canadian's time. Fortunately, CBC radio fares somewhat better, as do French-language services.
What has befallen Canadian public broadcasting is not what Britain wants for the BBC. BBC released some data that is startling for North Americans: virtually every adult in the UK spends 18 hours per week on average with BBC services. This figure comes from a BBC-commissioned survey and may exaggerate but it is more time spent on any other activity but for sleeping. 

The Beeb is not perfect but is important in the lives of most Britons, and, millions around the globe. I think a case can be made that the BBC is not just a national treasure but also Britain's ambassador to the world and largely responsible for maintaining its reputation as a political, economic and cultural bellwether. When people around the globe are exposed to BBC news or entertainment they imbibe Britain. Surely it is the responsibility of all political parties to ensure another century of BBC services for the world.
Please don't make the Canadian mistake of assuming that the public broadcaster should be funded by annual government grants, which only leads to commercialization of the public broadcaster and ultimately the belief that commercial broadcasters can replace it.

Monday, 27 July 2015

CBC Needs a Rethink

CBC recently appeared before a Senate Committee examining its future and demonstrated that it has no real strategy for the future. Instead of a strategy, CBC has an agenda. The agenda is to shrink the CBC.

Before he became president of CBC, Hubert Lacroix, told Parliament it was his job to find new sources of revenue but after taking the job he said CBC doesn't need more money.

This month CBC submitted a document to the Committee and a 90-page slide presentation that contained contradictions, errors and misleading information.

Here are some of the problems that a quick reading reveals:

-CBC told the Senate it relies heavily on public funding, over $1 billion per year, "as do the privates." According to CBC, the privates receive production tax credits and funds from the Canada Media Fund. No mention that CBC also receives these additional benefits, above and beyond its Parliamentary funding. Rather than whining about the privates, why doesn't management make the case that the public broadcaster should receive all the public funding?

-More importantly, these so-called benefits relate only to TV. Private radio has no similar benefits, while CBC Radio receives over a quarter of a billion dollars in public funding.

-Total revenues of CBC TV and Radio amounted to almost $1.9 billion in 2013-14, a sizable sum given that the government has reduced funding by $115 million per year. In one part of the document it is claimed that 26 per cent of the total revenue comes from advertising; in another section it is claimed that ad revenue represents 21 per cent. The difference is almost $100 million. But ad revenue is not what public broadcasting is all about. Even private broadcasters like HBO Canada, Netflix, shomi and Crave TV are going commercial-free.

-CBC's basic "strategy" is to concentrate less on radio and TV, which are expensive, and focus on cheaper digital, Internet services. CBC claimed it is "a leader among news and information digital properties" and in its appearance said it was the number one digital news site. Neither statement can be verified. The monthly audience reach data CBC submitted is for, the portal that encompasses not only CBC news and information but also all CBC drama, comedy, sports and other entertainment programs and all of CBC Radio. One can watch full episodes of Heartland22 Minutes, etc. or listen to radio on One would have to separate out the news audience ( to fairly compare to Huffington Post, CNN, etc.


-The Internet audience data for could mislead the Senate, as it appears to have misled CBC management. The CBC online audience is really quite small. In an average minute of the day has about 5,000 users. That is, roughly the audience that Sun TV News had when it shut down recently. 

-CBC has never released information on advertising revenue and would only tell the Senate that it is doing "very, very well." Expenditures on CBC Internet-based services may exceed $100-million but we have no idea how much revenue comes in. Advertising revenues of the Internet are growing but are not going to web sites like It's fair to conclude that public funds are being spent on, which competes with private radio and TV and even newspapers. Did Parliament create CBC for this purpose? 

-CBC detailed how its web audience is currently nine-million monthly users and set a goal to double it to 18-million or about half of all Canadians by 2020. That should be easy. The data CBC submitted show that alone has nine-million monthly users; but (a mostly additional) two million use its French website, so that is a good first step to achieving the goal. Other CBC data claimed that half of Francophones and about a third of Anglophones use CBC websites, so the good news is that the managers have basically already achieved their goal (but don't seem to know it.) 

-CBC also referred to monthly audience reach of its other services. The source was a CBC survey but we have no way of knowing how the reach numbers were arrived at. Without knowing how much time a person must spend with a service to be counted in the audience, it is of dubious value. Audience share, like average audience, is a better tool for measuring performance.

-CBC did provide audience share to the Senate. CBC claimed its English TV prime time share is 8.2 per cent. In fact, it was 8.2 per cent in 2013-14, according to the CBC. Audience share in 2014-15 to-date, that is, the first full year with Rogers controlling NHL hockey was not provided. Oddly, a letter to the Committee refers to the prime time share in a single week of January 2015. 

-Also missing is the whole day audience share. More total viewing takes place in the hours outside of prime time. Audiences start to grow about 4 p.m. and are almost as high as in prime time. The whole day share encompasses performance not only in prime time but also the other hours of the day. CBC told Parliament it had about a 5 per cent whole day share prior to this season and it makes sense that it has dipped below 5 per cent in 2014-15. Why would CBC managers conceal the effect of budget cuts, the loss of NHL and increased competition and not make the case for additional funding? Are they in a conflict of interest and ignore shortcomings?

-CBC said Canadians spend about 27 hours per week watching TV; 17 hours per week listening to radio; and about 20 hours per week on the Internet. What is CBC's share? CBC TV has about a 5 per cent share of TV viewing; it has an impressive 15 per cent share of radio listening. Results are even better for Radio-Canada. But despite its large monthly reach CBC has only about a 0.2 per cent share of internet usage. Not 1 per cent, much less than 1 per cent. Not much of an ROI. Where do you think it should focus its resources? On radio and TV, which will be around for decades to come or on web-based services that compete with thousands of other web services?


-If CBC slowly withdraws from traditional radio and TV, which is the strategy being proposed, it will mean the end or the diminution of CBC. Is a public broadcaster really necessary on the Internet, which has no scarcity of content providers? 

CBC should have an audio/video presence on the web but its radio/TV infrastructure is far more important and will be for many years. The valuable service provided by CBC Radio and CBC TV (which may be starting a renaissance with programs such as Book of Negroes and X Company) should not be starved of funds to provide digital services that few will use. If CBC managers think otherwise, then make all web services pay services, as do many newspapers. Besides, shouldn't the core strategy be to find new sources of revenue, as Mr. Lacroix promised?

(This post originally appeared in Huffington Post)

Monday, 22 June 2015

Ghomeshi/Soloman Are the Tip of the CBC Iceberg

David Cooper via Getty Images
The Jian Ghomeshi and Evan Soloman scandals signal that CBC managers have lost control of CBC. The Corporation has resorted to hiring an outside labour lawyer to investigate what went wrong with management processes, an admission of failure. But the signs of trouble have been there for some time.

CBC is a relative bargain. In 2014 Canadians paid on average only $18 per capita in public monies to fund CBC Radio and TV, a tiny fraction of what they spent on other TV-related services, such as cable TV or Netflix. (We paid only $11 per person to fund Radio Canada.) We also pay smaller amounts for CBC specialty channels, such as CBC News Network ,and CBC benefits from other, smaller government funds.

The finger-pointing for CBC's problems has become a national pastime but its roots are fairly obvious.
For over a decade CBC Presidents, who, along with the CBC Board of Directors, are appointed by the government, have hired outsiders to manage CBC English Radio and TV. Hubert Lacroix, the current President admitted when he accepted the job he knew very little about the CBC. For the President to in turn rely on outsiders to manage the programming services is a departure from a long practice of relying on staff who came up through CBC ranks to become vice-presidents. This is proving disastrous as the CBC once again has suffered government funding cuts and is trying to maximize other revenues. But it is evident to me that the current senior management team knows very little about the organization they are in charge of, the result of broken management systems and practices. The Ghomeshi scandal is the tip of the iceberg.

Some other examples:
- CBC senior managers have recently given three different estimates of CBC's commercial revenue, including advertising. Which is it? The difference amounts to about $300 million. How can one budget properly without knowing?
- Hubert Lacroix asserted recently that TV advertising revenue accounts for 93% of "business revenue." According to CBC's annual report he is off the mark by 30 percentage points. 
- Mr. Lacroix should know but he has been busy with extracurricular activities. While President of CBC he has been a director of several private companies, one of which paid him almost $100,000 in 2011. He's been so busy he misread the policy on travel and inadvertently billed the CBC for $30,000 in ineligible travel expenses. 
- Ad revenue currently accounts for about 30% of CBC TV's total revenue, substantially less than 15 years ago, yet the President has claimed it was between "40% and 50%." Have senior managers lost track of tens of millions of dollars?
- For years CBC managers boasted that NHL hockey was a profit centre. Yet, after CBC lost the NHL rights to Rogers, the CBC President admitted that at best hockey broke even. What kinds of decisions are made with such conflicting information? 
- The President told the CRTC that CBC Radio would be protected from further cuts but CRTC data reveal that cuts to radio continued and radio's annual budget is $100 million less today, which may be in violation of the Broadcasting Act
- CBC says it has cut over 2,100 staff in recent years. But CRTC data reveal that the staff reductions are about a third of the number claimed (most are in radio). Do senior managers monitor staffing?
- Journalistic policies are being ignored by those in the trenches. There is evidence that policy on expressing opinion is being violated, most notably by Rex Murphy. Mr. Murphy and others have been criticized for accepting large fees for public appearances, even from charities such as the Salvation Army. This has not always been the case for CBC-branded celebrities. Is the lack of management oversight the cause? 
- Despite overall TV viewing levels at all time highs and CBC radio audience shares at modern-day record levels, CBC managers have announced that they are planning on making murky, new "digital" services a higher priority than radio and TV! The new digital strategy comes with no business plan, no estimates of costs or revenues. Is this simply an invention of managers with little broadcasting experience?
Is it surprising that CBC is in such crisis?

The last decade has taken a toll. The President and the majority of his Board are supporters of the Conservative party, which seems to have handcuffed efforts to fight for funding from a government they personally fund. Ironically, they don't seem to know that the majority of the Conservative "base" also support CBC

The result is acquiescence in government cuts and a reluctance to make the case for new sources of revenue. The best they can come up with is to cut staff and then rent out the space once occupied by the departed.
Source: Friends of Canadian Broadcasting

If you wanted to slowly strangle the CBC, you couldn't imagine more ideal circumstances. With a stacked Board of Directors and senior management team so inexperienced in TV/radio programming, how could they possibly make the case for CBC? The first step to righting the ship is to put in place an experienced captain and crew.

(A version of this post first appeared in Huffington Post)

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

CBC Radio: Q the Decline?

CBC is like a crazy, old aunt, unwilling to accept the reality of her circumstances. In CBC's case it is the reality that its radio audience is comprised mostly of older Canadians. CBC senior managers have recently boasted about the record high audiences of CBC Radio. They gush over CBC Radio's audience share in speeches and public appearances, such as last month's appearance before a Senate Committee, but never acknowledge that loyal, senior citizen listeners are responsible for creating a mathematical illusion. Mark Twain would say there are lies, damn lies.
While CBC Radio is undoubtedly the jewel in CBC's crown and virtually a necessity for a large number of Canadians, managers have been close to deceitful about its audience performance. Why?
As reported elsewhere, CBC managers have scooped over $100 million (about 30 per cent) from the annual budgets of CBC English and French Radio over the past six years. CBC TV has had its budget spared in comparative terms. This has crippled CBC Radio: many programs have disappeared and been replaced with repeats of the remaining programs; radio staff has been cut by 20 per cent. while TV has lost but 3 per cent; local noon hour shows have been reduced to one hour ; local morning shows now constantly repeat sports, weather and traffic information and fill airtime with syndicated segments which were once occupied by local reporters and serious discussion of local issues. Radio staff do their best with much reduced resources.
What better way of deflecting criticism of all these cuts than to tout the audience success of the hollowed out service? But a careful review of the data CBC released to the Senate shows CBC Radio's audience is not at record levels.
CBC Radio 2 has been turned into a service with a split personality. It once was a classical music and arts service but about the time budgets were being gutted, it became a strange mélange of classical and contemporary music. For the first time since the 1970s commercial advertising was introduced. Radio listeners on average only tune to a handful of stations in any given week, as few as three, and they expect the programming 'format' to be consistent whenever they tune to a particular station. This is Radio 101. The split format of Radio 2 goes against established programming strategy and likely satisfies neither old nor new listeners. Apparently it hasn't satisfied advertisers either, since ad revenue has been disappointing, pulling in a fraction of what was anticipated.
CBC Radio 1, which is primarily news and information, has suffered most of the massive budget cuts. It just announced that one of its flagship morning shows, Q, will be hosted by Shad, a rapper, and the program will feature more music and try to attract younger listeners. All music has a place but in an important time slot on Radio 1? Does it signify another break with reality and blindness as to who really listens to CBC? I have no explanation for these counter-intuitive programming decisions but I once heard the president of CBC, Hubert Lacroix, declare at a luncheon speech that his mother liked the music on Radio 2 rather than citing audience research. 
CBC Radio is not for everyone. But about one in three Canadians listen to CBC Radio for at least an hour per month, according to our surveys. That is a very substantial plurality, as many as vote for the winning party in federal elections. Those who listen regularly are intensely loyal and spend many hours a month with the service but is the audience growing, as claimed by CBC?
Radio listening overall has been declining since 2000, according to ratings data CBC provided to the Senate. Within some age groups weekly average hours spent with radio have declined by as much as 40 per cent (see graph below), as people, especially younger people, are turning to other alternatives to listen to music, including iPods, smartphones, Internet streaming, etc.
However, when CBC claims that its audience is at record levels, it doesn't use average hours spent with CBC Radio. Rather it switches to another metric, audience share. Yes, the CBC share has grown since 2000 but the base for the calculation of share, hours spent listening, is down by as much as 40 per cent. The CBC share has increased because many non-CBC listeners have abandoned radio for other music alternatives, while CBC's mostly older, beleaguered listeners have stayed with CBC despite the diminished service. In effect, CBC has a larger share of a much smaller pie. Again, Twain would say reports of an increase in CBC Radio's audience are greatly exaggerated (and the result of demographic trends, especially an aging population).
Among older adults, who are the heaviest radio listeners, as shown in the graph, CBC Radio registers more than a 33 per cent share, while among younger adults, who are lighter radio listeners, the share is less than 10 per cent . Despite the stunning fact that one third of all seniors' listening is captured by CBC Radio, managers are loath to acknowledge that it is overwhelmingly a service for older persons, a group that will only get larger. 
So the decline in CBC Radio and the real audience story has been covered up, along with the serious negative effects of disproportionate budget cuts. Meanwhile managers continue to ignore how people use radio, going after the younger, hip audience that long ago abandoned radio for other media choices. Poor auntie Bee denies it and withdraws into fantasy.

(This post originally appeared in Huffington Post)

Saturday, 30 May 2015

In Memoriam: Friend and Researcher

We buried Mark Cannon this week.  He was 66, roughly the same age as most of his friends because we all met in the 1960's either in high school at St. Pius X or St. Pat's College in Ottawa. Both schools offered a good education and even better lessons in life. Many young people were also at the wake, not just nieces and nephews, but also youth that Mark mentored in his role at CBC in the audience research department.  The young CBCers would visit regularly when he was hospitalized for the lung cancer that spread to his brain.

Mark was a childhood friend so remarkable that I can easily remember the faces and mannerisms of his long-departed parents and whose siblings (Elaine, Terry and Martha) I recognized immediately even after many decades.

Years after school our paths intersected at CBC.  I urged him to share his exceptional intelligence with CBC and he agreed, a bit reluctantly because of an innate distrust of bureaucracy.  Mark didn't draw attention to himself and was always under-the-radar but he possessed a rare genius, fed by voracious reading, beneath that exterior. Within months of joining the CBC research department he had mastered the art and science of studying audience behaviour, needs and interests.

Mark was the anti-Gomeshi at CBC. He succeeded in the star-obsessed, over-managed CBC (and in life) because he lacked all hubris, despite being the smartest person in every room he entered.  He could handle even the most opinionated manager, deliver the bad news about ratings and somehow make the manager feel better about it.    They so respected him, some, such as Chris Boyce, who seems to have inexplicably taken the fall for the Gomeshi scandal, took time to visit him in his last days at Kensington Hospice. He was so loved by his old school buddies, many regularly made the trek from Ottawa to Toronto to spend a few hours with him, including one good friend who frequently drove to Toronto and back the same day for a visit.

Many of Mark's school buddies went on to become successful politicians, senior civil servants, lawyers and judges but he never asked for a favour and was happy for their success. Coupled with his intelligence was a wry sense of humour.  He could use it to perfectly frame a situation, often to reign in a misguided CBC programmer or friend who was out of line.

Mark met the love of his life at CBC, Christine Wilson, and though they later separated, they had two beautiful children, Sam and Rachel.  If they have half of Mark's intelligence, they will be successful. Christine was so caring for Mark in his last months, she was declared ex-wife of the year in our St. Pius/St. Pat's circle.  Despite our Catholic beginnings, there are a number of potential nominees.
Mark Cannon leaves an indelible memory on all who knew him. He was one of those rare individuals who gave himself to others and asked for nothing in return.  He will be remembered.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Doyle’s List 2014

John Doyle, the Globe and Mail’s acerbic TV critic, likes to publish an annual list of the ten most irritating people associated with Canadian TV.  John revels in the belief that everyone in the TV biz has him number 1 on their most irritating list. This ‘got me started’ on a list of the 10 biggest errors and contradictions in John’s column the last year or so:

1.     CBC now receives “much less” than $1 billion from the government. (nope, John, it’s still over $1 billion and projected to stay there for the foreseeable future)
2.     The #1 news show in Canada is CTV local news in Toronto. (John, you'll be accused of being Toronto-centric)
3.     CBC’s total budget is about $1 billion. (Sorry again, don’t forget ad and subscriber revenue, which brings it to $1.5 billion)
4.     Adaptations of novels don’t work on TV.  (Come again? Most of John's recs this year were based on books)
5.     CBC needs to be “cool,” no, I mean “different,” sorry, make that “smart,” hmm, no, “get off its high horse.”
6.     “CBC is ever more relevant,” no, make that “adrift, directionless.”
7.     “There is no adult in charge at CBC.” But, “CBC is not in terrible shape.”
8.     “What makes a hit?...Gotham’s debut of 22.2 million (viewers),” yet, “CBC’s Strange Empire which brings in about 300,000 viewers” is John’s pick of the year.
9.     “Our web site has 4.2 million unique visits a month.  Ezra Levant is talking to 5,000 people.” (Note: arrange briefing for John on difference between monthly reach and average minute audience.)
10. “CBC is our national neurosis--and that’s a good thing.” Hmm, sorry didn't I just say, “I don’t want to be one of those CBC bores.”

And one thing unrelated to TV:

1.     Germany really wants to win the World Cup, but won’t”.  (Hold that prediction for 2018)

John’s columns are often very witty, although he admits he may have written some of them more than once.  He gets into trouble when he tries to be serious and with numbers (and soccer predictions).  But many of his columns are funnier than the people and sitcoms he writes about and are a welcome relief in an industry that takes itself too seriously. So, apologies, John, you may be on everyone’s irritating people’s list but not number 1.