Remarks by Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO, CBC/Radio-Canada, to the International Institute of Communications

December 2, 2008

Thank you, André Bureau, for your kind introduction.

Mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests ― it's my pleasure to be with you this morning as part of the International Institute of Communications Conference.

My talk today has two aspects to it.

First off, I’m going to speak briefly about some of what CBC/Radio-Canada is doing to stay relevant in an era of ever-increasing media choice for audiences.

And then I’ll talk about why what we’re doing is crucial for Canadians, for Canada and for the nation’s cultural sovereignty.

Let me start with an observation. It’s easy to assume that with all of this user-generated content (like blogging, podcasting and social networking), conventional broadcasters are becoming steadily less relevant.

In our experience ― this is simply not true.

Why? Because audiences understand that new technologies and platforms are not ends in themselves, but means of gaining access to what they really want ― which is content.

In Canada, audiences have a whole world of almost unlimited choice when it comes to media content, but for market-driven reasons, very little of that content is Canadian.

This is where the national public broadcaster has a unique role to play: no other Canadian broadcaster has a mandate to generate the range, depth and quality of Canadian content that CBC/Radio-Canada generates, and to make it available all across the country in both official languages.

For us, new technologies and platforms aren’t a threat ― rather, they are an opportunity to make our content more democratic, diverse, participatory, and engaging, while giving Canadians more ways than ever before to easily gain access to that content.

In fact, the new technologies and platforms have transformed how we work. We no longer see ourselves as a broadcaster with separate and discrete media lines; we see ourselves, and we behave, as an organization in which all of our people collaborate and share resources to generate integrated content that we make available to audiences on whatever platform they prefer.

In other words, we are now much more a content company than a broadcaster.

Since launching our Web services in 1995, our driving vision has been that audiences should be able to obtain our content whenever they wish ― and wherever they may be ― and in whatever format they choose.

This ability to provide content across multiple platforms in a variety of formats is critical to our success. If the national public broadcaster is confined by its regulatory environment or confines itself through its own choices to conventional radio and television, it will die.

Here are a few examples of what that vision looks like in practice in the new media world.

  • For the 2008 Beijing Olympic Summer Games, we launched the most robust Olympic Games websites in Canadian history. Our sites featured 13 broadband video streams with thousands of hours of live and on-demand event coverage (the first time Canadians could watch the Olympic Games live on their computer screens and, I’m sorry, at the office during working hours!). We also streamed video for Bell Mobility cell phone subscribers. Via this partnership with Bell, live streaming video and on-demand highlight packages of CBC and Radio-Canada Olympic Games coverage were delivered throughout the day to Bell Mobility subscribers.
  • Here are some numbers: CBC Sports’ Olympics site generated more than 46 million total page views over the course of 16 days, and averaged more than two million page views each day as Canadians viewed a total of 3.229 million live streams and 1.7 million on-demand streams of Games coverage.
  • Here’s another example: during the recent federal election, talk about an integrated, multi-platform coverage ― online, audiences could stream live video and radio; they could get from us national, regional and riding-level results from an interactive map; they could debate the issues in chat groups; they could ask questions directly to political leaders; and they could follow the live blogs of trusted analysts and experts.
  • Susan Ormiston, the web-savvy journalist behind the popular and innovative Ormiston Online, monitored Internet blogs, chat rooms and Twitter, and invited viewers to comment via e-mail and Web cams. Again, some numbers: CBC.ca’s Canada Votes 2008 website captured just under four million page views on election day and over 80 hours of on-demand streams were available on election night alone. At Radio-Canada, the site sustained the third heaviest traffic days in the history of Radio-Canada.ca. Not too shabby!
  • A third example ― our program, Canada's Next Great Prime Minister. CBC became the first broadcaster in Canada to cast a program via submissions online at YouTube. More than 500 videos were uploaded and ultimately 10 semi-finalists for the program were chosen from these submissions.
  • We’re giving our audiences more digital options in many other ways as well. In partnership with RIM and Lypsos, CBC Web Signals and Radio-Canada allow BlackBerry and cell phone users to receive bulletins and instant updates of breaking news broadcast by CBC News and the information services of Radio-Canada. We also have a number of SMS news alert services.
  • And, of course, our everyday ".ca" services are nothing to "sneeze at" either! CBC.ca remains the most popular destination for news on the Web, with 3.45 million unique visitors; almost 3.5 million Canadians visited CBC.ca from home in November 2007. And, in the same month, over 1.6 million Canadians visited Radio-Canada.ca from home.

So ― we’re giving audiences more content in more formats than ever before ― and, as you can see, they’re responding positively and in impressive numbers.

  • For instance, here is an impressive statistic that tells us just how thirsty audiences are for new media programming and services: podcasts of CBC/Radio-Canada continue to be popular with audiences of all ages ― this year, on average 1.9 million CBC podcasts have been downloaded every month. The English-language music service, CBC Radio 3, is one of the top podcasts worldwide, with over 3.5 million downloaded to date this year alone.

In fact, our content is resonating with audiences across all of our services ― from radio and television to the Internet, podcasting, streaming video, and satellite radio. In other words, despite the ever-wider range of media choices, more and more Canadians are choosing CBC/Radio-Canada.

Since June 1, 2007, CBC.ca has added 5,700 video clips, and we have served 6.2 million streams.

I’d like to point out that we’ve had some very interesting surprises in this electronic revolution.

Here is one: CBC/Radio-Canada has been a pioneer in offering our content to mostly younger audiences through podcasts. Audiences download more than a million of our podcasts every month — and which ones do you think are the most popular? Music and entertainment programs, right? That’s what we expected. But we were wrong. Most of the popular podcasts are news, information and science programs — programs like Ideas, Quirks and Quarks, As It Happens, Christiane Charette, and Les années lumière.

These are programs with high-quality, thinking substance ― programs that offer in-depth analysis of Canadian stories and issues ― and yet they are also engaging and entertaining.

So again, it all comes back to content ― audiences are choosing high-quality Canadian content, from a source they know and trust.

And what is it that they get from that content that they won’t get anywhere else?

They get the opportunity to learn from, comprehend and connect with one another. They are exposed to diverse Canadian viewpoints and a wide range of informed opinions everyday. And they watch and listen to stories made by and for Canadians.

In other words, our content helps audiences understand and participate in what it means to be Canadian.

It’s a unifying force that helps counter the risk of regional and cultural differences becoming social fragmentation and isolation.

And by giving us a way to learn about ― and from ― one another, it enriches our democratic and cultural life. It is, in fact, essential.

But here’s the hard reality: as in other broadcast media markets, only a small percentage of Canadian digital programming can survive in competition with a sea of foreign content. So what’s the best way to create a space for Canadian culture to thrive online?

I submit that the best and most efficient way is to help CBC/Radio-Canada leverage, in the digital realm, our high-profile brand and the trust we’ve earned from audiences for over 70 years. CBC/Radio-Canada attracts people through its brand promise and connects those people who share a common interest ― namely, Canadian culture and programming ― by allowing them to comment, share, recommend, view, etc.

We’ve already established our leadership in new media and we’re fully committed to continuing this innovation. This is an important part of the current broadcasting reality and, of course, the way of the future.

For this reason, on December 5th, CBC/Radio-Canada will make a submission to the CRTC, in response to its Broadcasting Notice of Public Hearing 2008-11, that will propose ways that the CRTC can help ensure a strong Canadian new media presence. We look forward to the Commission’s response to our detailed proposals.

Let me finish with three quick references to how we’re continually reaching our to new audiences in new ways.

A few weeks ago, Radio-Canada launched its new music service, Radio-Canada Musique, and its new Internet site which brings together all sorts of musical initiatives, concerts, programs, award-winners, and related online shopping.

This September, CBC launched four CBC Radio 2 broadband-only streams featuring: classical, Canadian composers, jazz, and Canadian songwriters.

Just a few weeks ago, we announced that, pending CRTC approval, we’re partnering with the young-adult news, current affairs and lifestyle channel, Current TV, to launch Current Canada ― a cross-platform company uniquely focused on engaging young Canadians through participatory and interactive content on TV and the Web. Nearly a third of Current Canada programming will be created by the viewers — the only Canadian network that will be produced and programmed in collaboration with its audience.

Through initiatives like these, and many others, we’re ensuring that CBC/Radio-Canada remains vibrant and relevant, and that as many Canadians as possible have access to digital content that expresses and promotes Canadian culture and identity. And our online offering is not limited to national coverage. A complete array of regional websites from coast-to-coast-to-coast are available, ensuring Canadians have access to content that matters to them from their community. All of this ― because I strongly feel that you simply can't be a true national public broadcaster unless you are strongly rooted in the regions.

Thank you.

Search highlight tool