Kirstine Stewart speaks at 2012 Canadian Telecom Summit

June 6, 2012

CBC English services executive vice-president Kirstine Stewart addressed those attending the 2012 Canadian Telecom Summit today at the Toronto Congress Centre. Now in its 11th year, The Canadian Telecom Summit has become the place for Canada's leaders in the telecom, broadcast and IT industries to meet, interact, do business and discuss the key issues and trends that will affect this critical sector of the economy. Here is the transcript of her speech:


Thanks to Mark Goldberg and the organizers for the invitation to speak today.

When Mark sent me the invite for today, he said he thought the delegates might like to hear more about what CBC has been doing in digital, and hear about the content we've been making.

So even if we aren't necessarily vertically integrated, even if we're not a telecom company - what we do, and the content CBC makes IS such an integral part of a larger Canadian media ecosystem.

And that's what I'd like to talk to you about today.

What I'd like to give you is an outline for the digital future of a Canadian broadcaster. And in CBC's case as a public service broadcaster: How we are plotting a course through the changes and innovations in the media industry, ensuring that we maintain our focus on the creation of great Canadian content.

Content we want Canadians to use, to create, to consume and hopefully - to enjoy.

In talking about our digital future, it's important for you to hear about the role that innovation and integration play at the CBC.

I'd also like to share with you how other public broadcasters and their governments work together to define public broadcasting in today’s world, to give you some perspective on the role of public broadcasting in digital. And lastly, I would like to explain what I see as the important and helpful role CBC can play in partnerships within the Canadian media ecosystem.

Here in Canada - we are definitely living in 'interesting times'. As a country we are in a unique position.

We reside next to a cousin of very large proportions, and who influences a great deal of our political, social and economic realities.

That, together with fast moving worldwide technological advancements changing our landscape moment by moment leaves us with a host of challenges.

And when faced with a great challenge, one way to respond is with great innovation.

We're lucky because Canada’s a country rich with the resource of so many talented people - and as Canadians we have a natural pioneering spirit that has long been a part of our fabric - We're a country from the time of the invention of the telephone, primed to be a great innovator in media and communications.

But the term "innovation" is at risk of becoming cliché. At worst, the word ‘innovation’ seems to represent a special class of business few can afford to be in (because it's 'risky'). It sometimes considered a 'luxury class' that in these time of austerity we can't afford and we should go back to basics, or as Macleans helpfully pointed out to the CBC lately-suggesting maybe we just better 'stick to our knitting'.

Thank you, print media, for that helpful advice. But we believe innovation isn't just some sexy form of R+D that only few can afford. At this point, in our business, I think we all know innovation is the way forward. No one can afford NOT to make it their focus.

And innovation takes focus because it is an act of discipline, it's not just some management catchphrase. It takes real commitment to see a way forward and to choose the best path. To be flexible when new challenges and new opportunities present themselves, and to keep moving forward.

The point I refer to in Macleans is a piece written recently about our seemingly bold moves into a digital future. CBC is a broadcaster, the piece pointed out, and based on our most recent written mandate, our responsibility -our 'job'- is to inform enlighten and entertain on television and radio.

At 75 years old, seems we weren't 'sticking to our knitting' by venturing out into that strange new world of digital and online. As Macleans pointed out dabbling in 'the internet' certainly isn't part of our mandate as it was written...

Well, as written in 1968, that is. Written long before the birth of the internet. In fact, written around the time of MY birth. And THAT, was a very long time ago.

In fact, the CBC began as a broadcaster in 1936, also coincidentally around the time my parents were born. And I don't think even THEY would like to be told to 'stick to their knitting'.

So with two distinct generations, we know we need a CBC that evolves to include a new generation of Canadians.

Maybe sad for some, but I hate to break it to you, that knitting, crocheting, macrame isn't what we do. We're pretty clear about what we do. We're a broadcaster. A modern public broadcaster.

The CBC creates great, distinctive, high quality news, sports, kids, docs and entertainment content. And we distribute it in the ways Canadians expect from their modern public broadcaster.

It's interesting to look at the CBC digital plan in context of what other public broadcasters do, and their mandates.

In developed countries like the UK and Australia, public broadcasters ABC, SBS and the BBC are by defacto "independent digital R+D arms for the media industry" as Mark Scott MD of ABC said recently. In fact (quote) the "delivery to the public of the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services" is one of the BBC's six public purposes as set out by Charter of the British government.

And, as another example, in the latest Australian government budget, SBS and ABC actually saw increases to their budgets, in the case of ABC $15m specifically earmarked for the development of local broadband hubs to create local broadband content.

Canadians have a voracious appetite for digital content. Comscore figures show that Canadians watch more online video per viewer than any major developed country - more than the US or UK.

Canada, as I said, is a country of adventurers and pioneers, of early adopters- and this is putting great pressure on all of us content producers and digital platform operators.

And while these pressures are relentless, it's good pressure, because its public appetite that drives the industry to make on-going commitments to developing new content, new applications and to ensure faster broadband networks.

Let me talk to you a bit about CBC's digital strategy.

We have moved the CBC so that digital is in effect ubiquitous at this stage. It has to be - and it is - embedded in all our content and broadcast decisions.

Structurally, it made no sense to keep digital over in some experimental department. Soon after taking my role at the CBC, the separate 'Digital' department was dismantled and the intelligence and experience we had in-house spread throughout the organization.

Evolution has required CBC to embed digital opportunities and applications in whatever we do. To think about how to create content in a symbiotic way alongside digital distribution so that it is an integral part of content development.

Call it 360, call it whatever, but what’s clear is digital is no “add on,” it influences and sometimes it sparks content creation. Just as content influences the digital innovations developed to handle and carry new content.

CBC now has an overall content creation and delivery strategy, regardless of platform. Our output has increased remarkably since the change. We are experiencing a renaissance by way of digital on so many levels at the CBC. Our strategy, as it always has been, is to focus on the desires and the needs of the Canadians, who CBC serves - and we change and grow, as they change and grow.

Cbcmusic (our new music delivery service), cbchamilton (our first wholly digital location for news, weather, traffic and more), cbclive (our promotional social media tool for Canadian programming) are just some recent digital innovations.

As one of the last non-integrated players in Canada, and one set with the purpose to create and distribute Canadian content above all, we actually see the CBC and the rest of the Canadian industry as interdependent in the development of digital to reach Canadians.

A healthy and competitive communications sector is in our mutual best interests.

While our roles and functions are different, those differences create a space for opportunity to build strength together.

And that is incredibly important because online and other services which deliver content now are largely unregulated. Once the inevitable shift away from traditional cable distribution tips the balance, that's when only the strongest will survive. And to survive the girth of our large cousin to the south, and indeed the world at large, an industry which stays ahead of the publics needs and provides them the connectivity and the content it craves will be very hard to put under.

We all know it's not easy to prepare for the long tail when you're trying to balance this year’s books. We all face that challenge in our boardrooms and on our floors.

I would like to show you now a reel which highlights what we have been implementing at the CBC these past few months, as we reorganize our business to face a new reality, and as we face it with diminishing overall resources.

This will give you a sense of CBC's priorities and how we expect to deliver on our mandate of serving Canadians best we can within our financial means. As I said to many through our budget cuts 'Necessity is the mother of invention'. I'm proud of what this team has developed in the face of some very real necessities....

videoWatch reel

Bet you didn't know Don was so musical - that's a piece mocked up online by a viewer - and shows how we're happy for Canadians to 'play' with CBC. We're no longer in the stuffy traditional media headspace.

We know it’s important not just for CBC to deliver its mandate to Canadians.

I also very much see CBC's role as a broadcaster within a much larger Canadian media ecosystem. We are all interdependent as creators and consumers and distributors of content.

Someone said recently 'distribution is now king' I said 'well then content is the kingdom'. It is a chicken and egg riddle we don't need to debate anymore. Content and consumption have become so intertwined.

From the days of selling colour televisions on the back of events like the Coronation or Superbowl or Stanley Cup, to today when devices enable and actually promote more consumption of content and here's an example - after the latest Apple ipad release video consumption overall jumped 26 percent.

Fact is we can't get our content to the public without distribution, and distributors wouldn't have reason to exist without something good to distribute. The variety and plethora of devices and apps means there's a lot of people hungry for content.

And consumers of that content want quick, easy and cheap ways to get it - so we drive each other forward. CBC will always be the place to make great Canadian content, news and sports. And Canadians will use your devices and your platforms to get it.

This new reality brings possibilities and opportunities we can leverage to ensure that Canada continues to have a strong media ecosystem. I don't think we have time to be divisive. This is our chance to take the best of what every Canadian company has to offer and keep our industry strong.

New innovations can be seen as threats to our industry, or we can choose to recognize the opportunities in those challenges and highlight what gives us a unique competitive advantage as a country.

Because Canadians love Canadian content – music, books, television. Let’s make sure, through partnering and leveraging our unique competitive advantage - that Canadians have access to their own stories, their own content through means traditional and digital, in whatever form whatever platform makes sense - for them.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen. And I wish you the best as The 2012 Canadian Telecom Summit come to a close today.

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