Speaking notes for Louis Lalande at the Académie canadienne du cinéma et de la télévision

February 12, 2015, Montreal

Radio-Canada in Transformation

The Public Broadcaster's Action Plan to Address Challenges in the French-Language TV and Digital Media Industry


First, I'd like to thank you for being here this noon hour. I’m very happy to be here with you today to talk about television. And I’d like to thank the Academy for organizing this luncheon event.

Many things have been said about Radio-Canada these past few months. Last fall, several publicly questioned the relevance of our strategic choices. People also speculated that staff and budget reductions might impact our ability to fulfill our mandate.

Actually, the very future of the public broadcaster was, and still is, the focal point of concerns.

Under all that, there is some good news. The fact that several thousand people took to the streets to show how much they care about the public broadcaster, and that they came out to all the benefit concerts in the various regions, shows that they must feel Radio-Canada plays a key role in society and in their lives. “There can be no public service without the public!”

Let me assure you, we too are concerned about the public broadcaster’s future. That’s why we’re taking steps to transform Radio-Canada. CBC/Radio-Canada’s strategic plan A space for us all, which was launched in June, maps out our long-term trajectory.

Today I ’m here to present our action plan to you. Yes, we know where we want to take Radio-Canada in the coming years; and no, we don’t wish to dismantle the public broadcaster. We’re looking to modernize, because that we need.

Our objective is to maintain our leadership in the French-language media industry. That leadership is crucial if we want to keep fulfilling our mandate for the country’s French speakers. It’s the best way to secure the public broadcaster’s future.

I’d also like to talk to you about certain issues affecting the media industry, because our transformation is not happening in a vacuum. The whole industry has been shaken up. It’s clear to me that we need to work with you, our partners, to successfully navigate that transformation.

At the centre of the challenges we face lies content. More specifically, our ability to continue producing and generating original content with which Francophones can identify, in which they see themselves reflected. And there’s another issue we need to be concerned about: we have to make it accessible to all our audiences in a multiscreen environment.

Today, as we all know, our audiences more readily have access to the best the world has to offer. Young people, for instance, seem to have quickly incorporated that idea into their media consumption habits.

UQÀM communications professor Christine Thoër recently shared the preliminary results of a study she’s currently conducting about TV series viewing habits on the web in the 18-to-24 age group.

According to her findings, where the content comes from seems to matter little to young people.1 In fact, they frequently watch content that’s going around the Internet without even being able to attribute it to any specific channel!

What’s most important to young people, says professor Thoër, is freedom, i.e., the ability to watch whatever they want, avoid commercials, and have access to a wider range of content than TV currently affords.

That speaks volumes about the emerging media consumption habits currently being nurtured. And behind that, there’s the content issue as well. Because the minute our audiences no longer see themselves reflected in the programming we bring them, it’s possible for them to look elsewhere for content that does speak to them – and that content is more available than ever.

When I took up my duties in January 2012, I began undertaking a massive transformation and repositioning initiative. At the time, I wanted to give Radio-Canada the ability to adapt more easily and quickly to its audiences’ emerging habits and expectations.

Faced with the reduced parliamentary appropriation announced that same year in April, as well as a steady drop in our advertising revenue, we knew there were some tough choices ahead. We needed to act fast and take significant action to kick-start the transformation that was becoming more crucial than ever.

For example, we tabled a request with the Canada Industrial Relations Board to review our union bargaining structure. We also continued adopting new technologies, focusing more closely on how we could use them to become more efficient and agile. And we began a thorough analysis of how me manage the rights we negotiate ever day to meet our various platforms’ needs.

We also carried a repositioning initiative that helped create a more cohesive and robust brand in a multiscreen, multiplatform environment. The results are telling – three recent surveys on Quebec brands once again place Radio-Canada in the top 10 best-loved and most influential brands among Quebecers.

As you can see, the public broadcaster’s transformation has been happening for some time now.

But today, we’ve been called upon to accelerate that transformation. Why? Financial pressures are weighing heavier and heavier on us. If we don’t reduce our fixed costs in short order, we will lose our ability to sufficiently invest where we need it most, in content!

If we wish to continue fulfilling our public broadcaster’s mandate, we must remain relevant to our audiences. To do that, we need to be able to provide the right content, on the right platform, at the right time.

That’s why we drew up a three-pronged action plan that will permit us to keep modernizing Radio-Canada.

The first component of our action concerns our multiscreen content strategy. Two weeks ago, I announced that ICI ARTV, ICI Explora, and ICI Radio-Canada Télé are being grouped together under the same management. I also announced that ICI Tou.tv, along with all webseries and TV-related content on ICI Radio-Canada.ca, will now be overseen by Dominique Chaloult, our new executive director of ICI Radio-Canada Télé.

At the same time, Radio-Canada is to become sole owner of ICI ARTV. By March 31, we will have purchasing all shares that until now were owned by ARTE France. Land lastly, a few months back, we merged all teams responsible for negotiating and administering rights under the same management.

What’s our objective with all these decisions? To achieve greater consistency in content acquisition and delivery strategies across our conventional, specialty, and digital platforms. That will help us enhance our impact on audiences.

In an environment where more and more, audiences are opting to watch their favourite TV series on demand, in catchup mode, and even all in one shot, the challenge of being there at the right time on the right platform with the right content is now more formidable than ever.

We’re already at work. During the holiday season, we provided three episodes of Season 2 of Nouvelle adresse on ICI Tout.tv. That’s one of the delivery strategies we’re testing out, and we’re actually getting really great results with it.

We truly believe that our multiscreen content strategy has potential. But implementing it carries its own share of challenges too – I’ll come back to them later.

The second component of our action plan aims to achieve greater impact with our digital footprint. In television, our digital strategy is of course tied into ICI Tou.tv, a superb public service concept we launched five years ago that French speakers rapidly adopted.

With web, mobile, smart TV, and game console versions, ICI Tou.tv was our first truly multiscreen platform. Today, one quarter of the country’s French speakers use our platform.2 In March 2014, we introduced the “Extra” service, a subscription-based section that delivers even more to TV lovers.

ICI Tou.tv’s impact in the French-language market has been so pervasive in five years that even CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais recently referred to it. He was saying he looked forward to seeing a platform like ours in the English-language market that’s universally accessible and leverages Canadian content.

But every great idea breeds competition, and the environment in which ICI Tou.tv operates has changed considerably. That’s why we will continue to develop and enrich it so it can remain to go-to platform in the French-language TV and digital media market.

Obviously, our digital offering is much broader.

ICI Radio-Canada.ca remains one of the country’s most popular French-language media sites. News plays a central role in our web and mobile offering. We’ll continue to expand our digital news presence, with content like our current affairs magazines, which are well known for their depth, quality, and wealth of content.

This past December, we also announced a regional strategy that will further enhance our presence on digital and mobile platforms in every region of Canada.

We’re lucky we can rely on a regional offering at Radio-Canada that performs extremely well. Ratings for our TV newscasts, as well as morning and drive-home radio have been consistently on the rise, as is traffic on our regional websites.

Our digital operations in the regions, especially when it comes to news, must help us reach our audiences throughout the programming day.

The third component of our action plan concerns the dynamic and challenging creative space that Radio-Canada must strive to remain.

Last spring and fall, we saw and heard several of our employees express their views on how reductions would affect their work. Our unions also had much to say on that issue, and they used any available to criticize management’s decisions.

I won’t deny that the cuts are affecting troop morale. Change is destabilizing for everyone, and reduction measures that affect co-workers are never easy, for the employees experiencing them or the managers who must apply them. I assure you, however, that we do everything in our power to help people through the process as best we can.

Difficult as they may be, staff reductions are unfortunately part of the transformation process. What always astounds me and reassures me that we are able to adapt is that remarkable resilience I see at Radio-Canada faced with all the troubles we’re currently experiencing.

One fine example of that is the extraordinary quality we delivered in our holiday season programming.

With that I include the work of our journalists and correspondents, who shared their experience and engaged in discussion with our audiences during our foreign correspondent week and provided their perspective on noteworthy events making international news. Rest assured, our people will be on the ground to help us understand this complex reality, with the expertise that has defined what Radio-Canada does for so many years.

All that is the fruit of our employees’ labours – they’re passionate people who always make it a vital concern to bring audiences the best programs, the best reports, and the best content. These are creative, quality individuals who take public service to heart.

In the coming weeks and months, we will work to redefine our union bargaining structure. This past September, the Canada Industrial Relations Board granted our request for a review, recognizing that our bargaining structure is no longer adequate in the current media environment.

That’s central to Radio-Canada’s transformation and modernization. Other than bargaining structure, we will also rethink job definition, and analyze work organization so we can make sure it suits our new realities.

Eventually, we will be able to address important issues like succession, one of the most common concerns raised in recent months.

Radio-Canada being a dynamic and challenging creative space also depends on our ability to attract the best talent and the greatest creative minds. This will be key if we want to continue to deliver compelling, relevant content for our audiences.

To sum up, therefore, our action plan for the next three months will lead us to a much more uniform presence in the multiscreen environment. We will also be leaving a much deeper digital footprint. Lastly, we will reassert that Radio-Canada embodies a dynamic and challenging creative space.

But, as I said at the beginning of my speech, Radio-Canada’s modernization is not happening in a vacuum. It’s going on in a context where the entire industry is transforming.

Coexisting digital and traditional media, multiple new platforms, dwindling traditional media revenue, and the migration of that revenue toward digital . . . Overcoming the challenges that lie ahead is just as important as the successes we’ve achieved!

As we know, the success of our industry relies on our ability to provide French-speaking audiences with diverse content in which they see themselves reflected. Francophones today are one of the most loyal TV audiences, and that’s because they find original programming there that tells their stories and reflects their values.

That success also depends on public policy that encourages local creators and producers. And it also requires that all industry players work together to define winning conditions that will allow us to secure the future of our TV market in a digital and multiscreen environment.

Today, the entire industry model is built an initial broadcast via a conventional or specialty TV channel. That’s not consistent with the multiscreen reality, or our audiences’ emerging habits and expectations. We need to adjust the model.

Among the changes to plan for, I think of our rights agreements, which we must rethink in a multiscreen context. In a broader sense, we’ll need to bring about change in the producer-broadcaster relationship to establish a true partnership that’s in line with today’s realities.

We must also conduct an in-depth analysis of the issue of production costs, and everything that involves. We cannot simply ask producers to lower costs by reducing the number of shooting days, keeping location shoots to a minimum, or delivering fewer episodes.

Production costs aside, financial pressures are growing for all industry players. For example, all will feel the sting of lower tax credits in Quebec and the other provinces.

But there are also the CRTC’s decisions further to Let’s Talk TV, which will inevitably have an impact on our TV business model. In late January, the Commission announced that over-the-air TV signals must be maintained via digital transmitters. To justify its ruling, the CRTC cites the principle of free access, as well as the importance for Canadians of local news and information.

The decision offers no solutions for the inherent business challenges, which are nevertheless very much a reality for most broadcasters. Instead, the CRTC proposes that the whole question be fully reviewed sometime next year. And yet, if we learned anything from the 2008 crisis, it’s that regional TV is tenuous in Canada.

It remains to be seen what measures the CRTC will propose to protect content accessibility, more specifically the content of broadcasters like Radio-Canada who are not part of an integrated group like Bell, Quebecor, Rogers and Shaw.

Faced with all these challenges, it’s becoming more and more crucial that we rethink the way all industry players work together – producers, broadcasters, distributors, and artists. At Radio-Canada, we’re prepared to sit down with other voices who, like us, want to follow through on these issues that are fundamental to securing our industry’s future and longevity.

In fact, we recently had a very productive meeting with the APQM’s board of directors, who said they’re prepared to work with us to move forward of some of these issues.

Producers and broadcasters, whether you’re independent or part of a large media conglomerate . . . Only by working together will we find solutions to retain our ability to produce French-language content of the highest quality. We need to maintain this oh-so-precious balance between private and public that has always been the main ingredient of guaranteed our success

Personally, there’s one thing I can assure you. Throughout this entire process, Radio-Canada will, continue playing its public broadcaster’s role. But what does being a public broadcaster mean in the 21st century?

It means generating content that shapes our Francophone cultural identity. That will happen through high-quality drama series that tell our stories. That will also happen through promoting and disseminating our homegrown music and the work of our creators.

It also means maintain relevant regional presence, in Quebec but also in the Francophone minority communities.

For news and information, it means moving forward with our investigate journalism work, in ways only the public broadcaster can. It’s also about adopting an approach to international journalistic that’s in step with today’s realities. And it’s about continuing to strive for quality and credibility in our news content, while also making them available on all platforms our audiences use.

As well, it’s about continuing to uphold, in everything we do, the values of credibility, creativity and diversity that are in the public broadcaster’s DNA.

Lastly, it means ensuring that we continue to play our leadership role in the industry. As I said earlier, for Radio-Canada, we will achieve that through a consistent, integrated multiscreen strategy, a stronger digital footprint, and by embodying that dynamic and challenging creative space.

That leadership will also be founded on our ability to rally all key players around the issues central to our future as an industry. That’s how we will keep our promise to our audiences to keep providing content in their language that is a reflection of them.

Thank you!

(1) “Rejoindre les jeunes” by Emmanuelle Plante, Le Journal de Montréal, January 6, 2015

(2) MTM, Media Technology Adoption, Spring 2014

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