Putting digital to work for public broadcasting

May 18, 2017, Gatineau

Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, attended the Association des économistes québécois annual conference as a guest speaker for the workshop Les télécommunications, les médias et la culture : en première ligne face au numérique (Telecommunications, Media and Culture: On the Front Line of the Digital Revolution).


Thank you to the Association des économistes québécois for inviting me to speak to you today about CBC/Radio-Canada’s digital shift.

I’m not going to spend time telling you that the technologies we’re dealing with are disruptive or that all industries need to adapt to “digital and mobile.”

But I will throw out a few numbers to remind you just how much disruption there has been.

I started my term as president in January 2008. At the time, 56% of Canadians reported owning a regular cellphone, while only 9% had a smartphone. Tablets (iPads) hadn’t even arrived on the market and Netflix didn’t exist. Neither did Snapchat or Spotify for that matter, to name but a few.

Not even 10 years later, in May 2017,

  • 77% of Canadians have a smartphone.

  • Slightly over half of Canadians, of all ages, own a tablet.

  • Nearly 45% of Canadians subscribe to Netflix.

  • Nine in 10 francophones have an Internet connection in the home.

  • There are, on average, 1.94 billion monthly active Facebook users.

  • Snapchat users (who number 301 million per month and take 2.5 billion snaps a day!) open their app an average of 18 times a day.

  • And last Friday, Spotify announced that it would be joining the stock market, with a valuation of 13 billion dollars.

We all have access to an abundance of news and entertainment content. And yet, diversity and community reflection are threatened. Add the “fake news” problem, and you’ll understand when I say that CBC/Radio-Canada’s mandate to inform, enlighten and entertain – with stories by and about you, as well as news and information you can trust – is more necessary than ever.

So this morning I want to talk to you about our transformation, and how these many technologies influence how we do doing things every day.

The story of our transformation begins in a time of financial challenges.

I had been on the job for four years. Once again, we had to find ways to cut costs to make ends meet. We’d already announced two rounds of cuts, and the elimination of nearly 1,500 full-time jobs. Introducing 90-minute versions of the Téléjournal newscasts in all regions across Canada seemed like a good way to fill the late-afternoon schedule (between 5 and 6:30 p.m.), while increasing our presence in these communities. The idea was to build three 30-minute blocks, and continue to develop the stories from the first block in the two others.

A few months later, we realized that regional markets had vastly different needs.

We studied viewership patterns and found that a standard 90-minute format in all markets was not what our audiences wanted. So, we opted for 30- or 60-minute TV newscasts tailored to each region. In a market like Ottawa-Gatineau, where you’re very attached to your Téléjournal – and the numbers back this up – your newscast is one hour long. Same goes for Winnipeg.

But in other markets, like Calgary, this decision meant less television and an immediate, additional investment in our digital resources. We promised to be more present on other platforms – radio, web and mobile – all day long, 18 hours a day.


Because our competition isn’t TVA, CTV or Global; it’s Vice, Google, Amazon, Netflix and YouTube. Companies whose ability to create content (and capture your attention) appears unlimited – just like their financial resources, for that matter.

This decision was the starting point for our digital shift – and a drastic change in our culture.

In June 2014, we launched our Strategy 2020. We wanted to become more digital, more local and more ambitious with our Canadian programming. All while pursuing financial sustainability.

We flipped the order of our priorities: instead of favouring TV and radio over web and digital, we decided to lead with digital and web, then follow with radio and TV.

Once again, there was enormous pressure on our budgets. And to successfully execute our 2020 plan, we had to cut more jobs and add new areas of expertise. For many, the plan heralded the decline of radio and television, and large numbers of observers focused on the job losses rather than the vision behind our transformation.

But it was never about leaving our traditional audiences behind. This is why: in average, Canadians spend 31.3 hours watching television, 15.5 hours listening to radio and 17 hours online every week.

As public broadcaster, our existence depends on our credibility with the audiences we serve, and our connection with them.

So, where are we today?

CBC and Radio-Canada rank 10th and 6th, respectively, among the top influential brands for English Canadians and Quebecers. In Quebec, Radio-Canada is the most influential Canadian brand. The latest IPSOS survey results for Canada and the province of Quebec show that our services provide something distinctive.

Radio-Canada.ca is the number two online news source for French-speaking Canadians. Remember our promise to be more present in the regions, from “Good Morning till Good Night”? Well, over one million unique visitors come to our regional sites each month. Our regional pages are now geolocated. They used to be updated 8 to 12 times a day; now it’s 8 to 12 times an hour. Our pages are updated constantly to stay on top of developing stories.

And, today, we receive over 16.3 million visits on our digital platforms. This puts us well on our way to our target of 18 million by 2020.

One thing is certain – Canadians want us to be there with them throughout the day.

So, we’ve built a continuous relationship with communities. Our engagement can be seen as a conversation that plays out during the day on social media, our newscasts and radio shows, the 6 p.m. Téléjournal, mobile alerts, web articles, programming and special features. And not necessarily in that order.

More people than ever are tuning into the new Téléjournal format in Quebec City, Saguenay, Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke and Ottawa-Gatineau. Your weekend edition with Daniel Bouchard is number one.

On radio, Jhade Montpetit’s show is in first place and Philippe Marcoux’s bounces in and out of the top spot.

These results speak to the unparalleled connection between Canadians and their regional station. I’d like to acknowledge Yvan Cloutier, the director of ICI Ottawa-Gatineau, who’s with us today.

Audiences want more control over when and how they access content. Each screen, each platform, offers a different yet complementary experience.

Let’s take the example of our Olympics coverage.

During the 2016 Rio Games, more than 32 million Canadians followed their athletes on our platforms and those of our partners. That’s the most ever in Canada for the Summer Olympics. One event alone, the men’s 200-metre final between Usain Bolt and Andre De Grasse, was watched by 7.2 million Canadians.

But let’s now look at how we approached the Games and the number of interactions we created through this event: 13.3 million page views per day; 2.2 million video views per day; 3.6 pages viewed per visit; and more than 450,000 people attending 60 live community events.

This multiscreen strategy allows us to reach new audiences, without leaving others behind. La soirée est (encore) jeune has become the late-afternoon radio show on weekends. It airs before a live audience in a bar in Montreal. A condensed version of the Saturday broadcast runs Sunday night on ICI ARTV. The hosts are very active on social media. During the Montréal en lumière / Nuit blanche event, we added a Facebook Live session that included live chats with the people tuning in on this platform.

Incidentally, Jean-Philippe’s team was in Gatineau for Transistor, the digital radio festival, to record their program on April 29 and 30. I heard they were very well received.

More than ever, we need to engage with our audiences – to get to know them better and to better meet their needs. That’s why the RAD initiative is so important for Radio-Canada, and for me personally.

You may have heard of RAD under its former name, Next Generation. RAD is a news laboratory. We’re experimenting with a range of current affairs and social issues formats. The lab is staffed by twenty-odd millennials (nobody is over 35!), with the job of creating new storytelling approaches through social networks. This interaction will help us tailor our content offering for digital citizens. It will allow us to make that all-important connection with millennials, but without losing sight of our other audiences. So, millennial or not, I encourage you to check out the RADpointca environment on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat.

Now let’s move on to the big question: how do we bring our content to the world?

We are the broadcaster that leads the way through our investment in Canadian content. Radio-Canada’s Canadian programming expenditures are more than double those of other conventional broadcasters in Quebec.

Even though our market is relatively small compared to the international market, culture contributes $93 billion annually to the Canadian economy – more than mining, fisheries and forestry combined.

In 2013, the estimated contribution of CBC/Radio-Canada to the Canadian economy was $3.56 billion. Every dollar invested in CBC/Radio-Canada creates an economic multiplier of 2.11 in gross value added. And our investment in independent Canadian television productions supports more than 10,000 jobs in the Canadian economy.

So, how do we go international?

Let me tell you the little story behind our partnership with Netflix for the series Anne, based on the novel Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

The partnership originated with the series’ two creators. They developed their project with CBC.

Netflix later saw the potential of their modern take on this classic of Canadian literature – after it premiered on CBC Television in the spring. Netflix now gives the series international reach, streaming it in over 100 countries worldwide.

We’re also working with Netflix on another adaptation of a Canadian classic – Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace.

We believe it’s our responsibility as a public service media organization to change how we do things. So, we need to think “collaboration” with players we might not necessarily view as natural partners, and to drastically re-think our business models.

In our November 2016 position paper filed in response to the consultations initiated by our Minister, we suggested getting the various players who support content creation around the same table to work together – as happened in England in 1997. It’s the only solution, and the public broadcaster needs to be at the heart of this ecosystem.

Getting our homegrown talent the recognition it deserves depends on certain conditions. We need to do a better job of supporting our creators so they can do their level best. Their work should be able to compete with the most prestigious productions. They must be able to take risks – to see their ideas through to fruition.

It’s now up to us, the players in the cultural industry, to work together so that creators can find their audience.

Thank you.

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