Creating a Public Space

Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, spoke to the Alumni UBC Master Mind Master Class at UBC Robson Square in downtown Vancouver on May 24, 2016 about the challenges and opportunities of change at Canada’s largest cultural institution, and what the Government’s reinvestment in public broadcasting will mean for Canadians. These are excerpts from the webcast

“We are in a time when the way we cover events, share information, and promote culture is undergoing a radical transformation. We are now in an age of worldwide constant connectivity through our digital devices, a time when we can be instantly better informed about our world than at any other time in human history. We are just beginning to understand the internet and how that connectivity will transform our lives. This is changing everything.

On the need for a Canadian public space

In this always-on global, digital space what Canadians need more than ever is a Canadian public space, a space that serves the public interests, that informs Canadians about their country, a space that encourages them to connect with each other, that elevates our Canadian stories and our value, a space that builds social cohesion. This is what public broadcasting is uniquely qualified to do.

Our plan towards 2020 is built around this concept. In order to strengthen this connection with you we have to change how we connect with each of you. Change has been faster than anybody ever expected. 70% of Canadians have a smart phone. In less than ten years these devices have penetrated every aspect of our lives. More than a billion people are now active users of Facebook. 400 million people use Instagram each month and 100 million people use Snapchat every day. This is where most of us are getting our news and information, from our customized feeds on Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, just to name a few. Increasingly it is also where we go for entertainment.

On the contribution of CBC/Radio Canada

If we were starting over the smart money would be investing everything into digital. But we didn’t start from a blank page. We are an institution rooted in this country’s history with powerful legacy assets and a feeling of fierce pride and ownership by Canadians. That connection is one of our greatest strengths and a great privilege but it also means each change, each program, each service, can be difficult to transform and manage.

Public institutions like CBC/Radio-Canada are expected to be at the forefront of change. We have to see it coming and we have to lead it. We have to be connected and relevant to a digital generation. We also have to ensure we do not leave other Canadians behind. Canadians are still watching more than 27 hours of live television each week. Our morning programs on CBC Radio are number 1, 2 and 3 in 25 of the 26 markets we serve and they are number 1 in 15 of those markets. We need to nurture these connections as we move on to digital. All of that in an environment of limited funding where advertising revenue is moving more and more away from television

On where are we now

Our 2020 plan, launched two years ago, is to become more local, to double our digital reach and to be more relevant to Canadians. Where are we today in this strategic shift?

Today we are Canada’s biggest online destination for news and information. Every month more than 50 million Canadians use our digital sites and that number has increased by 3 million in the past year alone and more than half of those people are reaching us through their smartphones,

You are engaging with us and with each other. You are posting comments. You are sharing your content on Twitter and on Facebook. You are holding digital conversations from one end of the country to the other

This is exactly what our strategy was about and what CBC/Radio-Canada’s role is to day. We want to be the public space for Canadian conversations. On CBC news our first priority now is to deliver content through our mobile devices, then we go to the web, then we go to radio, and then we go to television. We have completely inversed our model.

We are now reaching people on mobile 18 hours a day 7 days a week. That mobility was vital for residents fleeing Fort McMurray. As the fire was advancing we made sure crucial information was getting to people who were needing it wherever they were When CBC went into Fort McMurray to look at the damage that had occurred. CBC news live streamed video from the bus to let people know what had happened to their homes and their neighbourhood. We put it on our news network, on our web site, on Facebook, on our news app, on Apple TV, on Android TV, and on Youtube. That is how we must serve Canadians today.

On the power of public broadcasting

We have learned transformation is relentless and it has no finish line. To make it work every decision, every conversation has to have this direction as a filter and a focus every day.

We have to prepare for that change. When people don’t see what they are gaining they will tend to focus only on what they are losing. We need to see that our transformation is allowing us to do things we could not do before

One example we are particularly proud of is the murdered and missing women project in Winnipeg put together by our aboriginal digital unit together with our investigation team. Over six months the team met with these families and friends and looked at every single case. They created an interactive site to really tell each of those stories, – the first site of its kind. It is really incredibly powerful. It got Canadians talking about what is happening in our own backyard and because of their work the RCMP reopened two closed cases and was able to successfully close another one.

This is the power of public broadcasting in the digital age. This is our transformation in action.

We are at a tipping point

I truly believe that this time can be a tipping point, a golden moment for public broadcasting in Canada, and for Canadians, but only if we can seize this opportunity

At a time when Canadian culture is facing global challenges some see the solution is to make the public broadcaster smaller

Some private broadcasters have even suggested that the solution to their declining revenue is to limit what CBC can do for Canadians, to fence us in to some kind of status quo or to transform us into gap fillers

This view is as shortsighted as it is mistaken. There is no such thing as status quo. One thing we have learned is how fast things are changing. All of us much change.

Undermining public broadcasting will not help private companies make more money. It won’t help Canadians find our more about what is happening in their communities. It is not going to improve Canadian story telling and it is surely not going to create more great Canadian programs. CBC/Radio-Canada is not the problem but we are definitely part of the solution

Global media conglomerates have little interest in a public space for Canadians. That is not their mission. That is not their business model. And that is okay. A strong public broadcaster exists to ensure that public space, that Canadian space. It strengthens Canadian identity and it raises the bar for all Canadian media organizations to do more for Canadians

Government is reinvesting in public broadcasting. We want Canadians to be amazed what a re-investment in public broadcasting can do. This investment is a vote of confidence in the value of our programs and in our vision for the future. And when government says culture is important something else happens. People start to think about what is possible again.

On ideas and opportunities for the future

We are very optimistic about the future. We have new ideas for partnerships and projects to support Canadian culture, Canadian music, Canadian artists, Canadian filmmakers, and Canadian producers. This is a very exciting time.

There will continue to be challenges. The decline in advertising undermines the ability of all broadcasters to create good Canadian programs. A modern broadcasting business model needs to reflect modern business realities in our ecosystem. The current one is still broken. The government’s consultation on the future of Canadian content in the digital world is a very important step in addressing this challenge

We have learned a lot about transformation over the past few years and we will continue to learn, to innovate, and to adapt, and will do this by engaging with Canadians.

Last January, 300 high school students spent a Saturday in our Vancouver broadcast centre for our second annual Junior J School, a hands-on program created by our top journalists and producers. We talked with these students about reporting on the front lines, about the changing nature of journalism. Their ideas, their optimism, is going to define this country.

On ensuring democracy for Canada

You are already shaping social media. You have a role now in shaping your Canadian public space as well. That is why we are building this public space. It’s for you. And it’s for all Canadians.

Our mandate in our broadcasting act is to inform enlighten, and entertain. We do not take these words lightly. We believe in these three verbs, and we also believe in culture, and we believe in democracy.

When we say we think we have a role in democracy it is in making sure we give you a diversity of voices in this country so you can form your own opinion on a subject so when you come to the point when you have to vote you are a better informed citizen and by doing this we ensure democracy in this country.”

Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada
from Alumni UBC Master Mind Master Class web cast, May 24, 2016

All of us must change in the context of the rapid change we are experiencing. All broadcasters are adapting to revolutionary changes in their business, from the content they provide to the way Canadians use and consume our news and entertainment services.

Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, is responsible for overseeing the management of CBC/Radio-Canada in order to ensure Canada’s national public broadcaster can deliver on the various aspects of its mandate and continue to offer Canadians a broad spectrum of high quality programming that informs, enlightens, and entertains and that is created by, for, and about Canadians.


Alumni UBC
Junior J School