AMONG CANADIAN TELEVISION executives, no one is more active on Twitter than Kirstine Stewart. Some feel Twitter is an waste of time and it sure can be if you let it, but for Stewart, EVP of English Services at the CBC and a smart user of the social network, Twitter is a good way for @KStewartCBC to listen to Canadians, get her message out – and even make her personal opinions known, about more than just the CBC.
Of course, her tweets are often back-slapping congratulations for this or that CBC program doing well in the ratings (there have been many, like Arctic Air, Dragon`s Den, Republic of Doyle, etc.), or the news department scooping other outlets. Other times? Well, on Sunday we got this from the executive who we’ve discovered this fall is a rabid football fan: “Jim Harbaugh's son is assistant to uncle John at the Baltimore Ravens. What a Superbowl party at the Harbaugh house! #underdogsRule”
She sometimes engages her followers who are often not short on their opinions about the CBC, or who simply have some questions, gives behind-the-scenes glimpses of the Corp. and thankfully, doesn’t tweet about what she’s eating. As of this writing, the “Broadcaster. Chieftess. Network TV, National Radio, Digital. Reportedly 'Influential'. EVP, CBC,” as her profile goes, has tweeted more than 13,500 times. That’s about 12,000 more tweets than all the other Canadian TV execs we’ve found on Twitter combined. Of course, many will scoff, asking perhaps, who has that kind of time? But maybe Stewart’s Twitter usage shows that all the talk from CBC brass about multi-platform opportunities, their insistence that the Corp is listening to Canadians under the Every One Every Way motto as it adapts to the ongoing shifts in how we all consume media, is more than just talk.
The CBC – and every traditional media outlet – finds itself at new crossroads every day. Constant new threats and opportunities knock on the doors of every corner office and Twitter, if used well, can be an excellent barometer for judging what’s going on out in the world, what’s shifting under your feet – even beyond what an executive’s smart direct-reports are telling them on a daily basis. Communicating, especially the listening part, can only be a good thing.
However, not everyone loves the CBC under Stewart, as we all saw during the Corp’s CRTC license renewal hearing back in the fall. Struggling under new budget constraints, the number of repeat shows have gone up on the television side while producers of certain genres bemoan there is no longer room for their content. Many worry that the CBC won’t be able to retain the rights to Saturday night NHL hockey and that Hockey Night In Canada will head to the museum of defunct brands. In radio, criticism over the pubcaster’s plan to bring advertising to Radio 2 was loud and sharp as many simply don’t believe Radio 2 will remain its eclectic self, instead moving more mainstream in the chase for sparse new advertising dollars.
Cartt.ca editor and publisher Greg O’Brien sat down with Stewart, pictured, for a chat recently (in between the announcement of a new NHL labour deal and the start of the new season). What follows is an edited transcript.
Greg O’Brien: How happy are you that hockey’s back?
Kirstine Stewart: We’re more relieved I think right now than anything else. When it’s part of your yearly routine to have hockey as part of your schedule, it’s nice to have it back. It restores a sense of normalcy to what it is you’re doing instead of having to scramble around, so it’s great to have it back.
GOB: What’s the ramp up like on your end in terms of getting everything from basically zero to 100 miles an hour?
KS: It’s really quite fast because, of course, because the time that we have to prepare is really the time of ratification. Until Saturday comes, we don’t know the schedule. We have a sense of schedule, but they’ve given us two or three until they can settle it down with availabilities of locations and all that. We still don’t know what the schedule is and we don’t know, necessarily, even what it looks like, particularly in the later weeks. So there’s a lot of ramp up… a lot of preparation behind the scenes.
GOB: All kinds of marketers dying to advertise on Hockey Night In Canada?
KS: Actually – they called first thing. Alan Dark who’s our head of revenue, said on the weekend (before it was officially settled) he was getting phone calls from the major clients who have been with us the past, which is good. But there is a lag. People have already bought out to a certain number of weeks even within the hockey schedule. So you’re not going to see big return from advertisers until mid-to-late February, because they already made commitments until that time.
GOB: And then you’ve got to do all the work with scheduling on-air and scheduling of people, getting them wherever you need to get them.
KS: Yep. And we’re in the middle of Olympic planning and Pan Am Games and all that too, and FIFA, because of the World Cup next year. So it’s all a matter of fitting it in. But the normalcy of having something every Saturday night is a big help to us, because Saturday night, as you have seen, has just fallen apart without it.
GOB: It’s Big Bang night, but not in Canada.
KS: Yeah. The repeats, I think, are doing half decently, because that’s easy for them to do.
GOB: How have your Saturday nights fared?
KS: Through the fall they were down 80%. Luckily in December we had a bit of a reprieve because we started the holiday schedule with Christmas specials and holiday movies and things like that which brought it back in. But Saturday night was down 80% without any hockey because when you don’t know how long a lockout lasts and you don’t have a sense of how much revenue you’re going to miss on the year, you can’t be spending money on a (replacement) show that you don’t know if you’re going to use for more than a couple weeks – you can’t be developing something. If the whole season had been canceled from the beginning, you would at least have a sense you can go ahead with something, but we didn’t know.
GOB: It was wait and wait and wait, and maybe… and then wait. That’s tough on everybody. Tough on the people who run the concessions at the arenas…
KS: Absolutely, a lot of jobs affected.
GOB: People who work for the teams, some of them had their pay cut if they were not laid off.
KS: We had that here too. We would have been going through more layoffs in the sports department if they hadn’t returned. There were certain people who had not been brought back yet on a freelance basis who normally would work with us from September until now and hadn’t had any work. I’s not easy.
GOB: For sure. Let’s keep talking hockey. Let’s talk about the next NHL contract.
KS: Yes, because that’ll be the next question for everybody, back to that again.
GOB: I imagine there weren’t too many TV negotiations going on. The NHL…
KS: They had their hands full.
GOB: I guess you’re going to be making your pitch somewhat soon, because (the CBC Saturday nigh NHL contract) expires at the end of the 2014 season? (Update: The date of the contract expiry was corrected from the first version of this story.)
KS: That’s correct.
GOB: What’s your pitch going to be? You’re competing against the other sports broadcasters in the country who have more channels, more platforms than you do. What are you going to offer to the NHL?
KS: It’s not a dissimilar pitch to someone like the IOC, except when you look at professional sports and how the broadcast licenses are now sold, people who own major sports franchises understand that the more places you are, the better, and I think the (NHL) understands that with different platforms you reach different audiences.
I think a big part of building the NHL back up, particularly now post-lockout, is reaching back into families, and the casual viewer, the people who would not necessarily be die hard sports fans. There’s obviously that group, but they need to balance (the die-hards) with more general audience exposure, which is what CBC brings them. There’s the legacy of 60 years of Hockey Night in Canada. It’s a brand that we own, nobody else does. Should, god forbid, hockey goes away, so does Hockey Night in Canada. I don’t know that anyone wants to see the end of something like that, particularly, even the NHL. So we have opportunities.
I think any smart sports organization knows that it’s not good to put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to a country like our own that has so much interest in hockey. I think it can all be worked out that there’s different rationales for different audiences on different platforms.
GOB: Will you have the ability to take games more mobile…
KS: We do now. We have agreements with Bell and Rogers and again, the benefit of dealing with us is you’re not tied to a vertically integrated company, so we have more flexibility when we’re dealing with the Googles, the new, incoming distributors as well… we have the opportunity, as we’re doing with the Olympics, to work with a variety of sub-licensees, and that’s a benefit.
GOB: Let’s keep talking about digital and new media. I live and work in Hamilton and I’ve heard you and Hubert talk about quite a bit about CBC’s digital future. How has the CBC-Hamilton experiment worked from your point of view?
KS: It’s been actually very good. The nice thing is it’s an opportunity in a bigger market to do an experiment like this, because sometimes if your opportunity for reach is so small, then you don’t really get a sense of how it could possibly work across the country. So CBC-Hamilton’s been pretty good. Based on the information we’re getting from feedback or from actual usage of the site, we’re constantly rejigging it… We’ve had a lot of opportunities to actually connect with the community (members of the cast of Republic of Doyle recently visited as did radio show Q). It’s been going really well.
GOB: Any viewership numbers or user numbers you can release?
KS: Not yet. We will soon though. We’re in the field right now with a quantitative study to see how people are accepting it and liking it.
GOB: As a Hamiltonian, it’s fallen into my rotation of news I look at, along with The Spec and listening to CHML and things like that.
KS: It’s going to take some time before it ever reaches the numbers of a television or a traditional radio kind of audience, but this is a great alternative when you don’t have that – and it literally takes five people in one office to do it. It’s an interesting model to experiment with.
GOB: And CHCH is still a formidable competitor. I should have mentioned them first-off too. Have you gotten enough feedback or enough positive reaction from it to where you’re able to say now this is going to be copied elsewhere? Or maybe that this is the way local is going to be done by CBC across the country in the future?
KS: We’ve learned a lot from it – which is why we’re doing so many studies in the field to find out how people are using it and what they’re using it for, because you need to understand ‘best-Hamilton’ before you take it somewhere else. But we are already implementing parts of it. We had originally 14 web sites across the country in different locations and they’ve been adjusted to look more like the things that we know people use on CBC-Hamilton. So they’ve already been updated. So some of the learnings from how the web site works and what people want to see, first up, how they click through. That’s already been integrated across the 14 websites.
Then there’s places like Kelowna that are opening up for the first time. We’re looking at London, Kitchener-Waterloo is coming up next. They will all be using a similar platform to CBC Hamilton and how much of it they use is dependent on if we’ve got traditional radio in the market place or television. The only time we would completely duplicate CBC Hamilton is if we’re in another location where we don’t have a radio or television opportunity.
GOB: That’s where Hamilton is unique. It’s such a big market with no local CBC radio or TV presence for such a long time.
KS: Exactly. And there are places across the country that are similar. But right now we’re having to deal with the cuts. We did have a more robust plan where we’re going to open up those locations that didn’t have television and radio as another version of CBC Hamilton but we just don’t have the money to do so right now. The learnings that we get from CBC Hamilton, as we open up those other locations, we’re absolutely using those best practices.
GOB: What about the revenue side? Has there been any interest from local advertisers or national advertisers to be on there?
KS: Absolutely, local advertising for sure and that’s been a benefit.
GOB: Sticking with digital, the other new service you launched last year was CBC Music.
KS: It’s going to be a year in February.
GOB: So how has that fared from your point of view?
KS: Really well. It’s one of those things where you try something out and you want to see how it’s accepted. We’re up to 50 different channels right now on CBC Music, and there’s rich content behind the streams that people are really getting into. I think it’s 30,000-odd artists who have uploaded their own pages and information. It’s interesting to have something, Stingray aside, that artists, labels, and fans actually like. All three are getting benefit out of it, like it and support it. A huge sign of success for us is the fact that the usage is huge and that the labels and the artists find it’s great exposure for them. They talk about the fact that they could never get this exposure anywhere else and it actually helps them with record and ticket sales. It’s been a great initiative for sure.
GOB: But what about those Stingray complaints? That CBCMusic.ca is devaluing music because you’re giving it away for free where they charge for it?
KS: I think there’s room for all kinds of models. The issue is what will be coming up next, and I think it’s pretty myopic not to take a look at the fact that you’re going to have international, similar sites coming here. So, if you don’t build something here that’s going to be competitive with that, then the idea of Canadian music is going to be subsumed. I think we need to be prepared for that and to look beyond the model that was working last year and seeing what that next model is going to look like.
GOB: No interest in creating a “pro” or a subscription model where you can earn a little bit more revenue from it?
KS: We have digital advertising on it. So it’s an advertising model right now.
GOB: And how does it do?
KS: Well, actually. It’s tracking exactly as we projected it to. I think it takes a while because we’ve only been up for the year. To be honest with you, I haven’t had an update in the last 2-3 months to see where we are with the holidays and everything, but it was tracking to expectations as we had planned for the year up until then.
GOB: How long before break-even… or is it hard to split it off?
KS: That’s what’s a little bit annoying about the number that keeps being repeated in the press, because as Chris Boyce has explained multiple times, that’s not really the number because CBC Radio 2, CBC Radio 3 and CBC Music are all one entity when it comes to royalties, when it comes to how we program it, when it comes to the people who work here, who work on it.
GOB: That’s interesting because for years and years the advice CBC was often given was to break down the silos between departments to make things run better. So when you do, it’s hard to silo off where all the revenue and the expenses are.
KS: Exactly. You can make an arbitrary allocation but in order to maximize the efficiencies, it’s best to keep everything together. So that’s what we’re doing right now.
GOB: Are there any other digital initiatives coming down>
KS: We’re looking at talk next… anything that we do that’s talk based, The Current, White Coat Black Art, all those kind of shows.
GOB: So not new brands of talk radio or anything?
KS: No. It’ll be “how do we reach more audiences in the digital space, and how can we use that content in different ways there?”
GOB: Adding it to CBC Music or creating another brand altogether?
KS: It’ll be like CBC Music… in the talk space.
GOB: I was thinking about this next question after the announcement on the new working group put together (by the CRTC, Telefilm and the Canada Media Fund) to think of new and better ways promote Canadian film and TV. The idea was originally called “Watch Canada” in the fall (which would include an online portal where all Cancon could be available). Since they mentioned it back in October, that made me thing that The Beachcombers was on air on CBC for 19 years. So why can’t I find that show online?
KS: It costs too much. It’s royalty issues.
GOB: That’s why there aren’t more of your archives, or even more of other broadcasters’ archives online?
GOB: It’s all royalty issues?
GOB: So, can no one talk sense to whoever owns those old shows?
KS: You can start. It’s difficult. The people who own these rights, particularly for shows that are no longer being produced – it’s hard for them to think about selling it at a rate that is a lot less than what they used to get. Then under that there’s actor rates, writer rates – there’s all kinds of guilds and unions that get involved in the reuse of product.
I am the person who famously canceled, or took Mr. Dressup off the air, because Mr. Dressup, many years after he unfortunately passed away, the fees to keep that on the air were approaching the cost of making a new show. So at some point you have to make a decision.
GOB: It just seems strange to me that so many of those archive shows aren’t available anywhere, that they would sit on shelves making nothing rather than maybe getting them ready for iTunes to perhaps make a dollar.
KS: You should talk to the CMPA about that. When it comes to our own shows, in our own archives, we do put up a lot of things that we make and have cleared. When it comes to news or sports properties or anything that, we can definitely do it
GOB: All of your new shows, Artic Air and the others, they’re all available as well.
GOB: Let’s jump back a couple of months, to your CRTC license renewal hearing.
KS: Is that a couple months ago? My god it feels like yesterday.
GOB: For sure. What did you learn going through that process, and was your mind changed on anything as you went through that two weeks?
KS: I think we’re pretty aware, because we’re in constant conversation with people that expect something out the CBC, of what they’re looking for and what they feel we might not be giving them. Then it’s always our job to try to educate them about the realities. Like the conversation we just had. It seems simple, why can’t you just put something up on digital? There’s a reason behind it and it’s usually cost-based. Then, when you’re facing a world where we are $200 million short from last year, it forces you into some tough decisions. I think the more that we can explain to people our overall intention and that we’re not just cutting for the sake of cutting, that we’re actually trying to reform so that we can make the most impact with whatever we have left, the better it is.
For a lot of reasons we got a lot of support through the CRTC process, even the usual organizations that come up and say “how come you can’t do more?” I can see in what they were saying or how they were saying it that there is an understanding as to why we can’t do more, but they were just hopeful they could be seen, that their issue which sometimes was in direct conflict with somebody else’s issue, could have a day and be heard. It’s not easy when you have a bunch of competing genres wanting prime time space when there’s only so many hours.
We just kept trying to remind people that If you do more of this, then it means less of that. Or asking if we do more of this, then what do you want less of then? It becomes a very delicate balancing act to make sure that as broadcasters, we have that constant conversation with audiences and with Canadians who tell us what they want and what they need. So it’s our job and our responsibility to make that balance work, and also be respectful of a (production community) that needs us to be commissioning things from them – or their industry goes down.
GOB: There were some adjustments in your positions from the beginning and at the end, with PNI there much discussion about kids programming and some changes to the Radio 2 ads proposal as well. Always some give and take that happens.
KS: Every time we heard these, we did go back to the drawing table and say “what more could we do?” But you are constrained by the money that you’re given.
GOB: I want to talk a little more about the ads on Radio 2 and maybe approach it from a different point of view. Now my original thinking on it was, never mind Radio 2, put ads on Radio One.
KS: I know, I saw that. Did you get attacked?
GOB: A little bit, but so many insisted there should be no ads on Radio 2, no ads on radio at all, forget it. And some of the complaints were that, you’re going to turn Radio 2 into Radio One. Or you’re going to turn Radio 2 into some Q107-Radio 2 hybrid in order to pull in more advertising dollars. Why do you need those ads on Radio 2, and why not try and just say, “look let’s put them on Radio 1? That’s where the ratings are, that’s where companies would want to advertise most.”
KS: Again, it’s a balancing act. We were looking for a way to make up this $200 million shortfall and we have not been cutting much from radio at all. We’ve been taking most of the cuts out of television – 90% – and at some point, something’s got to give. Doing things like CBC Music are opportunities to figure out ways to get revenue back in for value given out or service given out. When you look at Radio 2, the hope was that because the penetration isn’t as big as Radio One, that we wouldn’t be destabilizing a larger advertising market. We do know that there’s a lot of pressure on privates when they see someone like us who is – as they are – partly government funded…
GOB: I think some of them called (allowing ads on Radio 2) unethical,
KS: Yes but I think some of them need to take a look back at their own funding and recognize that they’ve got some government funding in there too – but they don’t’ like to talk about it that often. We saw a market that we didn’t want to disrupt in a large way, and where we could actually add value to the market – and I think our guys did a pretty good job at the CRTC trying to explain it. There were initial visceral reactions from people who took a look at the proposal, who didn’t really understand to the same depth of the people who were building the plan, how thoughtful they were about what they were trying to do and work within the system. (The Radio w proposal) is for national ads only, it doesn’t affect the local system. This is important and we thought about all these things before going with them.
This idea that because you’re going to do it on Radio 2 then you’re going to do it on Radio One, that doesn’t make any sense. That threat doesn’t make any sense. If we need to do it on Radio One, then that takes a whole other application process. We didn’t apply for Radio One, we applied for Radio 2 looking at the fact people instinctively or inherently, because of their habits, hear more advertising on radio that has music on it, not necessarily talk radio. So we just thought it was a place that if we had to go anywhere (with ads) it was the place to go and we’ll see how it works out.
I think all of the concerns about “will we turn into Q107” and things like that are wrong because we made such commitments to things like, 45% emerging artists. Q107 and those private networks, they will never have that. So there are constraints that we have given ourselves to make sure that we don’t’ fall into the patterns that they’re talking about.
GOB: As a business owner though, I might think, “man, if Q was on Radio 2… I’d really want to advertise in that show.” And when you start saying things like that out loud, then it starts to look like, well maybe they could shift (Jian Ghomeshi’s) Q to Radio 2.
KS: They do well on Radio One. Although Strombo’s on Radio 2, so there are good shows on Radio 2 as well.
GOB: We’ve covered the budget cuts well I think, but what are the ways that Canadians have seen them on screen?
KS: You’re in a position of “physician do no harm, or least harm”. If anybody was 100% every night watching CBC in primetime from 7:00 to 11:00, they’d see changes, because we used to just repeat Rick Mercer twice a week. Now we repeat Dragons Den twice a week. We repeat other shows twice a week. We’re showing George at 7:00 and he’s on again at 11:30. We are trying to, on a linear basis, a schedule basis, manage our inventory because we have 175 less hours programming, and that’s a lot. We’ve got more repeats in there, we’ve got shorter seasons – it’s all chipping away at it – but we’re trying to focus on the things people really notice and pay attention to.
GOB: But what about the things that people don’t see? What have you done behind the scenes to make sure viewers don’t see as much of it on screen?
KS: Well, there were 650 people unfortunately who lost their jobs, so that means people are just working a lot harder now. We’re trying to use technology where we can. What we know from the effects of saving on CBC Hamilton, we’re using in CBC Toronto and CBC Vancouver.
GOB: Let’s talk about Every One, Every Way. Your bio on the CBC web site says that you’re the manager of that for English service. So when you think of that, can you demonstrate the tangible ways that Canadians see that?
KS: It’s that plethora of platforms. The CBC is offered to Canadians in multiple ways, so everyone can find their way to reach the CBC. There’s opportunity through digital to really get a hold of people who don’t necessary want to watch Artic Air at 9:00 on Wednesday nights. It’s on the website right now – and they can access it whenever they want.
So Every One, Every Way is really using technology and programming together to try to make sure that we’re giving different Canadians different reasons to come to the CBC, because we’re not all identical, right? So rather than dilute it and say we’re going to try to be everything to everyone, what we’re trying to be is something to everyone – and everyone will find a reason, whether it’s the news, the sports, we have such a nice variety of prime time programming now – so that people come to us for different reasons. People who say I’ve never watched CBC before, now watch Mr. Dee. It’s things like that.
GOB: You came to the CBC in 2006, and have things ever changed in media. It’s crazy… In 2006 YouTube would have been a year old.
KS: Nobody knew – Facebook, Google, none of these people were the players they are now.
GOB: So when you look at all that alongside your time here, what are you most proud of spearheading
KS: Keeping up with the changes. I think people would presume traditional media has – and we do have – a harder time catching up with the changes and making sure that we’re ahead of the game when it comes to things that are different and interesting. The opportunity we have at CBC that I maybe would not have had at CTV or Global, is because we make so much of our own product, and because we have that opportunity to really react to what Canadians want and give it to them in different ways. We’re not just renting something. We’re actually creating it from the ground up in a way that people can use in different ways. So everything that we have is on Facebook. Everything that we have has a YouTube channel. We are in all those spaces.
It’s kind of funny when people say “oh traditional media, you’re dead,” but we aren’t really traditional media anymore. We’re all so integrated with our partners. The Olympics was quite different than it has ever been – and people noticed that when London was happening and how Facebook and Google and others had a stake in it. It’s going to look even more different which we already know from the plans that we’re doing for (the 2014 Winter Olympics in) Sochi. The opportunities that we have to really engage people in different ways is quite the transformation.
GOB: And it’s been shown, too, that all the work on digital improves the prime time show. You can still package up prime time to show it how you want to show it and lead to a climax and all the rest of it, but the showing the games during the day doesn’t detract from it the way a lot of people thought it would. It actually builds your audience.
KS: It creates… more connection, I’d call it. It creates a reason to actually be there, because somebody said to me, “isn’t it a big distraction if someone’s tweeting while they’re watching TV?” Well, no because you better know what the hell’s going on, on the screen if you’re going to tweet about it. You actually do have to pay more attention when you’re going to say, “you know I can’t believe Suzie just said that.” You have to actually pay attention before you send that out on Twitter or on Facebook or whatever.
I think when people made these grand statements about how this will be the end of television, they didn’t understand that television can change and become part of that system. Video didn’t kill the radio star and digital’s not going to kill television… Now, you’re slicing everything a million ways so you’re spending more as a broadcaster, that’s for sure. Your margins aren’t as big with the private broadcasters as they used to be, so you really have to focus. What I ask my team all the time, because we’re going through next year’s budget process, is “what’s our bottom 5% and what do we not need to do next year that will take that bottom 5% and invest it in the near future?” We go through identifying that all the time. You can’t just do it when it’s a crisis. You constantly need to reinvent.
GOB: You probably saw all sorts of things coming out of CES and we’ve talked about new media and the opportunities there, but is there anything there that scares you, where you say “well this would really, really hurt us if this takes off?”
KS: It depends on how you play in the space. I think we’re lucky. I’d be more scared for the overall Canadian industry and the dependence of the privates on American programming. I’d be really scared if I was them right now.
GOB: Which is why they’re making more of their own shows.
KS: They’re starting to.
GOB: You’ve got Bomb Girls on Global. CTV just announced some others they’ve committed to (Satisfaction and Played).
KS: I think they’re finally learning, but hopefully it’s not too little, too late. That’s another question, too: As much as I love Bomb Girls, I think it’s great there’s other good Canadian shows on other networks because it creates a better industry. But when we went in front of the CRTC and showed our prime time schedule and the prime time schedules of the privates, they still only have two slots, at the most, in the entire week (for home-grown shows). Not that everything is so scheduled-based, but if you’re not making that commitment to volume, then you’re in trouble.
GOB: What would you say your most daunting day-to-day challenge is running CBC English Services?
KS: I think it’s making sure that we’re always listening. You can get really caught up in the issues you’re going through like the lockout, the cuts. You could always be in crisis and planning mode, but what you also need to be in is forward-thinking mode. So, keeping a team motivated to always be thinking about what could be next instead of on what it’s like to suffer through this time.
You have to have the attitude that we’re going to get through this because this is what we’re facing, so what do we want to look like at the end of it? Instead of saying, “okay we’ll deal with this and once we get through with it, everything will go back to normal,” I think it’s understanding that there’s always a new normal. There is no such thing as consistency with spikes of changes and then going back – you are always changing and it’s not easy asking a lot of people who work either in the CBC or together with the CBC to be constantly reaching for that high bar. You’re also asking them to do 20 things because they’re having to take on digital, too. So that’s the challenge.
GOB: Do your regular job, but also learn how to do your next job?
KS: Yeah. I remember sitting in an arts council type conference a couple years ago and someone said, “oh my god, now I have to tweet?” Yeah, you do. You find the time. Unfortunately it just makes us all of us incredibly busy and I worry about burnout for people, but this is the fast pace world that we’re in. It’s probably not just our industry that’s feeling this, but it certainly feels, because we’re media and our world is so much more instant, like we’re being affected more than anybody else.
GOB: The last question I had was just about the CBC and the Canadian population in general. Do you have to have a super thick skin to work here given the way people react? I mean you can go through days people love you. And then you could go through other days where people just hate the CBC.
KS: It’s every day, people loving you and hating you. It’s constant. You can have something great going on and then there’s six things over here that you’re feeling in trouble for.
GOB: How do you always listen but ignore some of those who should be ignored?
KS: You have to put yourself in the shoes of the people who are complaining, because I might sit here and think “yeah, but don’t you know I have no money and don’t you know I have no this or that?” They don’t know and don’t care. As far as they’re concerned, you’re their broadcaster. What the hell are you doing? Where’s my show? And I understand that.
When I want to complain about Rogers or Bell or something, as a customer, you have that need to express yourself and I can understand that and we need to let them vent. Sometimes it’s a valid concern… and you can actually do something about it, but sometimes it is just that venting and everyone is frustrated. My closing remarks at the CRTC was that I wish we could give everybody their wants, but that’s not our situation. So, sometimes you’ve just got to play the mom. All your kids want something and you’ve got to figure out how to keep everybody happy and loving each other.
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