Source : Toronto Star
When those that ride the private airwaves use their favourite word, it's Canadian culture that has to bend.
That word is "flexibility," found throughout the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' 167-page submission - not counting 11 hefty appendices - to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) last week.
That's quite the pile of graphs and pie charts, all because Canada's private radio industry is concerned it's going lose as much as 16.1 per cent of its audience and $188.5 million of its revenues over the next decade - if it doesn't get more "flexibility" from the broadcast regulator.
Titled "Then ... Now: Private Radio's Changing Realities," the submission is the lobby group's response to the CRTC's long-awaited review of the industry which begins hearings in May.
The aim is to develop policies that will result in, among other goals, a "strong, well-financed commercial radio sector" which "provides listeners with a greater diversity of musical genres" and "an appropriate amount of regularly-scheduled, locally produced news and information."
Meanwhile, the CAB, whose 400-member radio stations boast a not-unhealthy combined 2004 profit before interest and taxes of $224 million (18.3 per cent of total revenues), up from $167 million (16.3 per cent) in 2000, is fending off competition from every music delivery device so far known to man, woman and soon-to-be-deaf teen.
There are no CanCon rules on MP3 players.
"The old economy of radio has been abruptly replaced by a new economy where radio faces unregulated competition in an open field of media and entertainment services," said Glenn O'Farrell, CAB president and CEO, in a news release. "Now, we have two systems: the regulated system of the past, which is now in direct competition - some would say collision - with an unregulated, parallel system of new delivery platforms for audio content."
Which is why one newspaper headline last week blared, "Radio feels heat from iPod generation."
This isn't "heat" it's a brush fire that threatens to engulf the industry.
But the radio sector has even fuelled it.
It abandoned the future audience - youth - by pandering to the boomers with all those indistinguishable soft classic lite mix jack hits formats.
What's more, radio doesn't take risks with playlists, sticking to the trite, tried and tired. That leaves Canadians to discover alternatives elsewhere.
Cites CAB: "Our job is not to educate listeners. It's to play what they want to hear." But every marketer knows that you have to educate consumers about the product to expand your market.
One of the industry's biggest mistakes was to gut its newsrooms and replace local personalities with canned programming from nowhere. That took the life out of radio - and effectively killed the strengths that distinguished it from the competition on satellite.
Of course, now there's also Internet radio - and if Toronto becomes a wireless hotspot, it will be everywhere. No wonder Quebec shock jock Jeff Fillion is taking his too-hot-for-the-CRTC show and putting it online for $5 a month per sub. (At sites such as Pandora, created by the Music Genome Project, you can create your own radio stations with music that you like. For free. For ever.)
Over-the-air broadcast radio has to change its tune considerably if it doesn't want to go the way of jungle drum manufacturing.
And so the CAB is seeking concessions, arguing that it has played along with Canadian content rules (it has), helped develop internationally-successful artists with radio play (by regulatory fiat) and injected $168 million to new Canadian Talent Development (CTD) since 1999 (eight times the amount required by the last CRTC review in 1995).
The CAB is not looking for less regulatory protection because, after all, it likes barriers to competition. What it wants is a shift in the rules that could mean less for Canadian artists - and more for private radio.
For example, rather than invest in what might be the best or most innovative music, the CAB wants to divert the development dollars into the most commercial music. And yet this is the same group that is worried about attracting the 12-17 demographic.
That's why the CAB asks "whether today's teens can ever be repatriated to conventional radio."
The irony is that, throughout its history, radio was never more vital than when it was intensely live and local - in other words, connected to its community. That, along with its portability, is radio's strength.
For many of us, the good old radio days are so far in the past that we can't imagine them. But, three years ago, during the big blackout of August 2003, radio was a lifeline.
Rather than asking the CRTC to throw it one - to, in effect, prop up a dying business that has been killing itself - it needs to get a little flexible and straighten itself out.
© Toronto Star