A friend of mine asked me what I though of the new CBC.ca website. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of days, and here’s my answer.
I think the CBC has been trying very hard for many years to turn itself into a “brand” in the way that Palmolive and Kleenex and Xerox are brands. For listeners to CBC Radio this branding’s first cries were when the “coming up tonight on This Hour Has 22 Minutes” promos started to appear on Island Morning — we’d entered the era of the “cross-platform” CBC. And it’s only intensified since then, reaching its nadir, perhaps, with the awkward “Big Picture” days when one topic gets addressed on radio, TV and the web (something that always feels as awkward as getting the Grade 6 kids to do a school play with the Grade 2 kids).
The new CBC.ca takes this branding to a whole new level, flashing alternating images of the Dragons’ Den players from CBC Television with a photo Bernie McNamee from CBC Radio News with an image of what appears to be someone being killed by listening to CBC Radio 2.
When you’re selling diapers and you want people to buy your bum wipes, this sort of approach makes perfect sense.
But here’s the thing: I think the CBC defies all regular brand logic, and I think listeners and viewers and readers are unused to, and uncomfortable with the multi-hued beast being boiled down to a set of “platforms.”
My own experience suggests that a relationship with the CBC is really more a relationship with a collection of programs and their producers. When I listen to Island Morning, I’m listening to Karen and Mitch talk Prince Edward Island. Their “CBCness” is important to this — it represents a way of doing things, an editorial rigour, and access to national resources — but it doesn’t start there.
Similarly, when I listen to As It Happens, or Maritime Noon or Q, my “brand identification” is with the shows and their hosts, not with the CBC. Same thing with Compass or The Road to Avonlea or Venture.
This is not to suggest that the institution itself is unimportant, simply that it exists for me more like a rather interesting set of kitchen cupboards in which I find intriguing, unique things to nourish me and less like 7-11 where I find “trusted information content” that I demographically connect with.
The underlying assumption of the new CBC.ca appears to be that if I’m into one CBC thing, I’ll be into another. Which is sort of like assuming that if I use Tide I can be convinced to use Bounty paper towels and Duracell batteries and Old Spice cologne because, well, they’re all made by Proctor & Gamble.
But in the real world, the world that exists on the consuming side of the CBC, I don’t think we could care less that Hockey Night in Canada and The Current and Nana’s Helper all happen to share a funding pool and a set of standards and practices.
So I would suggest that the proper role for a new CBC.ca would be to allow we readers to navigate as quickly as possible to our little cubbyholes within the rabbit warren — show me how to find out what song just played on Sounds Like Canada or what’s coming up on this week’s episode of C’est La Vie. And then get out of the way.
Alas what we’ve been given instead is a super-charged version of “coming up tonight on This Hour Has 22 Minutes” and while it’s visually well put-together, and no doubt sells well to those leading the “cross-platform” drive, it’s ultimately quite useless to we who might actually use it.