The Thing about

A friend of mine asked me what I though of the new 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 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 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 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.


Johnny's picture
Johnny on June 21, 2007 - 13:27 Permalink

I halfway agree. While I concur that the main page of is essentially a useless brochure, I do find the so-called “news portal” (although use of the word “portal” seems very web 0.0) provides me with the basic news information that I want. I also believe the CBC *is* a brand, although an ill-defined one lacking in a clear mandate right now (nowhere is this more evident than in the current set of promo ads for CBC Country Canada on TV, wherein “Country Canada” is defined by soccer highlights, opera, and British dramas). The so-called “CBC-ness” of things is important to me in that it lends the content a certain degree of integrity and “Canadian-ness”. I’m not saying its always done well (the BBC does a great job of this, NPR does a pretty poor job), but I think its an important part of the package. And I like the “Big Picture” features.

Ouimet's picture
Ouimet on June 21, 2007 - 14:43 Permalink

Now, surely the CBC is different than Proctor & Gamble?

And surely making TV shows and radio shows and web sites is different than making paper towels and batteries and cologne?

And surely it’s possible to infuse TV shows and radio shows and web sites with a certain sensibility?

So if you like one, you just might like the other.

Alan's picture
Alan on June 21, 2007 - 20:37 Permalink

Good post in that it has framed something that has bugged me for a while — why I stopped paying any attention to the CBC, me being a good leftie Canadian. The homogenizing effect of the branding mission was a big part of it but also the realization that, concurrent to branding, is the loss of that specific sort of quality I gain through listening to the excellent St. Lawrence Valley National Public Radio of NCPR. For me, if everything is being filtered throught the uni-focus of CBCness, then it all is suspect. If that is what “a sensibility” is and it is gained at the cost of intelligence and integrity, not much of a benefit.

Marian's picture
Marian on June 21, 2007 - 23:47 Permalink

The CBC needs a bigger budget for programmes and a smaller one for ‘branding’ etc.

Kevin's picture
Kevin on June 22, 2007 - 16:37 Permalink

A few years ago I was invited to a focus-group at CBC. Well, that’s what they said it was but they were really testing the idea that our morning show would be cut back and “The Current” would become a new national feed. Regardless, they didn’t waste all the effort and did ask us a few questions to see what we thought about ‘this’ and ‘that’.

It seemed evident that they kind’a hated Danny Finkleman’s show. They, indirectly, insisted that it was low-brow and was going to be canned at some point (soon) in the future — it lasted longer than I thought it would given their attitude. The room, filled with anything-but-ordinary Islanders seemed to agree with them. But I managed to convince about half of them to think again by simply saying that Finkleman’s 45s is what the CBC is about. (that was met with a dismissive laugh by nearly everyone, but I was allowed to continue).

My point was that CBC was always trying to go “mainstream” (heck, did’j’a hear the School Prom show this morning?), that the CBC always seemed to be trying (at least recently) to cater to a bigger market and that almost always means younger and that this violates CBC purpose. I reminded them that “Ideas” with Lister Sinclair was unabashedly high-brow and ‘tuned’ well beyond the hearing range of any mass audience and that this is what MUST be done to fulfill the mandate of Reflecting Canada To Canadians.

We simply aren’t a large mash of mush-heads that can be fed grey-green gruel for entertainment and CBC should stop trying to appeal to everyone but do what they do best by appealing intensely to a few of us at a time by reflecting, even celebrating, various minority cultural tastes to the rest of us. (And that has nothing to do with skin colour or ethnic background.) Finkleman’s show was interesting because it gave an indirect glimpse into a world that I wouldn’t have imagined existed. And I made a point about how dumbed-down Quirks and Quarks had become over the years and, by golly, did it improve! Since then I’ve heard interesting discussion of String and M Theory and a host of other things that Barbie wouldn’t be interested in.

Ultimately it comes down to this (for me): CBC should stop trying to become CBC long enough to realize that it already is.

Marian's picture
Marian on June 22, 2007 - 20:33 Permalink

The CBC needs more money. The BBC has seven times the budget we’re giving the CBC and that’s for a population that’s only two or three times the population of Canada.