Notes for an address
by Raj Shoan, Regional Commissioner for Ontario, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
to the National Conference of the Broadcast Educators Association of Canada
May 22, 2014
(CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY)
Thank you for inviting me to offer my perspective on the theme of your conference—“Producing Content Creators”—an area of great interest to the CRTC and intense debate in the audio and video content industries.
We all want Canadian creative industries to thrive and prosper within the broadcasting system, providing opportunities for talented and skilled Canadians. And the Commission recognizes the valuable role educators play in realizing this goal. So I welcome this chance to meet with you today.
While I am a lawyer by trade, and have focused mostly on the regulatory side of the broadcasting and telecommunications industries, I have served on the Board of Directors of FACTOR, the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings.
As well, when I was employed as Astral Radio’s Director of Regulatory Affairs, my office was situated at a French-language radio station in Gatineau, Quebec. So I have witnessed first-hand the tremendous talent that Canada boasts. I’ve seen the passion with which Canadian artists and operators conduct themselves, and the dedication necessary to leave a lasting impact on markets.
Canada really does punch above its weight—a fact confirmed by both the domestic and global appetite for the material produced by Canadians—from Arcade Fire to Michael Bublé to Garou.
This is true not only in the music business but in all areas of Canadian content production. TV shows like Flashpoint, Rookie Blue, Orphan Black and Comment c’est fait attract international audiences. And there’s rarely a year that a Canadian film or director isn’t nominated for an Academy Award at the Oscars or has a film competing at Cannes. The talent in this country is undeniable.
Aside from our homegrown successes, foreign producers, mostly American, know they can count on Canadian crews and talent to deliver the quality they want in their film, television and digital media projects. The Canadian Media Production Association (CMPA) reported that, in 2012-2013, there were 220 foreign location and service production projects active in Canada.
According to a recent CMPA tweet, all Canadian screen-based activity provided direct and indirect employment to approximately 127,000 people that year and generated almost $6 billion. This speaks volumes about the high calibre of creative workers that benefit from the training broadcast educators like you provide.
Changing media world
Of course, I’m not telling you anything new. You work directly with young Canadians on a daily basis, preparing them for opportunities in the media marketplace. I’m sure you can attest to the fact that today’s students are the most technologically savvy and creative generation our country has produced.
I also suspect there are days when you thank your lucky stars that you aren’t starting out in your own careers in today’s complex multimedia world.
Being a broadcaster today now means being a multi-tasker who can perform all kinds of functions that were once careers in and of themselves.
Gone are the days when broadcast communication was one way, from stick to receiver. Now, in the era of interactivity and exploding social engagement, a young person setting out on his or her career needs to be part-reporter, part-producer, part-salesman or even part-technician—all wrapped up in one creative and market-competitive package.
Today’s media world demands workers who are on the air, on the street and online—“360 employees” who can produce content for multiple platforms and who are everywhere that people are connected.
Students looking for work in the communications field are no longer confined to jobs at newspapers, TV and radio stations or production companies. Digital technologies have created exciting new ways of both generating and distributing content.
A review of the curricula your institutions offer in their media and communications programs confirms this. Your programs address the wide spectrum of markets available today, from digital media to web video. Not only can students today explore employment opportunities in these and other emerging fields; they can also create their own.
I am sure all of this makes your jobs that much more rewarding but probably harder to do.
Evolving role for CRTC
The same could be said for us, as the broadcast regulator.
Back in the day, the CRTC’s role was essentially that of a gatekeeper. Applicants who wanted to enter the market had to satisfy the Commission that their service would serve the objectives of the Broadcasting Act and that they could deliver a specified amount of Canadian content.
For a whole host of good reasons, that old system was protectionist—an approach that’s tough to sustain in a mobile and borderless digital environment. That’s why, more and more, we are shifting to promoting content made by Canadians. We believe the industry will be better served by focusing on promotion efforts that enable content producers to access new and larger markets.
Given the plethora of platforms consumers can choose from, we want to be sure that content created by Canadians is front and centre—both easy to access and top-of-mind. We want to foster an environment that encourages the development and distribution of this content on all platforms. Content that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best in the world in an increasingly competitive international marketplace.
The evidence may also indicate that we have to remove or adapt some of our existing regulations to reflect the new digital reality. There will inevitably be winners and losers. That’s what drives innovation.
Our overriding focus is on the public interest. Whether we regulate, rely on competition or a combination of both, our activities are centred on what serves Canadians best.
Let’s Talk TV
This is a point we have been raising with Canadians during our Let’s Talk TV conversation, which we launched last October. During the first phase, more than 3,100 people responded to our invitation to talk about the future of their television system.
Much of the feedback we received revolved around today’s on-demand world. Many Canadians want greater choice and control over the programs they watch and for which they pay. Others noted barriers to accessing programs for people with disabilities, or the need to uphold the special place of Aboriginal people, linguistic duality and multicultural programs.
The goal of the second phase of Let’s Talk TV was to bring these diverse views and considerations to Canadians’ attention. Last February, we invited Canadians to fill out a Choicebook—essentially an interactive questionnaire presenting different scenarios. In doing so, we asked people to look beyond their individual interests to the bigger picture and what certain trade-offs could mean for Canada’s broadcasting system.
Yes, certain questions were provocative. It was a deliberate strategy. Hard decisions will likely need to be made at the end of this process. Canadians should be keenly aware of how different their TV system could be if certain balances are not struck.
Last month, we launched the third and final phase of the initiative, which reflects what we have heard. It will culminate in a public hearing on the future of the television system, starting September 8th.
The CRTC is exploring a number of important changes to the television system to meet the current and future needs of Canadians as citizens, creators and consumers. I’m sure you follow these issues, so I won’t repeat them all here.
But one area that will be of direct interest to you as educators, and to your students, is our profound conviction that the television system of the future needs to encourage the creation of compelling and diverse content made by Canadians.
We heard, loud and clear, during Phases I and II, that Canadians are seeking quality programming. What constitutes quality programming varies considerably from one individual to the next. Nevertheless, there was general consensus that Canadian productions need to have high production values, creativity and tell compelling stories.
To achieve this goal, the Commission will be guided by several core principles. First, the broadcasting system should focus primarily on the production and availability of high quality Canadian programs, including local programming.
It should promote the production of diverse program that not only appeals to large audiences, but also meet the needs of niche and underserved audiences.
Secondly, Canada’s broadcasting system should promote content made by Canadians—in Canada and abroad.
And, finally, barriers within the system should be removed to allow a diversity of programs from a variety of sources—big or small, integrated or independent, established or new.
Some configuration of this picture is what your students can expect in the future.
The Commission will study various measures to support programs made by Canadians. It will also explore new ways to ensure local television stations remain sustainable.
But we need to hear from Canadians before we make any final decisions. We are inviting people to share their views in writing or through our website about how we should balance these interests and concerns. All comments must be received by June 25.
As experienced leaders immersed in the business and education of broadcasting, I hope BEAC members will get involved. Your insights and perspectives would be very valuable in informing our eventual plans.
I also encourage you to have your students follow the public hearing closely once classes start again in September. Their long-term livelihoods may well be affected by its outcomes.
Television is not the only medium being pushed in new directions by digital technologies. The radio landscape is also undergoing significant changes. They began a few years ago with the introduction of the iPod and have only accelerated with the recent emergence of personalized Internet radio services.
Rdio, Slacker and Songza are already here. Google launched Play Music in Canada earlier this month. And, given that the Copyright Board has now released its decision on streaming rates in Canada, it’s likely that Pandora will arrive in short order. Apple will enter the Canadian market – the only question is whether it will be through its iTunes Radio service or its rumoured Beats music service purchase or both.
But even this new streaming competition will likely pale in comparison to the massive game-changer that is the connected car. Within a few short years, potentially as soon as 2017, every new car purchased may be a connected car—offering drivers and their passengers interactive onboard technologies to access audio content that go way beyond AM/FM receivers and a Bluetooth or AUX connection. The potential impact of the new streaming services will be greatly influenced by their respective positioning in this exciting new environment.
Don’t get me wrong. Radio appears to be very resilient. The commercial radio sector has remained stable, both financially and in terms of tuning, since the CRTC’s last policy review in 2006.
Canada’s radio sector employs upwards of 10,000 people, so there are still plenty of job opportunities for your students. But there’s a major curve in the road ahead for radio and I hope industry is paying attention.
I don’t want to see a repeat of the Netflix experience, when many, if not most, broadcasting companies were caught flat-footed. Everyone knew the battle for control of the living room was coming. Five years ago, there was an opportunity for Canadian companies to take a leadership role in the online space. However, since the launch of Netflix less than four years ago, broadcasters have been playing catch up.
The radio industry is on the verge of a similar battle: control of the automobile. Earlier this month, I took part in Canadian Music Week, a terrific industry event attended by Canadian talent in both the music and radio industries. A significant portion of its Radio Interactive Summit was dedicated to the connected car and its potential impact in the future.
Every major automotive manufacturer is designing an interactive dashboard of the future. Some are designing proprietary operating systems, others have partnered with Apple to implement its Car Play OS and still others are members of Google’s Open Automotive Alliance, installing Android-based operating systems in their car dashboards.
What does this mean for you, the educators of today and tomorrow? Will the content creator of tomorrow have a different set of challenges when focused on the connected car platform as opposed to the traditional over-the-air radio platform?
On the one hand, there is a difference in mentality between designing for these platforms, since one is inherently interactive and the other a one-way form of communication.
On the other hand, the explosion of various social media platforms is transforming every media form into an interactive experience, blurring any meaningful lines of distinction. Adapting to this changing reality should be a focus of your programs going forward.
Last October, the CRTC launched a policy review for the commercial radio sector. It’s a targeted review, as we decided that a complete review of the entire regulatory framework is not necessary at this time.
Our objective is to find ways to improve regulation by streamlining some of our approaches. We also invited comments on the possible implementation of HD Radio technology in Canada and, more broadly, what the digital future of radio might look like.
As the comment period for this proceeding has now closed, it would be inappropriate for me to say anything further until the Commission has issued its decision. But I’m happy to answer any general questions on the state of radio broadcasting in Canada today.
The radio review and the Let’s Talk TV conversation are good examples of how we are ensuring that broadcast regulations keep pace with the rapid changes we are seeing in technology, the economics of the industry and Canadians’ expectations of their broadcasting system.
Preparing Tomorrow’s Talent
Of course, for all the changes I’ve highlighted, some things remain constant. The more I talk with people in the industry, the more they confirm that employers are always on the look-out for talent: well-trained, versatile talent with multiple skills that can be applied to work in all media.
And that’s where you come in. How best can you prepare tomorrow’s talent for work in a world of constant change?
I gave a talk to students at Algonquin College last February about finding their place in this new media world. In that speech, I relayed advice given to me by broadcast professionals about the attributes they value in recent graduates.
Well…fair is fair. I contacted the same industry professionals and graduates of your programs as well to ask what advice they would give to you, the educators. I’ve compiled their replies and will share some of the highlights with you today.
Before I do, I should mention that this is my own perspective on their replies. I’ll also provide the same caveat that I did to the students at Algonquin College – don’t shoot the messenger.
What Employers Want
First, let’s look at what I was told by broadcasters about the programs your institutions provide.
You should know that you get top marks from most in the business. The majority of employers I contacted lauded your individual programs, referring to them as “robust” and “comprehensive.” So you are obviously doing a lot of things right.
But it is also true that employers are looking for more. In a nutshell, they want graduates who come equipped with more than just an education and the ability to produce content. They are looking for individuals with strong people skills and business savvy – people who can hit the ground running.
For example, one broadcaster told me he wished graduates could read a financial statement. The basics would suffice. Similarly, I heard that colleges and universities should teach students about leadership and management. No one thinks they’re going to be a manager when they go to school but many will end up in leadership roles at some point in their career.
Several noted that students often enter the broadcasting system without a clear understanding of the regulatory requirements imposed on broadcasters. They don’t understand copyright and how tariff rates can spur or inhibit the development or expansion of a service on a certain platform. They lack an understanding of financing agreements. It might be worthwhile to consider a course focused on the legal and regulatory framework buttressing today’s broadcasting environment.
I note that several graduates of your programs who provided me with comments made the same point. More information on Canadian content regulations, Canadian content development and the corporate environment of radio would have helped in lessening the jarring impact of transitioning from school to industry.
Still other employers stressed the need for new recruits to be able to work all the formats they use to offer programming – not just radio or TV but also the Web, digital and social media. While students may want to specialize and select a role at which they are outstanding, they still need to have a working knowledge of everything else.
Likewise, some suggested that at least rudimentary media training is in order for broadcasting students. This would give them the basics of how they are expected to behave on-air and, in particular, on social media platforms. Given that employees are expected to be jacks-of-all-trades when it comes to all things digital, they often have to post information, content or replies to inquiries on social media. It is important that these posts reflect the organization’s culture and values. In a very real way, summer students or new recruits can heavily impact the value of a broadcasting brand.
Several employers recommended that students receive coaching on the importance of learning about an organization’s brand and how they can contribute to its enhancement. In this way, students can also think about their own personal brand and find a corporate brand that aligns with their personal values.
Others said new recruits often lack a practical understanding of the composition of radio “programming” and why it is compiled in a certain way—things like how songs are selected for airplay, the number of commercials, PSAs and so on.
Promotions is another area employers feel gets short shrift in most media studies programs. Despite student’s dreams of being an on-air host or in other high-profile positions, the reality is that many start out in a station’s promotional department. Why? Because it’s usually the largest department at a radio station and relies heavily on students to get it through the busy summer months. Broadcasters pointed out that there’s not a great deal of classroom emphasis on promotions and the strategy or philosophy that often underpin them.
I heard, too, that robust internship programs are a must. One graduate said that it is possible to learn as many practical skills in a summer of hands-on training as it is in three years of institutionalized learning.
At least one broadcaster noted that educators should work collectively to create a centralized summer broadcast internship program in Canada. This program could find creative ways to share resources and share information regarding interview skills, software training, expense reporting, summer positions and other topics.
Beyond what you do as educators, broadcasters are looking at what the next generation of media players has in their personal tool kit.
I was told that employers want creative, original thinkers. And not only people who think well, but can communicate well too. The most successful people in literally every sector of the industry are good writers. They are concise and excel at explaining themselves clearly.
Directly related to these strengths, broadcasters are interested in students who are articulate and present well. This is an acquired skill that takes practice but can start at school. Law schools use moot court as a training ground. Broadcast programs should have a corollary.
Finally, a number said that all broadcasting students should have to take classes on developing strategy and project management. No matter where you end up, you will likely have to apply those skills to some degree in your job.
As valuable as this feedback from the business community is, I found the input from graduates of your programs was especially informative.
With the assistance of colleagues, I was able to receive feedback from approximately 50 graduates. They included broadcasters who have been in the industry for only a few years to those who have worked for over ten years. Although they were primarily based in the radio industry, much of what they said is applicable to television or even Internet broadcasters.
They were asked what they wish their college or university had taught them to help them better establish their career. Their responses fall into three key themes relevant to your programs.
The first is social media. Two specific aspects were raised: instruction about appropriate online behaviour and how best to engage listeners or viewers online.
One graduate commented that they wish they had learned that they are never ‘off’, even when they were out with friends and particularly if they are seeking an on-air position as a career. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Instagram: these are online resumes. These are social personas. Students should learn the difference between the ‘personal’ and the ‘professional’ and the impact that a blurring of those lines can have on their career.
Another commented that social media did not even exist when he was in school; now, it occupies 40% of his work. The ability to get the most from those interactions and transform comments and ideas into content is a valuable skill that all employers are seeking. It is an art form, but also a skill that can be learned through study and observation.
The second major theme is music programming. Many respondents mentioned building expertise with respect to specific software: learning Music Master, learning to read and follow Mediabase, and using Adobe Audition for editing.
Being able to edit a phone call or a quick intro on the fly are important skills for on-air jocks that take time to develop. Mastering the right software is a process that can begin in your programs.
The last area of interest had to do with promotions. One graduate advocated for an entire class to discuss promotions and their strategy. Others called for a course exploring sales-based advocacy, given that it will likely be an entry-level position for most graduates.
Classes could explore historically great promotions, what comprises an effective promotion and how the effectiveness of radio and television as a commercial medium is tied to successful ones.
Promotional creativity, I was told, is a lost art practiced by a select few and is becoming the most overlooked part of radio. Effective promoters are a huge asset to any station.
I would classify the other issues that arose as general career advice applicable to most young graduates. One of these is contract negotiations, which are often difficult, stressful and uncomfortable. It makes perfect sense that some coaching would be beneficial for graduates as they are about to embark into the job market and have to negotiate their pay in their first jobs.
There were also many comments respecting the realities of radio: the fact that students would likely have to move to find a job; dealing with difficult clients; how to properly conduct an interview; the importance of networking; and how to work effectively as part of a team.
Again, these are all valid areas to explore. I encourage you to discuss with your students what their concerns may be.
Perhaps the greatest thing you can do for your students is to encourage them to experiment and take risks, to think big and to do new things that generate buzz.
Everybody is constantly looking for the next, new, big thing; not only is that the nature of media—it’s also the nature of business.
Given the industry’s track record I highlighted earlier, it seems clear that you must already be doing this job very well.
I wish you every success as you carry on. Thank you.
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