OTTAWA, Ontario —CBC Radio, Canada’s public broadcaster, has staked out serious turf in cyberspace with the launch of 40 Web — and mobile — radio stations.
Available for free online at music.cbc.ca, the 40 stations offer music feeds, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, organized by genre. Musical styles covered include classical, jazz, singer-songwriter, world, rock, pop, blues, R&B/soul, hip hop, International Women’s Day, aboriginal, country and electronic.
“Our goal is to cover the music spectrum as completely as possible,” said Steve Pratt, CBC’s director of digital music. “Where possible, we play Canadian music; in fact some of our channels are all-Canadian. However, we play non-Canadian music as well where it makes sense. For instance, it would be difficult to program an all-blues channel with only Canadian artists.”
Why go cyberspace?
CBC Music Radio Artist page
As webcasting goes, CBC Radio is not a newbie. In fact, the network’s five-year-old CBC Radio 3 channel is only available online and via Sirius Satellite Radio. There are no terrestrial CBC Radio 3 stations.
This said, opening up 40 full-time Web radio stations represents a major commitment on the part of Canada’s public broadcaster. So why do it, at a time when government funding is anything but certain?
“One reason we went ahead is because Radio 3, no matter how good it is, is dedicated to the niche of 100-percent Canadian indie music,” Pratt said. “Meanwhile, our FM music service Radio 2 has already been diversified from all-classical to a mix of genres.
“But there are only 24 hours in the broadcast day. To serve Canadians properly we need more bandwidth than Radios 2 and 3 can offer.”
CBC Radio’s approach to webcasting is multi-layered and interactive.
The first layer — the stations themselves — are easily accessible from the music.cbc.ca website. Thanks to a deal hammered out with Canada’s Audio-Video Licensing Agency, the network is able to offer music both live or on demand; from broadcasts, podcasts, or concerts that have been recorded by CBC Radio programs.
CBC’s Web radio strategy
The second layer is access to the artists themselves. “We have taken Radio 3’s system of offering Canadian indie artist Web pages, and expanded it to artists from all music genres,” said Pratt. “To date, we are able to offer links to 28,000 artists. Users can simply drill down to the artists they are interested in; and also use this data to search for their music on our sites.”
The third layer to CBC Radio’s Web stations is interactivity. The goal is to duplicate the Radio 3 model of creating online communities using social media, e-mails and blogs. “We do everything we can to encourage our listeners to interact with us,” said Pratt. “This includes allowing them to create their own playlists, which access content from our sites on demand. They can then share these playlists with their friends via Facebook and Twitter.”
CBC Music Radio homepage
In addition, CBC has taken the unprecedented step of eliminating the lines that have traditionally separated television, radio and online music programming. In its place is an “all-services” model where music producers across Canada contribute content for the Web, mobile, television and radio.
“If you liked something you heard on George Stromobolopolous’ TV show, you can find it on one of our Web communities,” Pratt said. “The same is true for artists performing on Radio One’s ‘Q’ interview show, or anywhere else that CBC produces music content.”
At press time, CBC’s 40 Web stations had only been online for a few weeks. (The network has also published an iPhones app.) But already the results have been impressive.
Results to date
“We attracted more than 200,000 unique hits in our first week,” said Pratt. “In the same period, we had over 1 million page views, and 600,000 audio streams initialized.”
As for the danger of Web radio cannibalizing CBC Radio’s existing audiences? “We are not worried about that happening,” he said. “All research indicates that Webcasting as we are doing it attracts new listeners, and encourages existing listeners to tune in more. So we think going online in such a big way will be good for our numbers — and enhance CBC Radio’s standing in the Canadian media market.”
A spokesperson told RW in April that recently announced reductions — in which CA$115 milliondollars will be cut from the CBC budget, according to news reports — won’t have an impact on this plan.
James Careless reports on the industry for Radio World from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.