By Doris Montanera
HAMILTON - CBC’s blog about its new Hamilton digital service makes much ado about its new home, a renovated 120-year-old building at 118 James St. N. The Corp’s Steeltown home is in the middle of an area home to artists, coffee shops and some of the ethnic restaurants, stores and businesses that built Hamilton and are together working hard to lead the revitalization of Hamilton’s bedraggled downtown core.
The rough-cut maple floors, tin ceilings and decorative, 20-metre-long beveled glass transom from the 1920s all nod to a more prosperous time in the city’s history. Whether it’s just filler or a nice way to let the reading public get cozy with the staff, the juxtaposition is hard to resist: this new station could help infuse the CBC with the relevance it enjoyed in its heyday.
Hamilton’s digital program is part of CBC’s new five-year strategic plan, “Everyone, Every Way”. It approaches news not as a broadcast or just a web site, but far more. With a nearly impossible mandate to provide news, entertainment and information to all Canadians, everywhere, new technology may actually make it easier for the corporation to do its job.
In addition to traditional news covering the community, CBC Hamilton will provide information about the weather, traffic, and daily deals. It will even include local blogs and the opportunity for the public to upload events, as well as a social space where Hamiltonians can engage through Twitter (hashtag #hamont) and Facebook. “It’ll be a mix of things that are curated by us but also aggregated in other ways,” says Jennifer McGuire, the editor-in-chief of CBC News and the general manager of centres.
The launch date hasn’t yet been set—sometime before June, when “spring” officially ends, says McGuire. Executive producer Roger Gillespie, former assistant managing editor of visuals at The Toronto Star and managing editor at The Hamilton Spectator, is currently hiring staff and blogging.
Details about the portal design are still sketchy and being saved for a big reveal, but it will look something like a web page with breaking news in Hamilton, and some in-depth coverage as well. Want to read more about an item? Click on it, and up might pop a video piece. There won’t be a six o’clock evening news, but news all the time, as it happens. Nothing held back for later. No “film at 11”.
This new dive into new beginning in Hamilton is part of the CBC’s “whole 360-degree look at what happens in a community,” says Kirstine Stewart, CBC’s head of English-language services. “We’re trying to make sure that we can get to everywhere around Canada. We’ve identified about six to seven million Canadians who don’t have local CBC service, or they’re underserved in terms of the local presence.”
Hamiltonians have lobbied for a CBC service for years, she says, but there has never been a viable way to make it happen. “People who watch or tune into the news sometimes just want to know what’s going on down the street or what the weather’s going to be today. Those kinds of things are incredibly important,” added Stewart.
A 2011 CMRI Media Trends Survey of 15,000 Canadians shows that one in six say the Internet is their main news source. It had almost zero importance a decade ago.
Last year, research from Solutions Research Group found that TV was still in the lead accounting for about 40% of total news consumption, the Internet was at 30%, and print newspapers stood at 10%. But the stats are blurry when it comes to what percentage of Internet news is from online newspapers, for example. Even so, some experts argue the deployment of new platforms and new media is verging on being a little late. According to web traffic ranking site Alexa.com, a provider of free, global web metrics, CBC’s main web site ranks 30th in Canada measured by page views, placing it higher than other major Canadian media players such as CTV, and newspapers such as The Globe and Mail.
“People want to have things when they want it. They want it on the go. They want it with them. So the idea of being forward-looking was really appealing to us. Digital is a big part of our push overall and that certainly is true for Hamilton,” says McGuire. “Our positioning was forward-looking, and the truth of the matter is getting a radio signal in Hamilton is not an easy task.” (the best frequencies are all taken).
Using “responsive design”, the new digital service will adapt to whatever device a user is viewing; it’s not a separate app for a tablet versus an iPhone versus an Android or online.
“I think that everyone in the public sector has to be focused on delivering greater and greater value for the taxpayer’s money that we’re entrusted with,” said Lisa de Wilde, CEO of TVO, Ontario’s public broadcaster in an interview. “We’re fortunate to have the tools that digital gives us because I think that is a real way to get more effective and more efficient. And, it is, for me, all about leveraging the digital technology tools to deliver more with what we have.”
TVO has been using digital technology for a few years already. It has gone from a simple web site that was a promotional brochure to a site that draws content from all its digital assets, which are themed into something resembling mini on-demand specialty channels. When you search for a piece of content, the site also pulls up other content that could be related.
“It allowed us to be more effective and productive and to do more with, essentially, the same amount of people and dollars,” says de Wilde. “It allowed us to take our educational content strategy and bring it to life using the new digital platforms. So, for example, we were able to add a whole new stream of content around parents and education, giving parents the tools to be that important first teacher for their children.”
Unlike CBC, TVO is fortunate in that it has a clear mandate to provide educational content. “We set out to provide things that that the private broadcaster can’t do,” de Wilde says.
But when there’s an existing host of local news providers such as The Hamilton Spectator, CHCH TV, CHML AM, Cable 14 Hamilton and others, is a CBC Hamilton station, even a digital one, redundant?
“Anytime there’s a presence that wasn’t there, it’s a good thing,” says Kurt Muller, the co-ordinator of the journalism program at Mohawk College in Hamilton. “Hamiltonians want more and better coverage. Everyone will cover the same story, but in a slightly different way.”
Currently, CBC is promoting its Hamilton digital service with tweets and blogs — if you know to look for them. When the site launches, it’ll be supported with an ad campaign, but what that will consist of isn’t yet announced.
Hamilton’s new digi-station is just the first of several the CBC plans to launch in several regions, but how many and when depends on upcoming federal budget and the depth of the government’s cuts (assumed by many to be at least 10% of the $1.1 billion CBC appropriation). There are several cities in the west that also have an issue with radio and frequencies (Kamloops, most famously) and aren’t getting covered. However, new digital stations will open first where there is the most revenue potential, says Stewart, because the Corporation needs advertising to help pay for these new innovations.
“We are living in a new frontier when it comes to television, or broadcasting at all, whether you’re in television or radio, and you are expected to be multi-platform disciplined. You really have to understand how to work in all three spaces,” says Stewart. “It’s not like you have a choice to go digital or not. You have to be there. And it’s not like a solo add-on — you still hear people talk about it as though that’s an extra thing to do, and it’s not. It’s now a part of everything.”
Watch for our following installment next Wednesday when we take a look at the CBC's vaunted five-year-plan and how it is working.