Public service media: Countering the disruption and reinventing ourselves to appeal to the digital generation

Last week, CBC/Radio-Canada hosted the 25th annual Public Broadcasters International conference in Montreal. Senior executives from over 60 public TV and radio broadcasters in fifty-odd countries came to reflect on and debate the future of the media industry and how best to meet the aspirations of younger generations in the wake of the digital revolution.

How do you stay relevant and compelling for the under-35 set? There are many answers to this question, since the world’s public broadcasters are not all facing the same disruptions. Everyone is looking for the key to building an emotional connection and engagement with these audiences today and in the future. Globally, the resources that organizations have to inform and entertain depend directly on the country’s social, cultural and economic context. In Canada, the national public broadcaster has committed in its Strategy 2020: A Space for Us All plan to being more digital, more local and more ambitious in its Canadian programming. The federal government’s $675 reinvestment over five years will bolster our efforts to rethink the way we do business.

That’s why, at the opening of the PBI conference, our CEO Hubert T. Lacroix announced the creation of the Next Generation/Prochaine Génération project – “an experimental space, un espace de création, to be created by millennials and managed by millennials [to develop] new ways of enhancing and sharing news and public affairs content for digital natives.” You can read the interview that Hubert gave about it in Le Devoir (French only).

Around the globe, public media organizations are implementing initiatives to explore new content formats and counter the disruption. Google’s Head of News, Richard Gingras, even described this period as a “Renaissance” for journalism, given how much impressive digital work is being done today. Here are a few of my top picks from the case studies presented at PBI 2016:

  • The public network Franceinfo, launched on September 1 in partnership with France TV, Radio France, France 24 and INA, which includes TV, radio and digital platforms.
  • Kioski, run by Finland’s Svenska Yle, conducts “social experiments,” such as this man sitting in a park with a sign that reads “I’m HIV positive, do you dare touch me?” to illustrate a societal taboo.
  • Radio France International and France 24’s Info-Intox, which strives to debunk false rumours and conspiracy theories circulating online.
  • Snap’n mix, a show produced by the French hip-hop radio station Mouv’, which gets hosts and listeners to interact via Snapchat. Each Friday, Snapweek compiles the best snaps of the week on YouTube.
  • The Music Aid radiothon, produced by Sweden’s Sveriges Radio, shuts its hosts in a glassed-in downtown studio for six days. Each year, it supports a different cause related to a humanitarian crisis receiving little media attention.
  • TV5MONDE’s Les haut-parleurs puts a camera in the hands of correspondents around the world.
  • The Gammadda 100 Days project by Sri Lanka’s Capital Maharaja aims to provide a 140-family village with access to drinkable water.
  • The annual Hottest 100 public-voted music countdown produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Triple J radio network since 1988, and its listening parties held across the country.
  • Generation What?, a massive survey conducted in 12 European countries on millennials’ values and aspirations.
  • Other initiatives can be found in the PBI 2016 agenda.

These examples illustrate how public broadcasters contribute to meeting the challenges of the 21st century. As Hubert recalled, public broadcasting is about more than just making great content; it strengthens social cohesion, gives citizens a voice, and promotes greater tolerance, respect and diversity in a world that badly needs it. The PBI conference panels provided other possibilities to help us fulfill this mission and better meet the expectations of the digital generation:

  • Speaking authentically (the most recurring theme of the conference!)
  • Giving them “the keys to the car” and seeing how they can help us reinvent ourselves
  • Reflecting their interests and aspirations, and evolving with them through the various stages of their lives
  • Offering experiences that bring people together
  • Celebrating differences
  • Providing a space for discussion and interaction
  • Allowing ourselves the freedom to deliver the unexpected
  • Explaining the world around us
  • Having an impact on their lives
  • Building a sense of community

Broadcasters also have to deal with the increasingly rapid pace of technological change: fifth-generation mobile networks, ultra-high definition, virtual and augmented reality, connected cars, voice-activated interfaces, automated journalism, and artificial intelligence. To face this future, we need to take risks, allow ourselves to make mistakes, and learn from them to get better. I’m confident that the broadcasters left Montreal with their heads full of ideas. There are still many challenges to solve, but the conversation continues – and now we want to hear from you!

– Guy Aquin-St-Onge, Manager, Strategic Competitive Intelligence

This world-class conference was brilliantly organized by a committee led by Guylaine Bergeron and James Selfe from CBC/Radio-Canada French Services Communications. Together with their colleagues and representatives from public broadcasters around the globe, they succeeded in creating a high-calibre event with a thought-provoking agenda and plenty of opportunities for productive discussions. Congratulations to everyone! The next PBI conference will be held in 2017 in Romania.

This world-class conference was brilliantly organized by a committee led by Guylaine Bergeron and James Selfe from CBC/Radio-Canada French Services Communications. Together with their colleagues and representatives from public broadcasters around the globe, they succeeded in creating a high-calibre event with a thought-provoking agenda and plenty of opportunities for productive discussions. Congratulations to everyone! The next PBI conference will be held in 2017 in Romania.

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One Response to Public service media: Countering the disruption and reinventing ourselves to appeal to the digital generation

  1. Charlotte Flewelling says:

    I see tech as an important oppertunity to get points/comments across, and be able to contribute to the social fabric of Canada.

    Example is how Candy Palmater asked us the listeners of her seasonal radio show to give her ideas & stories. She leveraged the best out of all submissions, emails, Facebook & Twitter and gave her spin on relevant topics. She read an email of mine on air & made my mom well up almost to tears, because a story made me think of my mom & how “beast mode” my mom is. It was my words but candy was taking the time to read it & put it to air.

    You can’t get a point across if you don’t put it out there in the first place.

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