September 16, 2016 1 year 6 months ago

Public broadcasters struggle to attract millennials; CBC launching millennial news project

MONTREAL – There was a lot of discussion about the problem, but not much in the way of big solutions during the first full day of the Public Broadcasters International conference in Montreal on Thursday, which host CBC/Radio-Canada is focusing exclusively on how public broadcasters can attract and engage a young audience while fulfilling their mandate.

The most interesting insight came from new media and technology companies who were invited to offer insight on how they reach millennials. “Authenticity is critical,” explained Ling Lin, strategic partner manager content partnerships, North America for YouTube. That word came up several times during a panel discussion. “Content has to be made by young people if it’s going to be for young people,” said Nina Sudra, general manager of Vice Canada.

Lin pointed to the power of analytics to drive engagement, not just to figure out what age and gender groups can be targeted, but to reach people through common interests as well. Analyzing how content is consumed can lead to surprising revelations. For example, late-night host Conan O’Brien decided to take his show to South Korea after learning his YouTube videos were unusually popular there. He arrived at the airport to a flood of young fans he never knew he had, she said.

One thing that CBC and Radio-Canada’s heads of digital showed during their presentation is that the problem with public broadcasters — and broadcasters in general — isn’t that they’re not reaching enough people, but that they’re not getting enough engagement from them. In fact, CBC reaches more millennials than Twitter, Snapchat and other major news sources, but Facebook and YouTube are “in a class by themselves” in terms of time spent, said Richard Kanee, head of digital for CBC (pictured).

In short, millennials are not consuming content the way broadcasters are delivering it (which is to no one’s surprise at this point). This problem was summed up by Michelle Guthrie, managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, who said her 14- and 20-year-old daughters don’t watch television, and when she discovered one of them watching the documentary Making a Murderer on Netflix, got her to admit that she would not have watched that same 10 hours of programming if it had been presented on traditional television.

What broadcasters should do about this problem was a question that didn’t have many answers. But at least one tech company — a “frenemy” of the broadcasters — is trying to help.

“We’re going to give them the keys to the car, and let them drive.” Hubert Lacroix, CBC

Will Cathcart, executive director of product development at Facebook, explained how his company is engaging young people, with features such as Facebook Live, Facebook 360 and Instant Articles, whose features are influenced in part by feedback from news organizations. For Instant Articles in particular, Facebook offers to deliver ads and let content producers keep 100% of the revenue, or sell its own ads and share the revenue, or help distribute branded content. It’s also testing a system where people who read several Instant Articles from one news source can be prompted to subscribe to that source.

“We can be the top of the funnel for you,” he explained, adding that Facebook isn’t trying to compete with broadcasters. “We don’t want to be a media company in the traditional sense. We’re a platform company.”

The two biggest takeaways from these panels — that millennials are who need to be creating content for their own age group (and therefore also be employed by these broadcasters), and that media must to experiment with different ways of delivering content — are about to be put to use at Radio-Canada. CBC CEO Hubert Lacroix announced the creation of a group they’re calling Next Generation, an “experimental space to be created by millennials and managed by millennials.”

Starting with a group of about 15-20 people, this working group based out of Radio-Canada in Montreal will be charged with experimenting with new ways to create and distribute news content. The mandate is vague, but that’s by design. Other than requiring adherence to journalistic principles, the group is being given few limits.

“We’re going to give them the keys to the car, and let them drive,” Lacroix said.

Will the group expand, or will employees be rotated into the group?

Those are still intentionally open questions. “Even the definition of jobs will be fluid and wide-ranging,” explained Michel Cormier, news director at Radio-Canada. Though it’s a Radio-Canada project for now, there’s nothing to stop a similar project from starting at CBC.

The group is expected to start delivering content to the public in early 2017, Lacroix said.

Photo by Steve Faguy, Montreal.