Canadian public broadcaster CBC has pulled back the curtain on its new strategic direction, detailing its diverse new content, an entertainment consolidation and rebrand, and a new FAST channel in conjunction with its news division.
At the Nov. 30 event at Toronto’s Massey Hall, hosted by “Kim’s Convenience” and “Run the Burbs” star Andrew Phung, the broadcaster explained that all entertainment content, including streaming, linear and podcasts, now lives under the CBC Entertains umbrella. Combined, CBC Entertains and CBC News is the company’s two-pronged approach designed to engage and amplify new voices in Canada — for all Canadians.
“Everybody knows CBC News, it’s where Canadians turn whenever there’s a big story,” CBC’s executive VP Barbara Williams tells Variety. “We do an amazing amount of entertaining content across TV, CBC Gem, [radio app] Listen, podcasts. And somehow that collection of entertainment content wasn’t quite as clearly understood. So we put it all together under a headline.”
Adds general manager of entertainment, factual and sports Sally Catto: “It’s reminding the audiences that we have dramas, we have comedies, we have kids, but we also have really great podcasts, we have wonderful music. We have the Olympics. We have such a range of content that really explores the arts in its own way.”
During the event, that new winter content was promoted across the board. Stars from upcoming unscripted series like “Push,” revolving around a group of friends in Edmonton called “the Wheelie Peeps,” and “Bollywed,” about a bridal-shop-owning family in Toronto’s Little India, appeared onstage or virtually.
According to Williams, the main message was to convey that CBC is an all-inclusive media offering with a very distinct point of view on what it means to be Canada’s public broadcaster. She adds there’s a responsibility and an opportunity that comes with that.
“We are reaching into new communities and different creators to find new ways to tell stories,” she says. “Television is an important piece of our offering. But we’re also telling stories on CBC Gem in a variety of formats. We’re also telling fiction stories that can only be told in audio form. With all the platforms, we have to be sure we reflect contemporary Canada and be that one place where everybody who lives in Canada can find something for them.”
Williams notes that CBC’s tiered streaming service, CBC Gem, has seen a 34 per cent growth in its subscriber base year-over-year. That platform is one of a few places Canadians can now access CBC’s new FAST service, CBC News Explore, which officially launched Nov. 30.
At the presentation, the broadcaster debuted four new, in-depth news series in conjunction with that launch: “About That” starring Andrew Chang, “This Week in Canada,” “Planet Wonder” featuring meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe, and “Big: CBC News Original Documentary.”
CBC News Explore is the second FAST channel launching in Canada this week (Pluto TV debuts Dec. 1), and the third overall ad-supported service in Canada, joining TUBI. CBC News Explore is also available via the CBC News App, CBCNews.ca and The Roku Channel, but Williams reveals there are plans to add more distributors soon.
“We made thoughtful decisions out of the gate; we have four new shows we’re launching, not 40. We didn’t want to set ourselves up with something that was going to be too big to match,” says Williams.
“We know we have lots of content to fill the channel and we’ll build over time. We wanted to be free and we’re starting with Roku, but we’re committed to getting to all the other connected platforms in the next few months.”
Looking ahead, Williams says diversity is a daily conversation and something CBC has spent a lot of time discussing and implementing from within in order to create schedules and content to match.
“You have to be deliberate about it,” she says. “Do we have the internal teams that reflect the communities we’re trying to talk to? Do we have the diversity, the range of communities reflected, of ethnicities and cultures, of people with disabilities, of our Indigenous communities? If you can’t be that [on the] inside, it’s really tough to talk about authenticity outside.”
She adds it’s a CBC mandate to find creators they haven’t spoken with before and to encourage those stories to be told through a variety of opportunities and programs that further develop talent.
Amplifying those voices is also a challenge that the public broadcaster is ready to tackle. Williams reveals internal research shows there’s a whole generation of Canadians that don’t have a relationship with CBC and she wants to change that.
“A lot of what we were doing today with this event was launching an opportunity to help inform Canadians what we’re up to. It is a marketing exercise. It is a branding exercise,” Williams says.
“It is about making CBC stand for something for people. To collectively stand for something, to stand for that opportunity and responsibility to reflect contemporary Canada. You have to be telling people about it all the time.”