CBC’s digital guru Tessa Sproule contemplates life after ‘public media’

Tessa Sproule knows she’s being evasive, even apologizes repeatedly, but insists she can’t reveal details about her career plans when her current role as the CBC’s director of digital content formally concludes on July 31. “Sorry to be so vague,” she said several times when pressed for details about the new venture she’s assembling. From […]

Tessa Sproule knows she’s being evasive, even apologizes repeatedly, but insists she can’t reveal details about her career plans when her current role as the CBC’s director of digital content formally concludes on July 31.

Tessa Sproule

“Sorry to be so vague,” she said several times when pressed for details about the new venture she’s assembling. From her halting description, it sounds like a content play, currently positioned somewhere between the incubator stage and the formal assembly of a leadership team.

“It’s an effort that’s going to require a few different moving pieces that will be much stronger together…” she continued, before trailing off with an apologetic laugh. “Sorry to be so vague—that sounds so lame.”

This new venture had been on Sproule’s mind for awhile—long before last week’s announcement that she would leave the CBC after more than 20 years. “Even five years ago, I was jealously looking at all the things that were going on outside of the CBC and thinking, ‘Look at what you can do,’” she said. “But more seriously, it’s been the past year.”

While she has held a variety of roles with the CBC since first joining in 1994 as a producer, reporter and director with CBC Radio’s daily arts newscast The Arts Report, it is her current role as CBC’s digital champion that has come to define Sproule’s time with the public broadcaster.

Described by colleagues as both “one of the brightest minds in digital media” and a valuable addition to any team with “smack-down needs,” Sproule characterized her role within CBC as one of many “de-mystifiers” of the digital space.

“Because I had the journalism and production background, I could speak all of the languages,” she said. “We’ve all been building this thing as we fly it, but I hope that is something I’ve done effectively.”

She said her departure has nothing to do with the impending wave of layoffs set to sweep through the CBC as it prepares for a future without lucrative hockey revenue and reduced government funding. Instead, it reflects her desire to apply her skills to something different.

“I’ve reached the capacity of what I can do [at the CBC], and I’m being drawn to the light of non-legacy media—the disruptors,” she said. “Ultimately I’m interested in Canadian storytellers being able to reach Canadian audiences and people having a vibrant discussion about issues that are critical to us as a democracy, but I think I can have more impact to do that outside of the CBC.”

Her departure comes at a pivotal period for both the CBC and its legacy media counterparts, all of which are struggling to achieve some degree of equilibrium as the foundation upon which their businesses were built continues to erode.

“What we have right now is legacy media players that are trying to reinvent themselves, reconfigure themselves, and adjust to the changes that have been happening for quite awhile,” said Sproule. “The pressures of technology are changing the means of production and distribution, and empowering storytellers that in the past wouldn’t have had access to audiences directly and now do.”

There has been a steady stream of speculation about the “new” CBC’s role in this reconfigured landscape, and while noting that it’s “out of my hands, now,” Sproule said it must continue to play its part as an advocate for Canadian stories and ideals.

Sproule said public media—she pointedly refuses to describe the CBC as a public broadcaster—is “fundamentally critical” in today’s “infinite channel universe,” and the CBC possesses the necessary know-how to adapt to the new world order. “There are fantastic brains in this organization all across the country,” she said.

“All legacy media needs to take a very deep look at itself and figure out what it is that it’s trying to do, its place in the conversation and the exchange that’s happening between the audience and the information, entertainment and education they’re receiving,” she said. “Each organization is going to have to find its voice so well, because at this point a lot of legacy media is suffering from a lack of control. They used to have lots of control and now they have almost none.”

On some matters, it seems, Sproule is more than willing to speak her mind.


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