CBC appoints Kanee as new digital head

New media veteran has worked with Bell Media, CHUM Television

The CBC has appointed Richard Kanee, a veteran new media executive who has worked in digital roles with both Bell Media and the now-defunct CHUM Television, as its new head of digital.

Richard Kannee

Richard Kanee

He replaces former director of digital content Tessa Sproule, who left the public broadcaster in May after more than 20 years and recently resurfaced as the head of a new start-up called Vubble.

Kanee has extensive digital experience, having previously worked as manager of new media business development for the former CHUM Television between 2004 and 2006, and later as supervising producer, interactive – music and youth for CTV Inc.’s MuchMusic (now just Much) brand.

He was most recently president and CEO of a Toronto start-up called Creative D, which developed a digital trading card platform called Decksi – which he likens to a rich-media version of hockey cards.

Despite raising $1.8 million in funding and producing work for several high-profile media companies including Warner Music, Comedy Central and Fox, Kanee wound down the company in December after three years.

“Early-stage start-up is a high-risk business, and we just ran out of time before we got the proof-points we needed to keep it going,” he said. “A big personal objective of mine was to step outside of the warm embrace of a large media company, for whom digital is [merely] an interesting exercise, and really understand what it’s like to build a digital business.

“It’s those experiences that I’m excited to bring back to play in a much larger context, with significantly better resources than our little start-up.”

Kanee, who was approached by a recruitment firm earlier this year, said he was attracted to the CBC by its commitment to putting digital at the forefront of its content strategy. CBC president Hubert Lacroix outlined the plan with the June unveiling of a new five-year strategic plan, A Space For Us All.

“If I was going to jump back into a big corporate environment after three years, I was really looking for a place where I could make a meaningful impact to the core business,” said Kanee.

“CBC’s a unique opportunity in Canada,” he continued. “It’s an incredibly strong brand, we own and control our content, and the mantra from the top that we must become a digital company [meant that] it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.”

He said that his experience with Creative D, which encompassed everything from product development to being “hyper-focused” on audiences, would form the basis of his work with the CBC.

He will report to Neil McEneaney, chief business officer, CBC English Services. While describing his role as a “work-in-progress,” he said that his chief mandate is to provide focus and direction to the CBC’s digital strategy.

While the CBC is arguably the country’s most scrutinized media company, with everyone from politicians to pundits and public interest groups expressing opinions about its operation, Kanee said he welcomes the challenge.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t conscious of all those stakeholders and wasn’t reading all the press – the good, the bad and the ugly – over the summer,” he said. “These are challenging times for media in general, and certainly the CBC isn’t immune, but from my perspective the audience is the constituency we should care most about: What kind of stories do they want to hear, how do they want to engage with those stories on emerging platforms and how can we empower digital storytellers and give them a platform to express themselves?”

Kanee said he gravitates towards character-driven programming that resonates with audiences. A show like AMC’s The Walking Dead, he said, proves it’s possible to create both audience and advertiser-friendly programming that is simultaneously smart, rich and nuanced.

He’s quick to dismiss suggestions that the CBC will become Canada’s new home for shows about the undead (although Air Farce did establish something of a precedent), but lauded the AMC hit as the type of show that oozes quality, along with blood and guts.

“You can buy reach anywhere, but passion becomes a unique selling position,” he said.

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