Mongeau on hockey, radio and Canadian content at CBC (Q&A)

Newly appointed as general manager, chief revenue officer for CBC/Radio-Canada, Jean Mongeau is preparing to steer the Corp. through what is shaping up as the most turbulent period in its history. With an estimated $100 million in ad revenue set to depart with the impending loss of National Hockey League rights to Rogers Communications (although […]

Newly appointed as general manager, chief revenue officer for CBC/Radio-Canada, Jean Mongeau is preparing to steer the Corp. through what is shaping up as the most turbulent period in its history.

Jean Mongeau

With an estimated $100 million in ad revenue set to depart with the impending loss of National Hockey League rights to Rogers Communications (although CBC Television will retain its Saturday night games for the next four years) and a stated intention to trim nearly 700 jobs over the next two years, the public broadcaster is clearly in a period of transition.

In this second installment of a two-part interview, Mongeau shares details with Marketing on the upcoming loss of hockey revenues at CBC, plans for its radio offerings and what he envisions for its programming future.

With the impending loss of Hockey Night in Canada revenues, what do your future plans look like?
Our plans are in place for the current fiscal year that began April 1. Obviously we’re in transition… but based on the loss of hockey, that portion for the fall of 2014 is off our books and we are focusing on the remainder of our schedule, which is a huge part of our inventory.

We will be rolling out our programming offer to the market at the end of May, and I’m quite confident people will start to get a sense of the new CBC—the one that doesn’t rely on hockey for its future—as we devise programming that is a little more distinctive, a little edgier, and an offering that will be very clearly different than the other broadcasters.

Do you anticipate that it will take some time for the CBC to regain its equilibrium following the loss of hockey, or do you anticipate you’ll be able to reinvent yourselves quickly?
As it relates to our programming strategy, from the discussions I’ve had with the programming staff they’ve already rebounded. They’ve got some very new projects in play for next fall, and obviously they’re determined to succeed in the future. I would even dare to say that our business partners want us to succeed. The people responsible for content at CBC Television are certainly motivated to make it quite interesting for the business community in the coming years.

Last year, the CRTC granted the CBC permission to sell ads on its Radio 2 and Espace Musique services on a three-year trial basis. How do you envision those services emerging?
It’s clear that Radio 2 and Espace Musique are two very distinct radio offerings in the market. As this rolls out, it’s clear there is [advertiser] buy-in that is developing as they experience the product.

So far we know we are going in the right direction because the feedback from the advertisers has been positive and I see that is slowly growing as more advertisers and agencies realize the impact and the opportunity these platforms offer.

Revenues from these services comprise a relatively small part of the Corporation’s total, but how would you characterize your growth targets?
They’re very aggressive—that’s true with any launch at any media organization as it ramps up. The difference between our service and a startup is that our products have been on-air for awhile, so there’s no [advertiser] uncertainty. Advertisers coming on-air with us are not confronted with potential non-delivery of audience. We’ve been delivering solid numbers for a number of years. That really distinguishes us from other players.

Given the changing landscape and financial pressures facing the CBC, do you expect radio to become an important part of your overall revenue mix?
No. All revenue that allows us to enhance and improve the quality of our programming and content to the population is a plus. It is there to complement the rest of the services. People tend to forget that we don’t have shareholders to which we give back that money—it’s not a question of airing ads on radio for any other reason than to continue to sustain quality Canadian content. We’re there to provide a better-quality offering to the Canadian population, and that model will hold true for as long as we exist.

There have been a lot of opinions voiced as to what your programming staff would like to see the CBC become. What do you envision?
One thing’s for sure—we leave nobody indifferent. For me personally, as I accepted this challenge that was offered to me by [head of English services] Heather Conway, I’m still convinced that we have an incredible opportunity to be a force to be reckoned with in Canadian content. If there’s one thing I know makes us stronger in the future, it’s that in the minds of Canadians, Canadian content lives at CBC/Radio-Canada—it doesn’t resonate anywhere else as much as it does on our airwaves and our platforms.

We’ve heard the numbers in terms of the layoffs, but can you provide a sense of how adversely impacted the sales force has been?
In the case of the overall downsizing, the English group was more affected than the French, but as a whole the organization was impacted sufficiently enough that some good people are affected by it—that’s the sad part of all of this. There are some union issues and things that I’m not able to disclose publicly, [but] I can tell you that it was a pretty substantial downsizing by any stretch of the imagination. Across the organization, you’re talking 250 to 275 people after the downsizing.

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