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Sean Patrick Hagen

Vancouver based programmer who also does stuff with D&D and video games.

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It seems like all the Canadian media companies are up in arms over the newly launched web app from CBC: music.cbc.ca . My understanding is that this web app lets users play music that they could listen to on any of the CBC radio channels ( let’s just assume the user happens to tune in at the right time to hear a particular song ).

The group of media companies – which is expected to include Rogers Communications and Corus Entertainment – are basically upset that yet another competitor in online music has emerged to satisfy Canadian users. The group is trying to argue “that the broadcaster has no right to compete with the private broadcasters in the online music space” ( link ).

Just for fun, let’s take a look at the CBC mandate ( emphasis mine ):</span>

(_m_) the programming provided by the Corporation should
  • (i) be predominantly and distinctively Canadian,
  • (ii) reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions,
  • (iii) actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,
  • (iv) be in English and in French, reflecting the different needs and circumstances of each official language community, including the particular needs and circumstances of English and French linguistic minorities,
  • (v) strive to be of equivalent quality in English and in French,
  • (vi) contribute to shared national consciousness and identity,
  • (vii) **be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose**, and
  • (viii) reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada;

In a time when the CBC is facing budget cuts, I’d think that offering their programming online is a great way to fulfil their mandate. I’d also argue that putting their music online is also a great way to reach people they wouldn’t have reached before.</span>

For the bigger companies, I think part of the reason they’re so up in arms is that the online age is proving hard to adapt to. Most people I know don’t really listen to the radio any more – either they’ve got music on their smartphone or iPod, or they use a service like Grooveshark to create playlists of music they like. Why listen to a music radio station that will probably end up playing a bunch of songs you don’t like when you can create a custom list of your favorite songs and listen to that instead?</span>

Now, some stations are different; some stations don’t play music at all, they’re a news or talk channel. But those stations are often in the minority when you look at all the stations a company offers. For example, Rogers Communications owns 10 radio stations – only one of those seems to be a non-music channel ( News 1130 ). Corus Entertainment owns 37 radio stations, and 9 of those are news/talk stations. But when 75-90% of your line-up are stations that play music, you’re going to be keeping an eye out for anything that might take listeners away.</span>

One thing I’d be curious is to see how many people actually listen to the radio when they’re not in their car. I know that when I did have a vehicle, the only time I’d listen to the radio was when I was driving – and that was only when I didn’t have a CD playing ( I made a lot of custom CDs to listen to ). I’d estimate that at least half of my driving time was spent listening to a CD, the other half to the radio. Outside of the car? I never listened to the radio – either on a radio or using an online radio station. Why would I, when I could listen to the songs I liked, without having to listen to inane radio djs or two minutes of commercials.</span>

I think that companies that own radio stations are starting to see a hit in their bottom line because more and more people are switching to satellite radio and online music services. I’d love to see some numbers on that, just to see if it’s true.</span>

In the end, I think that stuff like this – attacks against a rival station creating an online music streaming service – are probably going to die out as companies realize that the traditional radio model doesn’t quite work any more. Or at least I hope these kind of attacks will die out. The other option is for companies to go crazy with attacks like this as more and more people leave traditional radio for online streaming.</span>