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Can Innovation Ever Be a Bad Thing?

Barrie McKenna is mad at the CBC for innovating. He’d rather the Company – like the many newspapers he claims are being disrupted out of business by their aggressive digital expansion – stick to their knitting as defined by their mission.

As Mr. McKenna points out, the Broadcasting Act defines the CBC’s mandate as being to “provide radio and television services, incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains.” Mr. McKenna doesn’t see how digital plays into that mission.

Seriously?

The CBC isn’t killing newspapers, consumers of news are. We’re the ones news organizations need to reach if they’re to be an attractive and efficient buy for advertisers. But our readership of “paper” news is off by up to 90% over the past 15 years. Today, we expect to get whatever information we need when, where and how we want it. News is now an on-demand business.

I don’t take pleasure in having seen a constant stream of journalists lose their jobs over the past decade. However, had the leaders of the downsizing organizations acted with greater urgency to what were and continue to be rapidly changing market conditions, many of them might still be working there today.

The news media and everyone in it need to wake up to today’s digital reality, and I applaud the CBC for taking the lead. Who’d have thought it? Our government is beating the private sector at its own game. Working faster, harder and more effectively to adapt to changing times. For what it’s worth, I think both the Globe and Mail and PostMedia are now on the right track.

Advertisers have had to adjust too. Classified ads have been replaced by craigslist.org and kijiji.ca, both of which can be free to advertisers. We’re buying everything from diapers to cars on amazon.ca (a client), and with Amazon Prime, we can now expect anything we order on our morning commute to be waiting for us at home that night.

Good on Mr. Lacroix and his team at the CBC for having the courage and conviction to embrace change. I can’t think of a better ROI that our government is currently generating on any other spend. Our tax dollars are funding consumer-centric innovation that’s enabling the CBC to grow at the expense of its slower, more risk-averse competitors.

Imagine the headlines we’d be reading if the CBC had not taken the plunge down the digital path. Something like this: “Asleep at the CBC: Canada’s National Media Experiment Has Failed Us All.” Fortunately, that’s not something that will need to be written any time soon.

I do agree with Mr. McKenna on one thing: a bailout of a dying industry would have been folly. That said, rather than critiquing any organization for doing what’s right, I think the question we now need to ask is: When will taxpayers start to see a dividend on their “venture” investments in CBC’s digital transformation? Specifically, when will the increased ad revenue allow us to shrink our contributions to the CBC’s budget and divert those dollars to other worthy efforts?

One would hope that day is coming fast.