Digital Transition Series: Interview with CBC’s Tessa Sproule

Digital Transition Series: Interview with CBC’s Tessa Sproule

Co-authored by: Lucas Armstrong and Claudio Munoz

According to Tessa Sproule, director of digital at CBC, media organizations are operating in a business environment where the models are old. “Digital didn’t exist when we started,” she says. “We’ve got a long history of, ‘That’s the way that we do the business.’” However, organizations are evolving. CBC is not just a broadcaster anymore—it’s a media company with Canadian storytelling at the centre of its vision, and a complete focus on the consumer of information.

As part of MaRS’ market intelligence research on the media sector, our analysts sat with Tessa to better understand the challenges and successes that digital media present. Part of that conversation was included in the already-published report Digital Transition: Canadian Media Experiments in 2014; the rest is presented here. 

Market Intelligence: Do you think that media organizations are overcoming disruption, or is the industry in a state of constant turmoil?

Tessa Sproule: Think about how much your own personal entertainment habits have changed in four years, since the launch of the iPad. There is probably something that is going to be just as disruptive as the iPad in the future…. What I think media organizations need to do is resolve the key piece of their business—what is the thing that they do? To me, CBC is a content maker and curator. We make moments and we get them in front of people. Traditionally, we have done it on radio and TV, but now it is a matter of how do we make our content relevant, so that audiences will find it when they want it. We don’t have the opportunity to put it on a schedule and rely on passive audiences anymore. 

MI: In that sense, what’s your main project right now?

TS: We try to figure out what are people coming to us for and try to anticipate the piece of content that they want—and what is our biggest opportunity. So, for example, when we make content that people want to watch we put it out into the world and on the screens that they want to watch it on, we have phenomenal usage. Fifteen percent of all Olympic video connection happened on digital, which we have never seen before.

MI: In terms of revenue, I guess the advertising for the Olympic Games in traditional media generated more revenue than the advertising on digital.

TS: Yes, but we had really aggressive targets on digital and surpassed them the third day, because we actually did curate the Olympic experience in digital. We know that certain moments could occur at any time. These “We have got to get the Sidney Crosby goal up right now,” moments. Digital has, from a content media perspective, been so disruptive because we really need to be real-time. We need to be 24-7 curators of content.

MI: The user experience changes too, and it is tailored then.

TS: Yes, and it would be tailored based on what is the story we are trying to tell, and who’s the potential audience for that story. It’s going to be different for a game show than it would be for Dragon’s Den, which is shot months in advance and we don’t have the real-time opportunities with the audience to play.

MI: Do you work with startups exploring new ideas?

TS: Yes, absolutely. If we have a problem and a company can help us solve it, I will introduce them to that group [at CBC dealing with the problem]. Sometimes they will go through the whole process [we have in place] to help us find the right vendor to work with. Sometimes it is a startup, sometimes it is more of an established group.

MI: Some analysts say that television is somehow protected from disruption, while other forms of media, like newspapers, got totally disrupted. What do you think about it?

TS: I wouldn’t want to say that [television] is more protected, because business models are rounded. A kid in his basement can have more audience on YouTube than we have with a network primetime show. Ultimately, I see the next disruption on TV as whoever comes up with the iTunes of TV. Hulu is an example, but it isn’t global in the sense that YouTube is. We still need to think differently about who we work with, how we work with them, when we work with them, how we release content.

Join us on June 16 for more insights on Digital Transition

For more insights from the Digital Transition series, join us on June 16th at MaRS for a MaRS Market Insights event, featuring Tessa Sproule; Craig Saila, Director of Digital Products, The Globe and Mail; Steve Billinger, Principal, Broken Dog and former executive at CBC and BSkyB; and Ben Peterson, Co-founder and CEO, Newsana and a showcase of Ontario’s most innovative media startups.

Tessa Sproule is the Director, Digital at CBC and a panelist in the upcoming event Digital Transition: Canadian Media Experiments in 2014 at MaRS. Join us for a discussion on the future of media and to learn more about the startups that are transforming the sector.