In a sharp illustration of how the media landscape is shifting from traditional companies to new media powerhouses, Kirstine Stewart, one of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s top executives, announced her surprise departure on Monday to head up the first domestic office of Twitter.
Ms. Stewart, the CBC’s executive vice-president of English-language services, will become the managing director of Twitter Canada, where she will focus on partnerships with media companies, other brands and advertisers.
“What I liked most about CBC was showing off great talent, and what I think Twitter does is show off great talent,” Ms. Stewart said in an interview on Monday. “There’s a lot of that here in Canada and that’s I think why they made their move to Canada.”
Hubert Lacroix, president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, said “it is a fact of life in a competitive, creative business that when you have great people, others will try to entice them away with big opportunities.”
But while Ms. Stewart may be the highest-profile Canadian media executive to decamp from broadcasting to the high-velocity world of social networks, her move echoes a shift that has been picking up speed south of the border. There, investors and executives who made their names and fortunes in traditional media are often involved in disrupting the very industries they helped build.
Barry Diller, who headed the Fox network, is backing a start-up TV service, Aereo, that has angered large U.S. broadcasters because it delivers their television signals to customers over the Internet without paying them compensation.
And last week, Variety reported that a company headed by the former president and COO of News Corporation, Peter Chernin, was in production on a reality series that would bypass TV entirely and instead play exclusively on social media platforms. The Chernin Group’s @SummerBreak is expected to take the form of tweets, photographs and other media content on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and YouTube. Mr. Chernin is also on the board of Twitter.
Ms. Stewart, 45, one of the most active Canadian broadcasting executives on Twitter since she signed on to the social network two years ago, joins the company as it is expanding internationally and moving increasingly into the business of helping brands engage audiences. It claims 200-million users, of which 70 per cent are outside the U.S.
Her hiring suggests Twitter may move more into the area of content creation or partnerships. The micro-blogging service’s forays into advertising have been largely restricted to ad placement within Twitter itself. But Ms. Stewart may be asked to develop partnerships with creators of TV and Web programming.
Twitter’s first Canadian office is likely to focus initially on building advertising and corporate relationships with businesses across the country, as the micro-blogging service ramps up its efforts to generate revenue from sponsored tweets and similar advertising tools. Facebook’s first Canadian officers were focused on similar goals. Even Google, which maintains a large engineering-focused office in Waterloo, Ont., also has a major advertising and sales operation based out of Toronto.
A Canadian base also allows Twitter to vie for Canadian talent in the form of corporate acquisitions.
The company recently acquired Bluefin Labs, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that analyzes Twitter-based conversations about TV shows, and also struck a partnership with the Nielsen Company aimed at creating a new TV rating that would incorporate social media activity.
“There are a lot of connections that they’re able to draw out and start to make with these associations – like with Nielsen,” Ms. Stewart said. “You can actually see them engage in it, and how deeply they go into it – you can capitalize on and form partnerships around brands.”
Twitter is also moving more into so-called discoverability – helping people find things they might like. Two weeks ago, it introduced an app called Twitter Music that helps people find music that is trending on the service.
Its Vine app, introduced this year, enables people to share six-second snippets of video.
“Media used to be quite top-down,” Ms. Stewart said. “Whether you were a TV broadcaster, a radio broadcaster, it was a very one-way transaction. And now media is in a place where people don’t just want to interact or comment on what they’re seeing or hearing, they actually want to contribute to it, become content creators themselves, so we’re living in this almost golden age. The traditional doesn’t go away but it’s transforming itself with these new opportunities.”
With a file from Omar El Akkad