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A man stands outside the CBC/Radio-Canada building in Montreal, Wednesday, April 4, 2012. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A man stands outside the CBC/Radio-Canada building in Montreal, Wednesday, April 4, 2012. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

media

CBC’s French service name change to ‘Ici’ raises eyebrows in Ottawa Add to ...

The CBC is rebranding its French-language service in a move that will see two iconic words – “Radio-Canada” – largely fade away from the country’s media landscape.

Instead of using the long-standing label as its main calling card, the CBC’s many French-language platforms will all be renamed “Ici” – meaning “here” – throughout all channels and websites.

The CBC is arguing that the changes will affect its visual presence on television and the Internet mostly, to modernize the brand in a changing media landscape. Still, the disappearance of “Canada” from the Crown corporation’s main identifier did not go unnoticed in Ottawa, where Heritage Minister James Moore called on the CBC’s board and management to explain the change.

“It’s concerning for a lot of Canadians,” Mr. Moore told reporters. “CBC has to make it clear to Canadians that the brand and the presence of Canada, in Canada’s public broadcaster, should not be diminished in any part of this country.”

Asked whether the CBC should not only explain but reconsider the name change, Mr. Moore said: “We’ll see.”

He added that he was not consulted. The official French name of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. will remain the same – Société Radio-Canada – meaning that the move to rebrand the channels does not require legislative change.

“We had no idea the announcement was going to happen today,” Mr. Moore said Wednesday.

Mr. Moore suggested the new name goes beyond a cosmetic change, especially because the Crown corporation receives $1.1-billion in federal funding a year.

“It’s for CBC to explain and to reassure Canadians that the Canadian public broadcaster is still very much Canadian,” Mr. Moore said. “Canadians believe in supporting a public broadcaster that is clearly a Canadian brand, sharing Canadian news and information, not having the perception that it is another private broadcaster.”

The NDP, the federal party with the biggest presence in Quebec, also slammed the move.

“I’m quite disappointed. I kind of really like the brand, I really like Radio-Canada, and I think that most Quebeckers do – and so, according to me, it’s a bizarre decision,” New Democrat MP Pierre Nantel said.

The new name has a clear historical resonance within the French-language broadcaster, which has used the phrase “Ici Radio-Canada” for more than 75 years. Radio-Canada started broadcasting in 1937 when it launched its first station, called CBF, in Montreal. While it trails the private-sector TVA network in overall ratings, the television station broadcasts dramas and variety shows that regularly attract more than one million viewers, and offers unrivalled news coverage in French-language markets across the country.

The CBC said that the name change will affect mainly the visual aspects of the broadcaster’s marketing and branding, and that “Radio-Canada” will remain a key element of its pan-Canadian presence.

“If you’re worried about what the name of the company is or how we think about ourselves, we are Radio-Canada and we’re proud,” vice-president Bill Chambers said in an interview. “We will always be that.”

The CBC is arguing that its goal is to simplify the names of its channels while highlighting that Radio-Canada does more than radio.

In that context, the main website site will change from radio-canada.ca to ici.ca, while the television network will be called Ici Télé. The equivalent of CBC’s Radio One will be called Ici Première, and the broadcaster’s all-news network will become Ici RDI.

There are questions internally about how the change will play out in day-to-day activities at the broadcaster. For example, journalists are expected to stop signing off with the words “Radio-Canada,” a major change in the country’s news business.

Still, the move is garnering positive responses in the marketing world. Eric Blais, president of Headspace Marketing Inc., said the change does not constitute a full-scale rebranding since CBC’s instantly recognizable logo – designed by Burton Kramer in 1974 – remains part of the brand.

“Radio-Canada is so much more than radio. It’s totally appropriate for this organization to want to revisit their brand to better reflect their offering,” he said.

Radio-Canada argued that its overall objective is to transform its entire image.

“Recreating Radio-Canada means making it a modern organization, adapted to today’s reality and able to welcome the main talents as a leader in its industry, always in tune with the needs of its audience,” CBC vice-president Louis Lalande said in a news release.

Radio-Canada explained that the rebranding will cost $400,000, with most of the funding coming from existing communications budgets.

With a report from Susan Krashinsky

Follow on Twitter: @danlebla

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