At least one thing is clear: Adrienne Arsenault is the new Pastor Mansbridge. Yep, it was announced last week that CBC’s The National (remember when we used to watch The National?) is getting a shakeup. Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, as they say. Well done Ms. Arsenault.
Another thing isn’t quite so clear, but looks ominous: It appears CBC News is aiming to again expand its online and streaming presence. More on that, coming up.
First, Arsenault is being named “Chief Correspondent of CBC News” and will anchor The National Monday to Thursday. On. Her. Own. As baffled viewers discovered about four years ago, The National was being anchored by four people, some in a studio and some a ghostly presence on the wall of a studio. Add in one of the ubiquitous political correspondents and it was like watching a five-a-side soccer team, passing the news-ball to each other and taking turns at breathlessly telling you the day’s stories.
It was maddeningly scattershot, oddly paced and confusing. And, frankly, it was utterly exhausting to watch. Between the use of multiple co-anchors and the use of onscreen text to promote an upcoming story – text too brief to read, let alone register – it was roll-your-eyes time.
Years later, a squall of knowledge finally struck the CBC News bosses: One anchor is fine, thanks very much. Ian Hanomansing will anchor Fridays and Sundays and be the permanent host of codgers-only Cross Country Checkup on CBC Radio.
But wait, there’s more. What of Andrew Chang, that personable audience favourite, all emoting hands to let us know he’s really engaged with the news story? He will anchor a whole new thing. As the excited CBC release put it, “CBC News will launch a free 24/7 ad-supported streaming (FAST) news channel for streaming, digital and connected TV platforms, offering the best of CBC local, national and current affairs journalism.”
Hold on there now. Hold on. A new streaming service for CBC News? Sounds like it.
How much CBC News does the world need? Right now, there’s the main CBC TV network, which carries CBC News programs plus documentaries and current affairs programs. Then there’s CBC News Network (CBCNN), a cable channel delivering news 24/7, plus documentaries and current affairs programs.
Also, there is CBC Gem, a streaming service you can stream at no charge and use to watch every recent edition of The National and documentaries and current affairs programs. There is also the CBC News channel on YouTube. Plus, there’s the CBC News App. And there’s cbc.ca, which has approximately 70 separate sections on the site. Often forgotten is “documentary Channel,” (yep, lower-case “d” for “documentary,” go figure), a CBC-owned digital channel devoted to showing the “best documentaries from Canada and around the world.” Most of them are newsy.
One thing comes to mind here and that’s CNN Plus. Don’t know if CBC News honchos heard about this, but CNN’s parent company pulled the plug on the network’s advance into streaming about three weeks after it launched. Nobody was that interested, you see.
Admittedly, CBC’s new news offering is a free, ad-supported streaming service – “FAST” is an acronym for that. This type of platform exists somewhere between traditional network TV and streaming. You can access FAST channels through Roku and Samsung smart TVs. I know, I know. It sounds like more technology you don’t understand, but need.
New technology is driving TV forward, but some old-fashioned issues remain with FAST platforms. According to a piece on CBC’s own website, “FAST channels use targeted advertising and rely on that ad-revenue to keep the service free.” The expert quoted in the (unsigned) piece, Tom Merritt, an L.A.-based technology podcaster who hosts Daily Tech News Show, says there are privacy concerns: “They make more money the better they can target their ads. And the way they target their ads the best is to find out as much about who’s watching as possible.”
Right. There’s usually a problem with free content, and in this case the problem might be, how much do you want CBC News to know about you? How well acquainted with you is Andrew Chang going to be?
The lesson of history in TV is that there are no lessons. Mistakes are made all the time. Arsenault as the new Mansbridge, a solo anchor for The National, is unlikely to be a mistake. The National might slowly return to relevance and retrieve the audience it once had. But this new CBC News adventure in FAST platforms sounds dubious. How much CBC News is needed – and how many mistakes can it make?
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