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CBC appoints Conway as new chief English-language programmer

Heather Conway is pictured here in the Art Gallery of Ontario, where she was appointed chief business office two years ago.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has tapped an executive from outside the media world to steer its English-language services through a tumultuous broadcasting environment.

Heather Conway, a former head of the public relations firm Edelman Canada, who two years ago was appointed to the newly created position of chief business officer at the Art Gallery of Ontario, replaces Kirstine Stewart, who left CBC in the spring to become the first head of Twitter Canada.

The CBC is expected to announce the appointment, which was confirmed Tuesday by the broadcaster's board, later this week.

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The choice of Ms. Conway as the public broadcaster's chief English-language programmer is an unlikely one. She spent six years at the TV production and broadcasting company Alliance Atlantis in marketing and communications, but did not directly oversee any programming.

She also spent six years at TD Bank Financial Group, eventually becoming an executive vice-president of corporate and public affairs.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail shortly after she joined the AGO in the fall of 2011, Ms. Conway said: "I like to be in organizations that are at a point … where they can go in multiple directions – in critical moments of change and decision-making.

"I arrived at TD at a time of dramatic leadership change. A bank that had been No. 5 for decades became No. 2 in five years. That was like sitting on a rocket. When I went to Alliance Atlantis, it was [deciding whether to be] a producer or a film distributor."

Ms. Conway will face similar uncertainty at CBC, which is in the second year of a $115-million cut to its federal subsidy. Last year, CBC president Hubert Lacroix said the cuts would mean a reduction of about 175 hours of original TV programming. The broadcaster recently received permission to run ads on its Radio 2 network, a move which outraged fans of the service. The ads are expected to earn only about $10-million a year.

Like all traditional broadcasters, CBC is also facing dwindling audiences as viewers seek entertainment from an exploding array of choices. And the survival of its highest-rated show, Hockey Night in Canada, depends on the National Hockey League extending the network's rights after the current season. The league is believed to be looking for up to $200-million for those rights.

As chief business officer at the AGO, Ms. Conway was charged with exploiting all of the gallery's possible revenue streams, at a time when its budgets were coming under pressure. She told The Globe that the challenge was, "how do we stay relevant, how do we engage [the public] and how do we continue to have excellence in our art as we are confronted with a digital world where people can get everything now and replicate it 500 times?"

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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