APRIL 4, 2023
MTM Podcast guests from CBC and The Weather Channel

New streaming channels with unique, original programming and immersive weather reporting are some of the creative forms of content being generated by media companies.

Avid’s Craig Wilson, host of Making the Media podcast, recently spoke with two executives from CBC, Canada’s national public broadcaster—Andree Lau, senior director of Digital Publishing and Streaming and Michael Gruzuk, senior director, CBC News Studios— as well as Nora Zimmett, president of News and Original Series, The Weather Channel Television Network, based in Atlanta. (Hear the recorded chat with Lau and Gruzuk here, and with Zimmett here).

Storytelling innovation to reach new viewers

To attract new audiences, CBC is creating unique styles of programming. In November, the network launched a streaming channel called CBC News Explore, a free, 24/7, ad-supported streaming (FAST) channel. The channel features video journalism that goes beyond traditional news shows to examine and explain issues in-depth. The presentation style is conversational and features original programming including About That, a daily 30-minute show hosted by Andrew Chang that explores that day’s biggest stories.

“People are used to seeing Andrew Chang in a suit behind a desk. On About That, he's in a hoodie,” Lau says. “He is exploring along with the audience and asking, ‘What does this mean?’ And he doesn't have all the answers and it's not tightly scripted.”

Another new CBC program, Planet Wonder, delves into the effect of climate change on Canada.

“Even the name tells you something,” Gruzuk says. “It's a very curiosity-driven exploration with our science meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe, where she's literally wandering in the woods or out at sea exploring the effects of climate change in particular in British Columbia where you have the majesty of nature right at your doorstep. You can't do that in a traditional two-minute newscast interview with an expert about the latest climate reports.”

The Weather Channel leaders took a cue from videogaming and its ability to provide a first-person perspective inside a game.

“We asked ourselves back in 2014, 2015 how does that apply to us? What can we do to put people in the weather in a way that is more visceral, that resonates better than just showing an icon on a 2D map?” Zimmett recalls.

They began to develop augmented reality technology as well as immersive mixed reality television moving weather information way beyond a person standing in front of the camera pointing to areas on a map and explaining whether it is going to be rainy, sunny, snowy, hot, or cold.

“We’re explaining what’s coming down the pipe and what you need to do with your family to prepare for it. We found there was a much greater need in the population to be able to explain, prepare, and also to protect and save lives when it comes to the most critical events,” Zimmett says.

Providing personal and local content

The Weather channel focuses on weather news rather than weather forecasting. Their personalized and localized content, and how they present their stories, has had an impact on how people now view their safety.

“Many people come to us and say ‘Until I saw that demonstration, I really didn’t understand what it meant to have 4 feet of storm surge or what does it mean to flood a car. And when we can actually show in front of people's eyes in a studio, in 3D, it has the impact of changing their behaviors and hopefully better understanding officials when they say it's time to leave, it's time to evacuate. Because none of us want to evacuate our homes. But by showing people what the danger truly is through this immersive mixed reality, we have been told numerous times that we are the ones who convinced people to leave when they needed to,” Zimmett says.

CBC’s digital strategy is to be where people are and to make content accessible, relevant, and representative of the demographics and interests of people across the country. Stories are reformatted for multiplatform content distribution whether it’s social media, broadcast, or streaming, to reach audiences wherever they get their news.

“We are driven by giving Canadians what they need in terms of information and a relationship with their community,” Gruzuk comments. “It’s a much more boots on the ground, we're in it with you approach.”

The network’s new show, This Week in Canada, reflects that local philosophy. The weekly program features original stories highlighting local communities in Canada to help audiences understand how news affects them nationwide.

“Across the country there were rich examples of storytelling that were universal about housing prices, or construction, or why is my city broken, or potholes, these very local things that get under people’s skin that everyone can relate to around the world,” Lau says.

Data is becoming increasingly important in informing company content strategies. Statistics the CBC obtains from its new streaming channel confirms the programming choices they are making and is critical to the company’s future course.

“You can't argue data, it's black and white,” Lau says. “It points us to the direction. It connects us to the strategy, which then allows us to all talk openly about what the tactics are and why we're making these choices and why this is a priority.”

How to continue to meet viewer demands

Gruzuk is concerned that the rapidly changing media landscape and audience expectations make it difficult for many media organizations to keep up.

“I worry a lot about meeting the needs of everyone as quickly as we can because they are sophisticated audiences,” Gruzuk remarks. “They are smart, and they are moving faster than sometimes we're able to.”

CBC plans to continue to explore other creative types of programming, how to further leverage local content, and make things easier for the audience through graphics or banners to help direct them.

“Canada is a complex country based on its geography and the different news needs that people have. How do we chart the course for the future if you're waking up to a snowstorm in one place but in another city it's a very different issue that's happening,” Lau says. “Those are things that we're looking at through technology, editorial, and data conversations around the scalability of streaming.”

The Weather Channel will continue to explore technology and tools that can help create a personalized, customizable format for viewers.

“I see a world in which we’re able to bring all of the 3D storytelling tools and the visceral information sharing that we already have and make it personalized, customized, and even more accurate than it already is,” Zimmett says. “For us that’s the future of not only forecasting but of weather news.”

Media organizations will need to continually assess their programming to ensure it meets audience needs and expectations.

“You can get rusty thinking that the audience is going to keep coming,” Lau says. “It’s like the store window of your business. You have to keep changing it.”

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