Content dictates extensions at CBC

Brand extensions...

Brand extensions

As a public broadcaster with a non-commercial mandate, the CBC is a unique case. As two current projects demonstrate, the CBC tends to venture into extensions on a project-by-project basis.

Canada: A People’s History

CBC’s multi-million dollar series Canada: A People’s History is currently a key focus with tentacles extending into video, DVD, books, a Web site and an in-school program.

The videos, distributed by Morningstar Entertainment, are sold through the CBC Web site, the People’s History Web site, mass-market retailers and the CBC boutique in Toronto. Many retail outlets also carry the companion book to the series, published by McClelland and Stewart, with some retailers packaging the video set with the book at a special price.

The storehouse of People’s History information is also made available to schools via videos and activity binders. By the end of year, some 90% of English-speaking schools in Canada are expected to have the materials.

Smart Ask!

Designed to showcase the smarts of Canadian youth, CBC’s first integrated, multi-platform program launched April 17. With components spanning radio, TV and the Internet, Smart Ask! is first being promoted on CBC Radio One with a contest and on-air quiz shows. Winning teams from the radio games will then travel to Toronto to tape television playoffs in the fall. The cyber component will allow users to contribute questions and play the quiz game any time.


The CBC has a content-first approach to brand extensions. At this month’s Canadian Media Directors’ Council conference, CBC president and CEO Robert Rabinovitch elaborated on this philosophy.

‘We view the phenomenon of content convergence as being critically linked to brand-building. We believe the starting place is not an infrastructure, not in bundling sales across different platforms nor in simply aligning media properties. We believe the fundamental opportunity and value for our business partners and clients begins in the all-important area of brand-building and brand differentiation – something effective content management accomplishes.’

This focus on content fuelling extensions is reflected in the People’s History project, says Julie Dossett, manager of communications and non-broadcast projects. The extensions ‘reflect what CBC does best, which is embody Canadian experience and culture. Private broadcasters wouldn’t do this. It is uniquely CBC.’

Content also dictated the extensions for the Smart Ask! project, says Adrian Mills, CBC head of children’s, youth and daytime. ‘We decided to extend the quiz brand to the Internet and to TV in a way that made sense in young people’s lives. Then we wondered what was the best way to connect with kids at the local level. The answer was CBC radio. We took all the [platforms], leveraged the most appealing side of them for our project and came up with this tri-media aspect. Each is separate but contributes to the greater whole.’


The sale of the first People’s History video box set reached an impressive 55,000 units as of Feb. 28. The book has sold 49,000 copies, making both books and videos Canadian bestsellers. Other CBC spinoff videos, such as Tall Ships in Canada and Must Be Santa, have also sold well – more than 10,000 units, says Karen Bower, manager of CBC’s non-broadcast sales. As Smart Ask! has only been airing for a week, results won’t be available for some time.

The future

Volume two of the People’s History book will be released this fall when the second season of the series goes to air. The next box set of videos will be released for Christmas 2001, with more to come in spring 2002. More educational material will follow. ‘We’re also looking at doing a CD of the series soundtrack, as it is all original music,’ says Dossett, ‘and we may also do a series of children’s history books.’

Other possibilities, says Bower, include a video release of The Nature of Things series and a program celebrating the Stratford Festival’s 50th anniversary.

Buyers’ comments

Reflecting on the People’s History extensions, Carol Ann Kairns, VP of media at Montreal’s BCP, says, ‘they definitely bring something to the client – it’s a wonderful opportunity – but very expensive.’ She gives the extensions a 4.5 out of 5.

Scott Neslund, managing director at Toronto-based Starcom Worldwide, gives the overall CBC efforts at brand extension only a 2 out of 5. ‘They have good service people,’ he says, ‘but their organization doesn’t seem to allow them to do the best job, and they have significant barriers to doing business in added-value to clients.’

Andrew Kumpf of Toronto-based Media Buying Services found the limited ad spots available during the People’s History very frustrating, but admits ‘the program was beautiful and the brand extensions – the video, the book, the Web site – were wonderful, made news and had high visibility.’ He gives the CBC a 4.