Updated: Kirstine Stewart leaving CBC for Twitter Canada

Twitter expanding with major hire from the media world

Note: this story was updated at 14:30 on April 29

Twitter expanding with major hire from the media world

Kirstine Stewart, executive vice-president of English Services at CBC/Radio-Canada, has left the public broadcaster to take a senior position at Twitter.

A tweet by Twitter’s president of global revenue, Adam Bain, revealed that Stewart has been hired as the new managing director and first hire of Twitter Canada.

Stewart, who had been with CBC for seven years, confirmed to Marketing that she has already officially left the CBC and will probably start her new role at Twitter in June.

Stewart said she hasn’t been talking with Twitter for long about her joining the company – ”just recently” – and that the deal was confirmed on the weekend. “Twitter is a very active company, it’s very decisive,” she said. “It has obviously great direction and knows what it wants and I’m happy to be part of the team now.”

While she said the definition of her role as managing direction is still being worked on, essentially she’ll be the head of Twitter Canada – “the advocate, the connector” who will be responsible for the revenue and partnerships. “I’ll be establishing Twitter as a business in Canada,” she said.

Stewart said it’s still too early to comment on the specifics of Twitter’s plan for Canada or how big its team here will be, but she noted that the company has recently entered a number of countries internationally, “and you can see that when they do it, they do it in exciting ways so I can’t wait to do that with them… It’s a blank slate right now so it’s fun and exciting… I’m looking forward to putting my imprint on it.”

She told CBC staff of her new job on Monday, and said she won’t be part of transitioning in her replacement. “It wouldn’t be appropriate at this point, as you can imagine. With so many moving pieces at the CBC, it’s important that the person who’s there in my former role is really able to work on so many different levels, so it made sense to just exit as soon as I made the announcement about Twitter,” she said.

Reflecting on her time at CBC, Stewart said that she is proud about how, “through all the ups and downs, I think the great thing about the CBC is it evolved, it moved and it changed.” She noted the advancements in delivery platforms and the content itself that CBC brought onboard. “It was a really evolutionary time at CBC. I’m very proud of the work that I did.”

She added that the team she worked with remains in place. “I wouldn’t want anyone to underestimate the future potential of the CBC,” she said, pointing to recent accomplishments such as winning back the Olympic broadcast rights, expanding CBC’s digital offerings with things like CBC Music, and ending this year with the number one drama in Canada [Murdoch Mysteries] “despite all the cuts and everything we went through.”

It’s a very resilient place, she added. “I’m very happy to have steered the ship for that time and I’m happy to pass it on now to the next person.”

CBC/Radio-Canada president and CEO Hubert Lacroix credited Stewart in a release as being “instrumental in establishing CBC as a modern public broadcaster.” He pointed to her work on the current programming team that exists at CBC Television “and the schedule they have managed to put on air, despite some tough financial times.”

For the time being, general manager, finance and strategy Neil McEneaney will take over Stewart’s responsibilities. Recruitment to fill Stewart’s position will start immediately, and Stewart said she will not be involved in transitioning in the new hire.

Industry reaction

Media executives expressed surprise when the news broke mid-day Monday, not only because Stewart was leaving CBC but because she was doing so to join a new media company with little advertising presence.

“The real surprise is that it’s Twitter,” said Fred Forster, president and CEO Omnicom Media Group Canada.

“I think there is a long way to go before it becomes a serious entity with respect to being a channel choice that media strategists and planners say ‘I have to have a big presence of Twitter as part of my plan.”

“It did come as a shock,” said Robert DaSilva, managing director of trading and activation at MindShare Canada, adding that Stewart will bring the kind of market understanding Twitter needs.

While Twitter is enormously popular with users, said DaSilva, “it is a brand that needs guidance” in terms of becoming a platform for advertisers. Stewart goes to Twitter with a deep understanding of the challenges facing advertisers. “They are clearly investing in someone who knows the Canadian marketer really well,” he said.

As for her contributions to the CBC, both execs commended her performance.

“My sense is that that she brought a real vision to where she felt the network needed to be in terms of its programming, in terms of its mission,” said Forster. “And I think the CBC really benefitted from that.”

“I think she rebranded the CBC and put them on the map,” said DaSilva. Prior to her arrival at the CBC, the network “played it very safe, very predictable,” he said. “She shook that up. I think they basically have to find a visionary like Kirstine who will take that baton and continue to move CBC to the next level.”

Of course that new executive will have to do so at a time when the Federal government is squeezing the budget at the public broadcaster, cutting its operating budget by 10% over three years, trimming $115 million from an operating budget of $1.15 billion.

Twitter’s Growth

Stewart’s Twitter appointment signals an increased presence for the social media company in Canada, where it is looking to set up an office. Earlier this month, Twitter quietly launched a Canada-specific handle, @TwitterCanada. Bain tweeted Monday that the company is now hiring in Canada and Twitter’s website currently lists two jobs – for an account executive and an account manager – for Toronto, where it’s likely to headquarter its local presence.

Though details on the new office have yet to be released, Twitter is likely to take a page from Facebook’s playbook and set up a sales and advertising team in Canada to handle local clients.

“This is the first move that demonstrates that Twitter is serious and committed to being a player in Canada,” said Bruce Neve, CEO of Starcom MediaVest Canada. The hire is “interesting and says a lot about the relationship between Twitter and TV , Twitter and video content, mulit-screen and real time.”

Stewart joined CBC in 2006 as general manager of CBC Television. In January 2011, she was named executive vice-president of CBC English Services, replacing Richard Stursberg, who oversaw a massive overhaul at CBC during his six-year tenure.

Stursberg had turned to glossy American programs like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy to lure big audiences for the 8 p.m. timeslot, and it worked. But a week after taking the helm, Stewart announced CBC was cutting the game shows from its lineup. “It was a means to an end, which was a very beneficial one, but now we’ve kind of graduated and we think it’s time that we can move on,” Stewart told Marketing at the time.

Kirstine Stewart named head of CBC English Services
The Stursberg Files

Under her watch, the network reached out to new audiences with homegrown series including Being Erica, Little Mosque on the Prairie and Dragons’ Den.

Prior to CBC, Stewart was senior vice-president of programming at Alliance Atlantis.

Check back at MarketingMag.ca for more as this story develops.

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