Knowledge Network CEO discusses its evolution

Devan C. Tasa, News Editor Ω

Rudy Buttignol, president of the Knowledge Network, discusses the changes there during his six years of leading the organization at the dean of business' speaker speakers on March 6. PHOTO BY Devan C. Tasa

Rudy Buttignol, president of the Knowledge Network, discusses the changes there during his six years of leading the organization at the dean of business’ speaker speakers on March 6. PHOTO BY Devan C. Tasa

It started, of all places, on a tropical beach a little more than six years ago. In 2006, Rudy Buttignol had just finished his position at TVOntario and was hired as a consultant to look at the operation of the Knowledge Network, B.C.’s public education broadcaster.

He was tasked to create some questions that related to the network’s strategic plan.

“I was going to start writing questions for the board and I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to go for a swim, get a beer, I’m going to sip on it and I’m just going to write what I would do if I was going to run the network,'” he said.

Buttignol was going to base his questions on the plan he made up, but when he talked to the Knowledge Network’s board, they told him to just tell them about the plan instead. Based on that plan, the board hired Buttignol in 2007 as president and CEO.

In the six years that Buttignol has led the network, it has gone to 24-hour programming, seen large changes in its corporate culture and bought another television channel.

Buttignol, who came to TRU as the guest for the dean of business and economics speaker series, talked to an audience of approximately 60 people on March 6.

While we live in a multichannel media universe, it’s still important to have a public broadcaster, Buttignol said.

“For me, the answer is it’s a trusted public space and it’s accessible to everybody,” he said. “As a public network, our mission is to serve absolutely everyone in the province at some point in time.”

He also compared the Knowledge Network to Stanley Park. The park serves as a public space and improves the quality of life but private developers wouldn’t mind filling it up with new buildings.

When Buttignol became CEO, the Knowledge Network had just survived a review examining if it should be privatized, it had a conservative corporate culture, it had bad relations with the provincial government and it was only on air from 7 a.m. to 12 a.m.

Buttignol patched up government relations by politely discussing what the network did with top bureaucrats and cabinet ministers. By installing an automated digital control room, the network was able to air kids shows during the day and biographies during the night. The control room also made it possible to stream online when the technology became available.

As for the culture, Buttignol required every single employee, including himself, to take schooling to develop their skills. But there were jobs cuts as well. Approximately 33 per cent of the network’s employees were laid off, including the entire in-house production and publication departments.

“If I was going to do it again, I’d do it faster and I’d do it deeper, because everybody knows that it’s coming,” he said. “Sometimes when you do it much more carefully, you think you are being the nice guy because you are letting everybody down gently. In fact it’s brutal because everyone knows the other shoe is going to drop.”

Since then, the Knowledge Network has expanded. Last year, it bought the Canadian version of the BBC Kids channel. That has made it so the network generates 50 per cent of its own revenue. In 2006, 80 per cent of its revenue came from the B.C. government.

In the next few years, the network will be looking at increasing its presence on Facebook and mobile devices.