- Global News a work in progress

From six months out, it’s one hell of a fall season on the horizon. Since you can’t tell the players without a scorecard anymore, Coles Notes on what and who: across the country, the 1997/98 slate will launch teletoon, ctv’s N1 Headline News, Baton’s The Comedy Network, and The History and Entertainment Network, and perhaps two to four specialties to be named later.

In Ontario, chch-tv and Citytv will do a full-blown regional pitch, both with extended distribution courtesy of the Ottawa decision. Vancouver will accommodate the specialties and Baton’s new puppy, civt; Alberta will field specialties and Craig Broadcasting’s A-Channel.

While pressure is on the program buying side of the business, activity is also rather frenetic in the news department. N1 and the expanded private broadcasters are expected to chip away at ratings, particularly in Ontario.

Most conspicuous this month is Global, jettisoning anchors Mike Anscombe and Jane Gilbert and pilfering anchor Beverly Thompson away from Baton. Anscombe had been with Global since 1974; Gilbert since 1992 as anchor of The News at Six and co-anchor of The World Tonight with Peter Kent.

Kent may well be the only on-air talent neither shuttled around nor out of the Global news lineup when Ken MacDonald is done. Parachuted in from the Ottawa bureau to vp of news last fall, MacDonald’s mandate is to revitalize both the noon and supper-hour newscasts by Sept. 1, although in his words, ‘It’ll happen a damn lot sooner than that.’

It’s a long way back for Global news, which is in some ways a victim of its licence conditions. As a mandated ‘regional’ newscast, its content de facto blankets Ontario. Its Toronto news is diluted; its national news not a particularly distinctive selling tool. Toronto-centric, fire-hungry viewers choose cfto or City; Toronto-centric, issues-oriented viewers choose cbc. For its part, Global suffers from a lack of identity and definition, with its biggest selling features Kent, Susan Hay, and a scoop on the budget earlier in the decade.

Although the numbers are rather messy, MacDonald is hard-pressed to say the restructuring in process has anything to do with ratings. Rather, it’s about preparing to compete with the new services in September. ‘Nobody with an eye on the future is sitting still right now, Global included.’

The details are cloistered for competitive reasons, which leaves MacDonald bobbing and weaving through direct questions and saying little more than they are building ‘an intelligent and watchable news program’ by ‘capitalizing on our strengths, which are incredible, widely respected journalists and producers.’

On whether Global news will increase its coverage of Toronto and Ottawa: ‘We have a regional news mandate, and we’re going to be mindful of that. We’re also aware that Southern Ontario is one of the largest regions. We’re not drawing hard and fast lines – we want to service the regions and that includes the largest region.’

On which demographic Global sees the biggest potential for audience growth: ‘Across the board.’

On whether the promotion budget for news will more than double: ‘We’ll be doing a lot more to promote our product as part of the whole restructuring.’

While MacDonald will confirm nothing, theory is that with the 55+ crowd stubbornly attached to their cfto, the 25-54 eyeballs are a likely target via a faster paced program.

ACNielsen data for March 5 for the 6 o’clock news puts Global and cfto neck-and-neck in the 18-49 demo with a 3.1 rating, and less than a point apart on 25-54, with cfto at 3.9 and Global at 3.0. With the 55+ audience, Global reaps a 12.1 with First News at 5:30 p.m., but dips to 7.8 at 6 p.m. when cfto picks up a 14.1.

Substantive changes in format and content are expected, as well as an update for the ’70s-like set which will leave Kent looking less like he’s reporting live from a basement. Since Kent and Hay are the news department’s most identifiable franchises, look for both to be in the spotlight in the 1997/98 season. Until a replacement for Gilbert is announced, Kent will do the 11 p.m. news alone. Thompson will join the team March 31.

-Canada/Canada simulcast

The specialty channel status quo yields new unlikely bedfellows every week. This month Bravo! and Vision tv are coming together to share a program premiere, marking the first time two specialty services have joined forces to simulcast.

On March 29 at 8 p.m., the two will air Songs of the Soul, a lovely one-hour music documentary about the Saint-Benoit-du-Lac monks. The program is produced by Montreal’s Productions Pixcom in association with Radio-Canada, Vision and Bravo!

The simulcast is both a publicity stunt and a scheduling and financing strategy, says Bravo! gm Paul Gratton. ‘When you’re contributing almost equal licence fees, the question becomes, who gets to have it for Easter. The answer in this case is we both do.’

Although a duel telecast may splinter ratings, the hope is that the increased press coverage courtesy of the simulcast strategy could drive numbers up beyond what they would have been without it. Gratton concedes it’s an experiment, but if the response is satisfactory, he says there’ll be more of the same.

At ytv, the first new branding strategy to surface since Paul Robertson’s arrival comes in the form of YTV Shift, a wraparound revisioning of weekday primetime 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. pj hearthrobs Aashna and Paul are adding an interactive element to the primetime slate, covering bands and other machinations of kid culture between episodes of Goosebumps, ReBoot and Are You Afraid of the Dark?

One exception will come April 1 as ytv devotes the entire primetime block to the Oscar-winning claymation series Wallace and Gromit.

Beginning at 6:30 p.m. and running through the watershed hour, the series of three – A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave – will be frontloaded with an interview with creator Nick Park.

Park, with four films and three Oscars to his name, spent six years making Wrong Trousers at a rate of six seconds of completed film a day. In England, a Christmas Eve airing of A Close Shave grabbed a mere 41% of the population, roughly 23.5 million people.

Over at Discovery Channel, celebrates its 500th episode April 8. Alternative programming at its best, the daily science program is up against Vanna in the 7 p.m. slot weekdays and is reaching a cumulative total of about 1.5 million viewers per week. Discovery stats say about two-thirds of the audience skews the coveted 25-54 demographic. Almost one-third of the audience is women.

-Cable and the competition

Rogers Communications is out with four technofab spots geared to block small-dish migration and communicate cable as a hip supplier of tv product and not a tired monolith playing havoc with beloved channel packages.

The commercials, complete with the tag line ‘You’re not going to miss all this, are you?’, are made up of catchy visuals, funky music, and little talk, except one which clearly promises 100 channels of digital tv. Is anybody calling to ask when? Bit of a brow-wrinkler that one, but overall they’re relatively cool and will play for another month on the likes of bbs, Global and cbc.

Meanwhile, south of the border, cable companies are somewhat frustrated as u.s. specialties opting for the ‘call your operator’ approach to carriage meet with some success.

bet, offering a Saturday night preview of its BET Movies/Starz!3, recorded 50,000 calls its first night, 300,000 overall in February. Nickelodeon’s TV Land garnered 60,000. amc’s Romance Classics rang up 10,000 calls in a Superbowl promotion. As for The History Channel, generator of the original tactic prototype, its subscribers are up 9% this month over February, putting it in 34.9 million households. In December 1995, it was reaching a mere nine million.

As for the direct-to-home satellite competition, DirecTv, author of the Canadian grey market, is in the process of adding Fox Sports West 2, two regional sports networks, and Chicago superstation wgn, which runs an almost solid Chicago sports slate.

Two 24-hour sports news nets are also in discussions. dth competitor Primestar is adding 65 new channels, bringing it up to 160. All three Canadian dth offerings due up this year are offering less than 100 channels. Grey market subscribers are going to be persuaded to give up their contraband dth services why again?

On the other hand, there is news that makes us glad to be Canadian. Case in point: the rise of The Classics Sports Network. Yes, you too can grab a six-pack, a bucket of wings, and a bag of Doritos and settle in for 24 hours of old sports events. Note to would-be Canadian sponsors: Ack. Surely there isn’t enough of a subscriber base hankering after the 1973 Stanley Cup, at least not amongst our 27-odd million sentient beings.

There’ll be enough mind-numbing choices available should the Eligible Services Lists expand exponentially. Fit tv, for example, could offer us the likes of the Fitness America Pageant, being sold at mip-tv come April by California-based Planet Pictures. ‘Beautiful women compete in poise, strength and grace performing amazing dance routines and showing off remarkable feats of strength set to top hit music.’ Top hit music, huh? You don’t say.

-Dawn of the Spies

Perhaps it’s a little cabin fever, but the cbc is up to all kinds of weird things.

First, telecasting David Wellington’s Long Day’s Journey into Night March 30 without commercials. Then breaking up the usually stalwart batch of press bumpf coming from the pubcaster with the likes of ‘Low sperm count, abnormal penis size in alligators, children with learning disabilities – scientists say they may all be connected.’ The Nature of Things will explain all March 27 in the 9 p.m. slot.

But stranger is the subculture Channel Zero folk accessing quality time on The National for three Thursdays running, beginning March 27.

Channel Zero copped some mainstream press coverage late last year with the release of its video This is Channel Zero. In it, a dissecting of television culture, a sort of Chomskyesque look at a medium which professes the democratic distribution of information but is really a finite group of millionaires force-feeding concepts to the masses, intent on increasing eyeballs and thus, ad dollars.

Channel Zero facts: there are 900 million tv sets in the world. Television is a Virtual Hitler. nbc will never air material that would harm ge stock. Vertical integration is a nasty business.

All true enough, but presented as a ‘new form of media’ and adopting that schizophrenic moving boxes/shrinking heads/text overlay style that sends anyone over 25 scuttling for the converter.

The National, however, is prepared to take the risk, and may actually attract some of the 25-54 demo now that er has been shelved in that slot to test mid-season fodder.

The three-parter – Electronic Eye: Canada as Surveillance Society – is helmed by Channel Zero guru Stephen Marshall and examines sanctioned and unsanctioned investigations of individuals by government, corporate, and Secret Service groups. Part one will follow The Mondex Scenario in Guelph; part two, Surveys and Surveillance – The End of the Free Range Society; and part three, CSE and Me, which corners the Communications Security Establishment. News mtv style on cbc.

Other cbc tidbits: while it’s taking some punches for lame writing in programs like The Arrow and Black Harbour, evidently the critic powers that be aren’t tapped in Monday nights. This month’s first installment of the three-part The Newsroom, guest starring David Cronenberg, should have been enough to have every editor in the country flat out on his living room rug with tears streaming into his ears. Easily the best yet, with some dead brilliant exchanges.

Ratings for March 10 on the Toronto/Hamilton Metres show The Newsroom running a 7.2 in the 18-49 demo, upping the This Hour Has 22 Minutes audience at the top of the hour at a 7.1. ctv’s Murphy Brown/Cybill package still takes the hour.

As for the Junos, they outstripped both the Geminis and the Genies for ratings, tying Global’s King of the Hill and Frasier for sixth place the week of March 3-9 with numbers like a 7.8 in the 18-49 demo, a 7.9 in 25-54, and a surprising 9.2 with the 55+ audience.

ACNielsen ratings for the March 2 Geminis telecast reflected its unfortunate positioning against 3rd Rock From the Sun, The Simpsons, King of the Hill and The X-Files.

Airing on cbc Sunday night, the Gems pulled a 1.6 rating in the 18-49 demographic, a 2.2 within 25-54, and a 6.5 for the 55+ demo, according to the Toronto/Hamilton People Metres.

3rd Rock on Global in the 8 p.m. slot clinched a 6.8 in the 18-49 bracket. More interesting is the number for Fox’s release of The Simpsons in the same slot, which ran an impressive 13.8. Global’s simulcast of King of the Hill still managed to draw The Simpsons spillover, registering a 13.3 in the same demo, but the hefty Simpsons numbers mean it was officially pulled back into Sunday night simulcast March 16. 3rd Rock has moved to a cushy 8:30 p.m. Thursday slot between Friends and Seinfeld. The X-Files March 2 hit 17 for 18-49.