Regional casters jockey for position

?dprophesies about the ascendancy of cable, this year's upfronts were still mainly a seesaw battle between CTV and Global. Five years ago it was Global's game, but today, CTV holds the majority of the top-10 and top-20 program slots in most regions.

Despite prophesies about the ascendancy of cable, this year’s upfronts were still mainly a seesaw battle between CTV and Global. Five years ago it was Global’s game, but today, CTV holds the majority of the top-10 and top-20 program slots in most regions.

But much of the action this year is taking place between regional broadcasters.

The big buzz centers on CHUM’s acquisition of Craig Media. Although no visible results of this are expected until early 2005, media buyers in Ontario and Alberta speculate that better programming – and better ratings – will result from the deal. (The CRTC hearing is expected in September.) The successful Citytv format is expected to revitalize the A-Channels in Calgary, Edmonton and Manitoba, and even the sale of Craig’s Toronto 1 station is expected to net better programming for regional buyers.

Toronto: T1 in limbo pending sale

Buyers in the southern Ontario market hope fledgling Toronto 1 will get a much-needed resuscitation from new ownership now that CHUM’s pending purchase of Craig puts it into play. With CHUM already owning City, CP24 and The New VR in the market, there is little doubt that T1 will be sold. Speculation pegs Quebecor and Torstar as potential suitors. But as of press time, it looks like media buyers will have to be patient – for the time being the station seems to be in limbo.

Programming-wise the only changes announced at press time were that Toronto 1 is losing Emmy Award-winning daytime talk show The Ellen DeGeneres Show to a higher bid from CHUM, but has brought in some competition (of sorts) via The Tony Danza Show.

Toronto 1′s primetime focus this fall will be its amped-up ‘Prime Ticket Movie,’ a schedule of back-to-back movies running 8 p.m. to midnight every Monday through Friday.

Meanwhile, CHUM will be running DeGeneres on its City and NewNet stations. Other U.S. acquisitions at CHUM include America’s Next Top Model, Jack & Bobby, Battlestar Galactica (a remake of the popular 1978 series) and Life As We Know It. Canadian series The Collector runs on Space: The Imagination Station this summer before hitting the City stations in the fall.

Last, but not least, Rogers-owned Omni 1 and Omni 2 are getting program facelifts this fall including strip programming of Friends and a Law & Order/Law & Order: SVU combo.

Steve Aronovitch, broadcast investment manager at Starcom Worldwide, says the Omni stations offer consistent audience delivery, even without top programming, unlike the disappointing Toronto 1.

Overall, CFTO (CTV) is the market leader, he says, followed by Global. City, CBC and CH are on the next tier, in close proximity to each other. Specifically, according to Nielsen Media Research, the Toronto shares are: CFTO 9.7%; Global 7.6%; City 5.6%; CBLT (CBC) 4.4%; and CH 3.6% (adults 25 to 54, September 2003 through April 2004).

Montreal: SRC on the rise

Radio-Canada is preparing to launch the biggest push in its three-year repositioning this fall when it unveils a new look and an unprecedented 17 new programs. Buyers say this is SRC’s year to regain a solid second place spot behind TVA – and to widen the distance between it and TQS.

Carol Cummings, senior television buyer for Media Experts of Montreal and Toronto, says the door is open for SRC as it doesn’t look like TQS will be putting up much of a fight. TQS has not added anything new to its schedule for fall, and is apparently not bringing back its reality hit of last year, Loft Story.

‘Radio-Canada is realizing what works for them and what doesn’t. They’re not trying to go up against TVA or TQS; they’re carving their own niche and their own viewers in the market. They’re smart to do that,’ says Cummings.

TVA is bringing back hits such as reality shows Occupation Double and Star Academie. It is also launching four new primetime shows, which will include more reality.

Melody Daly, AOR broadcast supervisor for Marketel Media in Montreal, says Thursday nights will be interesting since TVA’s Occupation Double will go head-to-head with Les Bougon on SRC. She expects one of them to move.

‘Although there are no big wows this year,’ says Daly, ‘we think it’s Radio-Canada’s year to move up. It’s theirs to lose.’

Jerome Leys, director of sales in Toronto for SRC, says promotions on-air and in other media will feature a new look and a new theme, ‘Invest in Quality Time,’ to convey the concept of programming that appeals to a wider audience and brings families together.

Leys says the weekend schedule illustrates its new direction, with live variety shows every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, each with a different spin on how they bring all the singing, dancing and comedy together.

This schedule will run from September through March 2005, with full 26-week runs for primetime shows like last year’s hit Les Bougon, a comedy about an outrageous welfare family that draws an average of two million viewers each week.

A big bonus for SRC, says Leys, is it gets to promote its 17 new programs during the Olympics this August and the popular World Cup Hockey that follows shortly after.

However, La Soiree du hockey, the 52-year-old sister broadcast to Hockey Night in Canada, will no longer be shown on SRC. The net cites ‘economic and strategic reasons.’

Vancouver: Rates drive buyers away

David Stanger, president of DSA Media Network, says CTV and Global probably account for 60% to 70% of the TV buys in the Vancouver market, leaving the others to duke it out for the remaining 30%.

The CHUM stations – Citytv Vancouver and The New VI out of Victoria – continue to be an important element in a Vancouver TV buy. After CTV and Global, City has the most first-run programs and sellable ratings against younger demographics.

Stanger says M Channel, the ethnic station that entered the market last year, isn’t generating any significant ratings aside from those of a few strip programs.

Global is still leading in news, says Stanger, but when you look at the top-20 shows, CTV is making significant inroads, making the picture of where CTV and Global actually stand a bit fuzzy.

Global’s news hour in Vancouver does phenomenally well, and overall, Nielsen numbers put Global at 12.4% versus CTV at 6.5% (followed by CBC, CHEK (aka CH Victoria), City and The New VI). But the primetime picture, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., has the nets going head-to-head with Global at 11.8% and CTV at 10.9%, followed by CBC, City, CHEK and The New VI.

Jim Rusnack, GM of CTV British Columbia, says the CTV schedule as a whole has been working well and the station’s numbers for local programming, particularly the news, are closing the gap.

‘On the Nielsen numbers, we feel very comfortable with our progress. We’ve got a great on-air team, we’re there every day with more live news trucks, now the first and only dedicated news-gathering helicopter – I think we have all the elements to keep building our numbers.’

Calgary/Edmonton: Waiting for CHUM

Not surprisingly, the big buzz in Calgary and Edmonton is about CHUM’s bid to acquire Craig and how it will impact the A-Channels. Although a conversion to City formats can’t be expected until the CRTC approves the deal, buyers say no matter how minute, any influence CHUM programmers have had over Craig’s fall 2004 program selection will be a big change for the better. (CHUM is hoping to implement a new variation on the existing City format around January 2005, if all goes well with the approval.)

Meanwhile, A-Channel has dug into its production fund for three TV movies: Emmy Award-winning The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie with James Caan and Gena Rowlands; eco-terrorism flick Anthrax; and Don’t Call Me Tonto, with former Baywatch-er David Hasselhoff.

Andrew McFallon, principal of Anderson McFallon Communications in Calgary, says he’s just looking for some rating points. He says A-Channel has consistently been fourth in the market behind CTV, Global and CBC.

‘You really have to talk yourself into including Craig on a lot of buys because A-Channel just doesn’t deliver any points. It’s a little tough to swallow when they’re trying to sell you something that pulled a 0.3 rating in the last two ratings books. You can’t continue to sell stuff on that basis.’

Kathy Shapka, VP and media director for DDB Canada in Edmonton, says the sale of Craig to CHUM doesn’t really solve the supply problem for regional advertisers, it’s just replacing one with the other and making it more expensive.

‘I think we’re going to be a very supplier-controlled market. I think the market costs are going to go up – because CHUM isn’t exactly known for low pricing.’

A version of this story appeared in Strategy Media.