Cross-country checkup

What's going down in Canada's big four markets

MONTREAL

What’s changed?

Not a whole lot, actually. TVA remains the runaway market leader, followed by Radio-Canada in second place. TQS – rescued from bankruptcy by Remstar Corporation about 15 months ago – is still a distant third. ‘TQS is struggling for sure,’ says Carol-Ann Kairns, associate GM of Montreal media agency BCP. ‘But we all expected it to be a long haul for them. It’s never going to be a TVA.’

On the strength of reality shows like Le Banquier (the French counterpart of Deal or No Deal) and Occupation Double, TVA’s share in the Quebec Francophone market was a whopping 28.3 for the September 2008 to May 2009 broadcast period, more than double Radio-Canada (a 14 share) and well ahead of TQS (6.1). It also led in both the daytime and prime-time ratings. Its performance contributed to a slight increase in profit for owner Quebecor’s broadcast operations for the three months ending March 31, as they jumped to $12.4 million from $11 million in the year-earlier period.

What’s next?

After struggling financially for years, TQS is attempting to rebuild under new ownership. One strategy has been creating themed nights, similar to the approach CBC Television took – and subsequently abandoned – several years ago.

But buyers feel TQS faces a daunting task by attempting to create programming that can rival that of TVA and Radio-Canada. ‘They’re the ones that have the funds and the resources,’ says Kairns. ‘The thinking [TQS] has is good, but they just don’t have the programming to back it up.’

TQS has countered by investing heavily in U.S. programming, importing shows like Fringe, The Mentalist and Wipeout. ‘They usually don’t do that well with English programming, but there have been some over the years that have worked,’ says Kim Dougherty, director of national broadcast investments for OMD Canada in Toronto. ‘The X-Files always worked in the Quebec marketplace, and Fringe is very much like that. [Quebec audiences] also like wacky stunt-type things, so Wipeout could do well.’

Best bets

Politician Mario Dumont, former leader of Action Démocratique, joined TQS earlier this year, and will host a daily current affairs show on the network beginning in September. Elsewhere, TVA boasts returning faves like Star Académie and Occupation Double.

TORONTO

What’s changed?

One word: recession. Conventional broadcasters are experiencing unprecedented economic hardship, which has led to layoffs, asset sales and (ultimately fruitful) renewed calls for the CRTC to re-examine the contentious fee-for-carriage issue.

Canwest placed its five E! channels on the block and has sold two (Hamilton’s CHCH and Montreal’s CJNT) to indie broadcaster Channel Zero, while CTV was to unload three of its A channels to Shaw Communications for $1 each. While the deal fell through, the Windsor A channel has since been saved due to an increase in local programming funding, and CTV will apply to convert the Wingham station to a rebroadcast of London A channel. (No word yet on the fate of the Brandon, MB. station.)

Broadcasters weren’t helped any by a mediocre 2008-09 season, which failed to yield any breakout hits (though some freshman shows, including Global’s Life on Mars and CTV’s Fringe, were renewed). The ratings battle produced the customary showdown between perennial market leader CTV and Global Television, with CTV’s CFTO boasting a 7.5 share among adults 25 to 54 for the September 2008 to May 2009 period, followed by Global Television with a 4.6 share.

What’s next?

At the upfronts, Barbara Williams, EVP of content for Canwest Broadcasting, confirmed buyer speculation that the E! stations will no longer play a role in the company’s plans. ‘We’ve made a strategic decision that running one conventional network is the way to go,’ she said. ‘From that, we will not be running those stations come fall.’

Buyers feel that having the underperforming E! channels out of the picture will enable Canwest to focus solely on its core Global Television property. Florence Ng, VP of broadcast investments at ZenithOptimedia Canada, says this development could help the perennial second-place broadcaster close the gap with market leader CTV.

As is usually the case, CTV has few holes to fill in its prime-time lineup, although buyers feel some of its properties – such as CSI and the seemingly ageless Law & Order - are getting a little long in the tooth.

Citytv got off to what Ng calls a ‘relatively weak’ start in its first full season under the Rogers Communications umbrella, as shows like Crusoe and Glam God failed to find an audience. It gained momentum in the spring, however, courtesy of stalwarts like The Bachelor and 30 Rock. ‘They just have to maintain the momentum,’ says Ng.

While studios revealed that broadcasters paid up to 5% less for U.S. programming this year, buyers say there’s no indication these savings will be passed on. ‘That’s interesting to me, because we have not seen decreases of any kind,’ noted OMD’s Dougherty.

Best bets

Global is adding to its longstanding Sunday night animation block with Family Guy spin-off The Cleveland Show. But Dougherty wonders if Canwest is catering too much to a young male audience with such risqué fare. ‘I understand that you’re probably the only people on Sunday night getting young males, but is that who you want?’ she says. Global is also moving Heroes from its traditional Monday time slot to a pre-release position at

10 p.m. on Sunday (Brothers & Sisters, which occupied that spot, moves to Monday). ‘Heroes has been a staple for us on Monday for a long time,’ explained Williams, ‘but honestly, coming out of the Monday night lineup in a [post-release] position was not going to give it its best chance possible. On Sunday night, coming out of the [animated] lineup…it’s a perfect flow.’ Williams is also keen on the new comedy-musical series Glee, which originates on the Fox network: ‘I think really it will be a game-changing show this season.’

CALGARY

What’s changed?

With a stable of perennial audience faves, CTV’s CFCN-TV was the market leader among adults 25 to 54 for the September 2008 to May 2009 broadcast period, with a 7.1 share according to BBM. It was followed by Global’s CICT-TV with a 5.4 share, CBC with a 3.1 share and Citytv with a 2.6 share.

What’s next?

In a market where TV inventory is scarce, buyers worry the loss of E! will send already sky-high ad rates soaring. ‘Prices are going to increase because [by eliminating E!] you’ve just created demand,’ says OMD’s Dougherty. ‘Less stations, less available ratings, less programming to buy. When there’s a lack of supply, and there will be, demand is going to rise and they’re going to increase prices.’

According to Dougherty, this will exacerbate already difficult market conditions for buyers. ‘Prices have been increasing in Alberta for years, and we haven’t been able to stop it,’ she says. Even though major TV advertisers like car companies have scaled back their advertising in recent months, she adds, buyers are still looking at ‘sold out situations’ in Calgary.

‘One less station will hit the Calgary market even more,’ agrees ZenithOptimedia’s Ng, who also points out that a general decline in ratings is forcing advertisers to buy more airtime in order to maintain previous ratings delivery.

Best bets

Most of the buzz around CBC’s new shows is centred around The Ron James Show and the new reality series Battle of the Blades, in which figure skaters and professional hockey players team up in an elimination-style challenge. An intriguing premise, although Dougherty questions the 8 p.m. Sunday timeslot – which pits it against CTV’s The Amazing Race. ‘You really think a reality show like Battle of the Blades is going to go up against The Amazing Race?’ asks Dougherty. ‘For younger demos, definitely not, but maybe for 35-plus.’

VANCOUVER

What’s changed?

CTV has the stronger schedule, but Global has the stronger signal. As a result, Vancouver remained one of the few strongholds for Global last season. Aided by what Ng describes as a ‘very well established’ news presence, Global’s CHAN-TV drew a 10.6 share among adults 25 to 54 for the September to May period according to BBM, followed by CTV’s CIVT with a 7.3 share, CBC with a 4.1 share and Citytv with a 2.1 share.

What’s next?

While the loss of E! is expected to drive up rates in Calgary, buyers expect it to alleviate fragmentation in the heavily saturated Vancouver market – which boasts eight stations, plus spill from U.S. stations like Bellingham, WA.’s KVOS.

Best bets

CTV and Rogers co-own the broadcast rights to a little event called the Vancouver Winter Olympics, which will likely attract a few viewers. Meanwhile, much of the buzz surrounding CTV comes from the ABC pickup Flash Forward and the one-hour drama The Forgotten. City, meanwhile, is showing the somewhat contentious Jay Leno Show at 10 p.m. five nights a week. ‘They haven’t given up a lot because they didn’t have a lot to begin with,’ says Ng. ‘That strip allows them to fill five hours through the week, which does help.’

Canwest’s Williams, however, feels there’s an opportunity for rivals to grow 10 p.m. audiences at City’s expense. ‘If I had to guess, I think [Leno's] audience is going to be a little smaller rather than a little bigger,’ she said during the broadcaster’s upfront presentation.

Leno‘s audiences are also expected to skew male, leading Canwest to counter with a full slate of female-friendly shows (The Good Wife, Melrose Place, 90210) in the 10 p.m. slot.

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