Cross-country checkup

A look at who’s ruling the dial in the big four markets.

VANCOUVER

What’s changed?
It’s a familiar story: CTV landed an astonishing 15 of the top 20 shows in the 18-49 demo between Dec. 28 and May 13, the Vancouver Olympics accounting for four of the top five. They were augmented by expected ratings winners such as The Amazing Race and American Idol, as well as “Where did that come from?” hits like The Big Bang Theory.
CITV led the market with an 11.1 share among 2+ between Jan. 1 and May 16, followed by Global’s CHAN with a 10.5 share and CBC with a 6.1 share.
But the season wasn’t a total write-off for CITV rivals. Sheila Malanchuk, media/strategy manager for OMD Canada’s Vancouver office, says CHAN had been “kind of sliding” in the ratings, but received a jolt from freshman shows Glee and NCIS: Los Angeles. They ranked 1-2 among first-year shows in the 18-49 demo, with Glee averaging a 6 rating and NCIS: Los Angeles a 3.7.
CHAN also continues to benefit from its strong supper-hour newscast – which “just annihilates everybody else in the market” says Malanchuk – while prime-time pillars like Survivor and House were top 20 shows in both the 2+ and 18-49 segments.
Citytv, meanwhile, remained a scrappy challenger thanks to rookie sitcoms Modern Family and Cougar Town, and reality stalwarts like The Bachelor.
 
What’s next?
Buyers note that both CTV and Global have several aging franchises (CSI, Desperate Housewives, House, Survivor), although neither is in danger of sliding into obscurity just yet. While some of their staples won’t be back next season (Global’s Heroes and 24; CTV’s Law & Order chief among them), both retain several advertiser-friendly properties.
Malanchuk says Citytv made “very good steps” last season, and she hopes Rogers will be similarly aggressive when it comes to acquisitions this year. “We need another player that has a willingness to buy programming that’s going to make an impact,” she says.
Vancouver buyers are also curious about the direction Global will take under the stewardship of new owner Shaw Communications. “That’s a key question: what are they going to do regarding new programming?” she says. “[Shaw] obviously has deep pockets, so it’s really going to be curious to see what impact it has.”
Malanchuk says Vancouver casters have remained hard-nosed on rates throughout the ongoing economic woes. “I foresee the stations being as aggressive as always,” she says. “A lot of money has to be recouped, so that’s where they’re going to be starting from.”

Best bets?
Malanchuk says Global’s reboot of Hawaii 5-0 could be “one of the season’s real success stories,” citing great chemistry between leads Alex O’Loughlin (The Shield) and Scott Caan (Mercy), and little competition in the 10 p.m. Monday timeslot. She also likes CTV’s No Ordinary Family, which she describes as a cross between Heroes and The Incredibles, starring Michael Chiklis (The Shield). Its main rival in the Tuesday 8 p.m. slot is Glee, but Malanchuk says that show skews younger and female. “[No Ordinary Family] does have the potential to pull in young males, with no real competition in the time period,” she says.

CALGARY

What’s changed?
Susan Beck, VP media for local agency Mediactive, summarizes last season as “pretty standard,” with CTV’s CFCN and Global’s CICT retaining their respective 1-2 positions.
In prime-time viewing, CFCN averaged a 12.5 share in the 18-49 demo between September and April, placing it ahead of CICT (8.1), CBC’s CBRT (5.2) and City (3.3).
An abundance of big-event specials – highlighted by the Olympics, the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl – enabled CFCN to land nine of the top 10 programs. However, Global was a worthy challenger when it came to episodic, thanks to enduring faves like Survivor, Family Guy and House.
Beck is also enthused by Citytv’s ongoing efforts to rejuvenate its prime time. “[Modern Family and Cougar Town] are not out-of-the-park rating hits…but they’re certainly programs to build a schedule around,” she says. “[City] has definitely upped its game on program acquisition.”
However, she also noted that Rogers’ decision to scrap City’s noon, supper-hour and late-night newscasts in an effort to curb costs could hinder future efforts to strengthen its position.

What’s next?
Conventional broadcasters continue to wage an aggressive battle on the digital front, with the overwhelming majority of their prime-time skeds now available online. However, Beck wonders if the strategy could compromise their TV ops – particularly given the discrepancy between ad rates and a lack of online ad opportunities.
“Once you’ve offered [viewers] that option, how do you take it away?” she says. “And how do you insert more commercials? It’s difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.”
Previously super-heated, Calgary’s TV market has experienced a welcome cool-down in recent months. “Broadcasters were selling out inventory so far in advance, they were turning away business,” says Beck. “A lot of people are moving away from TV at that point, because they can’t get in. It was too hot and it wasn’t good for anybody.”

Best bets?
Florence Ng, president, broadcast/video investments for ZenithOptimedia in Toronto, also says that Global’s Hawaii 5-0 reboot should benefit from a favourable time slot (Monday at 10 p.m.) that has it squaring off against another rookie show, Citytv’s Chase. Another Global newcomer, the drama Lonestar (Monday at 9 p.m.) will benefit from having House as its lead-in. Ng also predicts that Law & Order: Los Angeles (10 p.m. Wednesday), will be a hit for CTV. “Dick Wolf is the master in producing procedural dramas,” she says. “It has good potential.”

TORONTO

What’s changed?
There was no significant shift in the rankings for Canada’s largest TV market, with CTV’s CFTO averaging a 13.8 prime-time share among 18-49 between Sept. 1 and April 26, followed by Global’s CIII (7.3), CBC (6) and Citytv (5.5).
Canwest stopped programming its struggling E! channel last August (it’s now operated by Channel Zero, with extensive local news and movies), yet its passing didn’t really have an impact on the market.
“I didn’t really spend a lot of money there because as far as I was concerned, it never really worked,” says Carol Cummings, director of television services for Media Experts.
Cummings notes that TV viewing levels were consistent with previous years, leading her to conclude that broadcasters’ online strategies are enticing new viewers rather than siphoning them away from core broadcast properties. She was caught off-guard by the success of last season’s breakout hit Glee (“I thought it would appeal to a very small audience”), but notes that Global also made significant ratings headway with new dramas NCIS: Los Angeles and The Good Wife.
 
What’s next?
Although the current gap between CTV and Global may appear insurmountable, Cummings predicts that the latter will continue to make headway by building on its younger-skewing sked – embodied by franchises like Glee and the Sunday night animation block.
She also expects Shaw to open up the vault when it comes to Global program acquisition. “I think they’ll bring deeper pockets to Los Angeles, which will be good.”
CTV’s lineup continues to cater largely to the 25-54 crowd; while it contains a number of aging franchises, Cummings says it injected some youthful vigour with shows like V.
Although Battle of the Blades was a surprise hit for CBC, Cummings predicts the pubcaster will struggle to attract consistent interest in properties besides hockey. “That’s the only reason I really spend money there,” she says. “It’s really difficult for anything else to pull a 1 rating.”

Best bets?
Valerie McMorran, SVP, investment director for SMG in Toronto, says Citytv’s new drama The Whole Truth, the latest from Jerry Bruckheimer, is a potential hit in the 10 p.m. Wednesday time slot.
Star Rob Morrow (N3mbers) gives the show instant credibility, she says, while its premise – a legal drama that follows both the prosecution and the defence – is a welcome departure. “It’s something outside of the typical franchise,” says McMorran. She also says two new dramas – CTV’s Blue Bloods and Global’s Outlaw – could establish Friday as a new viewing night. “They’re putting some high-quality dramas in this time period (10 p.m.) to try and spike up this night,”
says McMorran. “Saturday’s kind of out, Friday’s always been dismal, so [broadcasters] have really been relying on five nights of TV.”
The likely scenario, she says, is that one of the shows will ultimately sub-in for a failed mid-week program.

MONTREAL

What’s changed?
After being rescued from bankruptcy protection by Montreal TV/film prodco and distributor Remstar in March 2008, TQS was relaunched last August as V. It wasn’t a case of V for victory, however. The station finished a distant third among Francophone viewers 18-49, averaging an 8.7 share between September and April.
“It came in very strong and [Remstar] felt they had some great shows, but I don’t think it really went anywhere,” says Media Experts’ Cummings, who questioned the wisdom of a Francophone station importing a boatload of U.S. programming (including The Mentalist and Fringe). “A lot of the U.S. dramas don’t always go over well in Quebec,” she explains. “They like local celebrities and homegrown humour.”
On the basis of established audience faves like Le Banquier and Occupation Double, Quebecor-owned TVA was the runaway market leader with an average 23 share, followed by SRC Montreal (13.6).

What’s next?
TVA has made few changes to a prime-time sked that leans heavily on older properties, but buyers aren’t concerned. “It if isn’t broken, why fix it?” says Line Contant, broadcast manager at Media Experts in Montreal. New additions for fall include sketch comedy show Tranches de vie and Fidèles au poste – a game show incorporating TVA footage from the past 50 years.
V, meanwhile, is “continuing its adjustment” under new owners. “They took a station that wasn’t doing too well and made some changes, and did okay for the first year,” says Contant. “They’re not back where they were a couple of years ago in terms of audience, but they’re working towards that.”
In addition to new shows Un Souper presque parfait (a French-language version of popular U.K. series Come Dine with Me) and Soirée de clowns, V is also picking up several U.S. shows, including Fringe, Lie to Me and Glee.
Contant says online viewing isn’t having a visible impact on conventional TV ratings in Montreal, but she expects this year’s launch of VOD website Tou.tv – with 2,000 hours of programming from several channels – could change viewing patterns.
“The younger generation uses Tou.tv as an alternative way of watching their TV shows,” says Contant, who predicts it will take some time to achieve mass penetration online –  and that viewers will consume shows online they wouldn’t typically watch on TV.

Best bets?
The number two net, Radio-Canada, boasts two of the shows Contant is most enthused about, Mauvais karma and Les Rescapés. The latter, starring Roy Dupuis, follows a 1960s family that is transported to modern-day Canada. Mauvais karma is about three friends whose girlhood dreams never came true, but when fate reunites them after 18 years, they turn to each other for support. The sitcom is written by Isabelle Langlois, whose show Rumeurs did well on SRC.