U.TV has established `upbeat, trendy’ image

Less than two years after Vancouver TV station CKVU shed its corporate call letters in favor of the more upbeat u.tv, the station has established an identifiable character, a top executive with the station says.Howard Slutsken, program director with u.tv, says...

Less than two years after Vancouver TV station CKVU shed its corporate call letters in favor of the more upbeat u.tv, the station has established an identifiable character, a top executive with the station says.

Howard Slutsken, program director with u.tv, says the station is the only one in its market with ‘a clear identity, with whom people associate specific programs.’

Focus groups

Focus groups conducted earlier this year, in which participants were asked, among other things, how they felt about each station in the Vancouver market, showed u.tv had a better defined image than any of its competitors, which includes ctv station and market share leader bctv, cbc affiliate cbut, and others.

Participants described u.tv, a member of the CanWest Global system, as young at heart, personable, open, energetic, trendier, with an upbeat, hip attitude, according to a report by u.tv’s Vancouver-based advertising agency McKim Baker Lovick/BBDO.

Advertising

Furthermore, focus group participants said u.tv’s advertising contributed to its personality.

‘Ads for other stations, which were hip or wild, were credited to u.tv because we own that positioning and appear to be the share-of-mind brand leaders by miles,’ the report says.

Slutsken says it all comes down to attitude, an attitude he says is connected to the younger end of the 18-49 Vancouver market.

‘The identity of the station is really the same as the nature of our consumer,’ he says.

‘People in Toronto live to work, and people in Vancouver work to live. It’s a cliche, but there’s that balance in lifestyle, which is one of the most important facets.’

Slutsken says the connection between the u.tv identity and the Vancouver lifestyle was established in 1990, when newly appointed president and chief executive officer Peter Viner set out to overhaul the station’s image.

‘At the time, we were very corporate,’ he says.

‘It was ckvu. There was no image or attitude. And while ckvu had a large number of the top 10 programs, nobody was really aware of us, there wasn’t an identity to the station.’

Jim Southcott, McKim vice-president and director of client services, agrees.

‘At the time, the market was pretty quiet,’ Southcott says. cbc was the national station. bctv was the regional station of record, with over 50% share of the news market.

‘ckvu had tried to be a Vancouver station, but had never really been able to do it,’ he says. ‘Their local shows were not very vibrant.’

‘[Viner] was intrigued with what Citytv had done in Toronto, making the station part of the street, giving it a streetwise feel. He wanted to create something like that for the Vancouver market.’

Once the decision had been made to position the station as an outgrowth of Vancouver, the agency interviewed long-time residents and ‘transplants’ to find out what the city meant to them.

Southcott says this was essential if the station was to reflect the positioning line ‘Where U. Live.’

He says people told him they found Vancouver vibrant.

‘There’s also a real duality in terms of urban and outdoor – it’s a big city, but it’s close to the mountains,’ Southcott says.

‘People work hard, but they also come here to play,’ he says. ‘Relative to Toronto, it’s a much more outdoors-oriented type of group.’

The u.tv concept, which Slutsken describes as ‘innovative, energetic, contemporary, irreverent, independent and thoughtful,’ was born and the process of transforming the station’s image began.

Local news programs were renamed U. News at Six and U. News 23:30. Newscasts became less formal and started to move out of the station and onto location. Hand-held cameras became the norm.

The station scheduled its sports program, U. Sports Page, at 11 p.m., in the same time-slot as its competitors’ local news.

Southcott says its hosts are ‘very much part of the sports community, not just reporters.’

The host of Your Town, a half-hour weekly community information program went on location to community events.

Slutsken says the whole package was supported with on-air promotion, external media buys and lots of community involvement.

‘We have not a dissimilar focus [to Citytv],’ he says. ‘We’ve tried to go after the urban viewer. We’re here, a little bit `in your face.’ ‘

Southcott says the station’s strong, consistent brand character is due to the program content, the on-air personalities and advertising working in concert.

‘It’s a combination of picking the right shows from the u.s., like The Simpsons and Married…With Children, local programs like U. News and Sports Page that have an unbeat feel, and on-air personalities that are seen as funny and hip and don’t talk down to you,’ he says.

Successful

So far, the strategy has been successful.

‘Our research tells us that we clearly have an identity in the marketplace and ratings for local programming are climbing steadily,’ Slutsken says.

‘We’re the only one showing growth for our news package,’ he says.

In the BBM Bureau of Measurement’s Spring ’92 survey, U. News at Six continued its upward trend, with an average audience of 68,000 viewers.

Viewership up

This is up 25,000 viewers from 1991, and 87% over Fall ’90.

Southcott says now that the station’s identity is firmly established, the task in 1993 is to reinforce the participatory nature of u.tv through tele-votes or anything else that will involve or ask for the input of its viewers.

As Slutsken puts it: ‘We adapt ourselves, we tend to reflect back what our viewers want.’