Networks cool over viewer loss to new wave of specialty tv

As the newly licensed specialty tv services scramble to hire staff, cut programming deals and attend to myriad other tasks associated with a likely Jan. 1 sign on, so, too, are the country's networks preparing themselves for the theft of some...

As the newly licensed specialty tv services scramble to hire staff, cut programming deals and attend to myriad other tasks associated with a likely Jan. 1 sign on, so, too, are the country’s networks preparing themselves for the theft of some of their audience.

And even though most observers say the new channels’ larceny will not bring them much, at least in the short term, opinion differs on what its cumulative effect might be.

Peter Kretz, general manager of marketing and sales at cbc tv’s English-language service, believes the networks – and the specialty services already on-air – are facing audience erosion over time.

Kretz suggests the just-licensed eight English-language channels – two French channels were licensed as well – could pick up half a point each, out of a total of 100 share points.

He says that is four points for 1995, and it could mean another four points a year or two after that if the federal broadcast regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission licenses more specialty services, as it has indicated it would.

Says Kretz:

‘If we go to a second wave, or third wave [of licensing,] each wave is going to be a little smaller in terms of its penetration, but if you average it through all the waves at half a share point per channel, and [with eight channels] now, and another eight to come in January 1996, we’re talking four share points maybe this January, 1995, and another three to five share points in the next round. That’s going to come out of existing audience levels. And that is erosion.’

Paul Robertson, senior vice-president, programming and marketing at the CTV Television Network, agrees the new services will lead to greater fragmentation.

But, Robertson says the problem is not terminal.

‘We currently sit at about 18% of total viewership in English Canada, and our long-range projects, even without adding [our own] cable station, we can see this [viewership] staying in the 16% to 17% range in 2001,’ he says.

‘As we look realistically at long-term impact, based on the emergence of more stations and near video on demand and interactive services, no question [share loss] is a factor, but maybe not as devastating as one might expect in terms of the overall expectations of network share.’

Doug Hoover, national vice-president of programming and promotions for the CanWest Global System, says his Ontario-based network is not sure the new specialty services will hive off enough of Global TV’s audience share to worry about.

‘We don’t feel that it’s the time to start tinkering with something that’s working,’ Hoover says.

‘We don’t see the specialties as being a necessity for us to reorient ourselves or anything of that nature,’ he says.

Yet despite the careful responses of the networks, all three have definite strategies to fend off the new batch of interlopers.

Kretz says what a network broadcaster has to do is present a market niche that others cannot, or provide superior service.

He says the first of cbc’s market niches is its ‘premier sports coverage,’ with Canadian Football League games, the World Track and Field Championship, Molson Indy Car races in Toronto and Vancouver, major league baseball, Molson Hockey Night in Canada double headers Saturday nights throughout the season, golf, and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

And he says it is worth remembering, in this sports niche cbc provides a Canadian angle on events.

Kretz says the second of cbc’s niches is its news and current affairs programming.

He says the broadcaster maintains 22 news bureaus around the world and has news sharing agreements with broadcasters in 10 countries.

As well, cbc English-language tv is moving its nighttime newscast back to 10 p.m. from 9 p.m. and reintroducing late night local news.

This, Kretz predicts, will give even other network competitors pause for thought.

Third, Kretz says cbc intends to show ‘consistent family viewing,’noting the success of the just-ended urban drama of Street Legal and the rustic appeal of Road to Avonlea.

He says the fourth corner of cbc’s marketing square is service, adding, the network has taken a one-stop shopping approach.

‘It’s something that’s taking us time to fully implement, but it’s sales team concept where you can buy the network, regional networks, specialty channels, 16 owned and operated stations,’ Kretz says.

‘We can pull in specialists on [CBC] Newsworld, we can pull in specialists on sports, we can pull in specialists on corporate sponsorship,’ he says.

‘We have specialists now for value-added. There’s no one in this country that can do that.’

Robertson says ctv recently conducted an extensive study of what its viewers think of the network and will use the ‘very sensitive research’ findings to further brand ctv.

‘Coming out of that research, it provides a really strong image of what we could become, that we’ll execute, and will sharpen the brand recognition of ctv,’ he says.

Also, Robertson says the network is continuing to build on advertiser involvement, linking certain advertisers with properties or programs, and ‘really creating platforms that shout the brand being advertised and also shout the piece of programming being advertised.

‘These kinds of events, that are associated closely with the advertisers, we’ll do more and more of,’ he says.

‘We can hardly keep up with demand is the truth of the matter. There’s so much interest in programming that provides profile.’

So, Robertson says that although on one hand there is the niche and micro-niche option, which appeals to certain marketing plans, on the other, there are people looking for mass audiences and profile, leaving little doubt ctv will continue its strategy of ‘big event tv.’

Over at Global, the network’s approach is straightforward.

Hoover says the broadcaster’s objective is what it is calling ‘appointment television.’

He says this means Global wants the best series tv, consistently scheduled through the television season.

He says Global is committed to its program format and style of operation.

‘We’re not an event marketing organization,’ Hoover says. ‘We’re not a movie channel. We’ve left those formats, if you like, for others.’