Showcase beefs up ad presence

After one false start by the country's largest cable provider, and the circumspection the largest media buying shops have shown the new specialty tv channels, Showcase has gone over its head to display its wares to viewers, and, perhaps, reassure the...

After one false start by the country’s largest cable provider, and the circumspection the largest media buying shops have shown the new specialty tv channels, Showcase has gone over its head to display its wares to viewers, and, perhaps, reassure the advertisers who covet them.

Starting next month, the new specialty tv channel which was among seven to begin broadcasting Jan. 1, will launch a series of daily national radio spots.

The spots, from Toronto agency Bensimon Byrne, tell listeners what are their best bets for that evening’s viewing on Showcase.

The new commercials are in addition to advertising Showcase already has on the go on radio, tv and in print.

Peter Wilmshurst, vice-president of marketing, sales and cable relations for Showcase, says, as far as he knows, the daily radio spots are a first.

Wilmshurst says Showcase chose radio because it is flexible and can capture some of the drama of the programs his service broadcasts.

He says the commercials will run in major markets across the country beginning in February, and possibly going into March.

The spots, a mixture of 30s and 60s, will promote such fare as Britain’s cop show, Spender, a major hit in that country and already an appreciable draw in Canada.

As for the public’s willingness to take a chance on the new channels, Wilmshurst says, like others in the media industry, the next few months will tell.

Doug Newell, vice-president of media buying operations at Harrison Young Pesonen & Newell in Toronto, says his shop is not buying anything on the specialty channels until there is a fix on subscribers.

Newell says it will be a guessing game until at least March on how the specialty channels will fare.

Winners and losers

Bruce Claassen, president of Genesis Media, says he is buying time on the new channels, but his company is also making a list of the potential winners and losers among them.

Bruce Baumann, vice-president and director of media services at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising in Toronto, is, like his colleagues, exercising caution with the new services.

Baumann says the whole situation is in a state of flux, and it may be April or May before any hard data about subscribers and audiences are available.

In any event, Baumann says his shop is not making any major placements without guarantees.

Hugh Dow, president of Initiative Media in Toronto, says it could be early summer before there is a fix on the audiences the new services draw, although he calls the early numbers captured by The Discovery Channel ‘pretty impressive.’

Negotiating guarantees

And, like Saatchi & Saatchi, Initiative Media is for the time being negotiating guarantees.

The new channels, Dow notes dryly, have enough ad time in their inventories to offer compensation should it be required.

Rogers Cablesystems, the largest operator in the country with one-third of Canada’s cabled households, recently shelved its original packaging plans for the new channels in the face of a public outcry over them and its negative marketing option tactics.

To placate its customers, Rogers has allowed them to keep their cable packages much the way they were before the new services signed, and has extended the free preview period.

Rogers subscribers will now get the new channels without charge in February as well as January.

Peter Irwin, vice-president of marketing for Rogers Cablesystems, says his company now offers its subscribers the original Cable Plus discretionary package of a&e, tsn, cnn, The Learning Channel, The Nashville Network and the French TV5, to which it has added, because of imposed Canadian content linkages, Much Music and Telelatino.

Irwin says the expanded Cable Plus costs $5.45 a month.

He says the new Canadian channels have been packaged together, and, to add some further value to the bundle, cnn’s Headline News has been placed with them.

He says the almost all-Canadian package costs $2.65 a month, if it is bought with Cable Plus for a total of $8.10.

The almost all-Canadian package of The Discovery Channel, the life network, Showcase, Bravo!, New Country Network and Headline News bought without Cable Plus costs $5.45.

Same as Rogers

Irwin says Edmonton’s Shaw Cable is making available the same packages as Rogers.

The introduction of the services by Le Groupe Videotron in Montreal, Canada’s other dominant cable provider, will be different because of its French-speaking subscriber base.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the cable industry made a joint decision to place the Women’s Television Network and the French version of CBC Newsworld, rdi, on basic cable.

The lone French discretionary service is Arts et Divertissements.

Irwin says because of the fluidity of the cable situation, and the extension for another month of free previews, it is ‘anybody’s guess’ the numbers of subscribers Rogers will sign up for either Cable Plus, or the as-yet-unnamed five Canadian channels and Headline News.

There are an estimated 4.4 million cabled households in English Canada and about six million in the entire country.

5 million households

Jacqueline Cook, vice-president of marketing for wtn, predicts her channel will be in five million of those households by August, although it should be pointed out carriage on basic rather than discretionary cable is an enormous help.

Claassen and Todd Goldsbie, director of sales for the life network, do not believe it will take long for Canadians to pick up the discretionary cable packages.

Claassen says it will be ‘extremely enticing’ for them just to take everything, and Goldsbie says households will take advantage of the modest $2.65 charge for six more viewing choices.

But, he says, echoing a cautionary noted issued earlier by Dow, there is a difference between household penetration and audience numbers.