TSTV offers sales pitch for Toronto Star

It looks like news. It tastes like news. But it's not news. Tune in to Torstar-owned infomercial channel Toronto Star Television, and you'll see regular samplings of news, weather and sports information, culled from the daily newspaper's pages. But what you're...

It looks like news. It tastes like news. But it’s not news. Tune in to Torstar-owned infomercial channel Toronto Star Television, and you’ll see regular samplings of news, weather and sports information, culled from the daily newspaper’s pages. But what you’re in fact getting, as you peruse the alphanumeric text, is a subtle sales pitch for The Toronto Star itself.

Launched in October 1997, TSTV is a teleshopping channel that broadcasts both short- and long-form direct response television spots, 24 hours a day. (Torstar, the parent company of The Toronto Star, purchased the service – previously known as Direct to You – from Rogers in March of that year, and proceeded to redevelop it.)

Since its startup, the channel has aired infomercials for advertisers ranging from the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo to IBM Canada. One of its most important clients, however, is the Star itself.

‘A big part of our mission is to brand The Toronto Star,’ says Don Shafer, vice-president and general manager of TSTV. ‘And, equally important, to sell subscriptions. To get people to sample and buy the Star.’

To this end, the channel – which boasts substantial in-house production capabilities – has created direct response spots of varying lengths, promoting the Star, its editorial staff, and its spin-off products, such as the Web site toronto.com.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to showcase the newspaper, however, is to offer a taste of what’s inside the day’s edition. Hence the inclusion of news, weather and sports content on the channel.

‘Some might argue that we actually air news on the channel,’ Shafer says. ‘But I would tell you that we don’t. We simply provide a snapshot of what’s in today’s paper. We try to create a pressing personal need for viewers to want to buy or read the paper.’

‘It’s a means of saying: ‘This is the sort of information you can get through The Toronto Star,” affirms Bruce Annan, the paper’s vice-president, electronic media.

As a vehicle for marketing the Star, TSTV has already demonstrated its worth. According to Annan, the channel has produced measurable results in the area of both subscriptions and single-copy sales.

TSTV currently attracts approximately 700,000 viewers a week, who watch the channel for an average of 10-15 minutes per day.

In addition to creating infomericals for the Star itself, TSTV’s production facility also develops spots for external clients. Shafer says the channel has continued to upgrade its production capabilities, and is now in the process of establishing a virtual studio.

David Cairns, president of Toronto-based media management company Carat Cairns, says he’s been impressed with Toronto Star Television on a number of levels.

It is, he says, a cost-effective vehicle for airing an infomercial. And it is one of the few channels – either in the conventional broadcast or the specialty realm – that allows an advertiser to target Toronto specifically.

Extending the newspaper into television – much as The Globe and Mail is now doing with Report on Business TV – is also smart brand strategy on the part of the Star, he says.

‘There’s been growing recognition by media companies that the real product they’re selling is a brand, and that the strongest asset they have may be the opportunity to build other products out of that brand,’ Cairns says.

Toronto Star Television operates on an entirely digital platform. As such, Annan says, it should be able to adapt quite easily to whatever form the broadcast world takes in future.

‘Digital information on demand is ultimately going to be available through a range of different appliances,’ he says. ‘And that requires people in the content publishing business to be prepared to deliver that content through whatever medium is necessary.’

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