Buyers handicap new digital channels

Canadians should soon have 21 more reasons to complain that there's nothing on TV....

Canadians should soon have 21 more reasons to complain that there’s nothing on TV.

That’s the number of new digital specialty channels slated to begin broadcasting next fall. And media pundits are pegging new entries devoted to mystery, health, travel, biography and guy stuff as the likeliest to attract advertising dollars.

On Nov. 24, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission handed out licences for digital television services. In all, the CRTC approved applications for 16 English-language and five French-language ‘Category 1′ channels, which cable distributors will be obliged to carry.

(The commission also gave its thumbs-up to 262 ‘Category 2′ applicants. Distribution for these will be at the discretion of cable providers, so don’t count on seeing The Poetry Channel any time soon.)

Given the shallow penetration of digital television in Canada, none of the new Category 1 channels is likely to offer huge reach. Still, there are some that probably represent better bets for advertisers than others. So Strategy asked media buyers to rate the English-language newcomers.

BEST BETS

• 13th Street (Global, TVA, Rogers): The mystery channel is expected to do well, as long as ‘it’s not more Murder, She Wrote,’ says Sherry O’Neil, vice-president, group media director at OMD Canada.

• The Biography Channel (Rogers, Shaw, A&E): This kind of programming definitely has broad appeal. Still, Ammirati Puris media director Darryl Nicholson wonders: ‘Does it justify a whole network?’

• Health Network Canada (Alliance Atlantis, WebMD): Health and fitness are areas of broad and growing interest – especially as the population ages, says M2 Universal president Hugh Dow – so the prognosis here looks good.

• Men TV (TVA, Global): Doug Newell, senior vice-president, media buying operations at Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell, says advertisers would welcome an alternative to TSN for targeting the testosterone crowd. Genesis Media president and CEO Bruce Claassen, meanwhile, says the channel will probably do best if it opts for ‘scantily-clad women in bathing suits’ over more serious fare. Like that would ever happen.

• Travel TV (BCE Media, CTV, TVA): Hey, everybody loves to travel – or to dream about travelling. Claassen’s guess is that the channel will draw the same kind of audience as The Weather Network.

FUTURE HAZY

• Book Television: The Channel (Learning and Skills Television of Alberta): Unless it comes up with something besides talking heads, this one could be headed for the remainder pile, buyers say.

• FashionTelevision: The Channel (CHUM): ‘If I was working for Sears or Eatons, I could certainly imagine being a charter client,’ O’Neil says. ‘But after that, it’s not a must buy.’

• Independent Film Channel Canada (Salter Street, Triptych Media): Could attract a strong following of cine-snobs. Then again, Showcase hasn’t done spectacularly well with its own indie film offerings, Nicholson says, so it’s not clear just how viable the format really is.

• PrideVision (Levfam Holdings, Alliance Atlantis): Nicholson says the gay audience is an under-served market that advertisers are interested in reaching. But O’Neil’s not sure clients are truly ready to support an all-gay channel – especially if some of the content walks on the wild side.

• Wisdom: Mind, Body and Soul Channel (Vision TV, Radio Nord, Wisdom Media Group): In all likelihood, it’ll appeal to the same housebound, 55-plus audience as Vision, O’Neil says. ‘But these are not the same people who’ll pay more money for more channels.’

• WSN – Women’s Sports Network (TSN): Whether there’s enough programming out there to fill the airtime remains to be seen. Then again, maybe they’ll take a tip from the Bud Light campaign, and make it a 24-hour figure skating channel.

ANYONE’S GUESS

• The Canadian Documentary Channel (Corus, CBC, the NFB and four independent producers)

• Connect (Craig)

• Issues Channel (Stornoway Communications, Cogeco)

• Land & Sea (Corus, CBC)

• Techtv Canada (Rogers, Shaw, Techtv)