CH-CH-CH-changes for ONtv

So what's the story?...

So what’s the story?

Hamilton, Ont.-based ONtv is returning to its roots as a local broadcaster on Feb. 12 – and as part of that process, it’s undergoing a massive brand overhaul and will adopt a new name: CH.

Wow, that’s grabby. Aren’t these the same guys who made a big fuss about going regional a while back?

The very same. In 1997, Hamilton station CHCH decided to extend its reach Ontario-wide, and renamed itself ONtv.

This latest rebranding effort follows a takeover by CanWest Global Communications, which picked up ONtv when it bought the television assets of WIC Western International Communications last year.

Once they’d taken possession, the folks at CanWest quickly identified a pressing need for change.

‘In our view, ONtv failed as a brand,’ says Kevin Shea, president of the Global Television Network. ‘It needs to be reinvigorated and rethought.’

Competitive issues came into play as well. After all, CanWest

really doesn’t need to be the owner of two different networks – Global and ONtv – going head-to-head in the Ontario market.

The solution? Give ONtv back to the Hamiltonians.

Who I’m sure will be grateful. But what’s with this ‘CH’ deal? How did they come up with that?

Sandy Fraser, director of marketing and promotions with ONtv, says it’s a nod to the station’s old call letters.

The alternative, he explains, was trying to come up with an entirely new brand name – the third for the station in four years. And since ‘ONtv’ hadn’t exactly caught on like wildfire, that seemed a questionable call.

‘When half the people in focus groups are still referring to this station as CHCH, even though it’s now ONtv, it just doesn’t make any sense to call it anything else.’

Added to that, Fraser says, was the concern that a fancy new name might cause the station to be confused with one of the new digital cable channels slated to launch within the year.

Wouldn’t want that, obviously. So how different is the new CH going to be, anyway?

In seeking regulatory approval for the WIC buyout, CanWest Global pledged to invest $14 million over five years to revitalize programming in the Hamilton-Niagara area.

The media giant is pumping $9 million of that straight into news, public affairs, arts and entertainment shows on CH. The result will be 19 hours a week of brand new local programming.

At the heart of this effort: a new three-hour breakfast show entitled CH Morning Live. This will replace the station’s current early-morning lineup – a combination of business news and children’s programming that runs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. every weekday.

Patrick O’Hara, general manager of the station, says CH Morning Live will be pivotal to the whole rebranding exercise. ‘That’s going to be the focal point – what we call our ‘jewel enterprise’ – which will really reach out and connect with the Hamilton-Niagara area.’

The station will also extend its supper-time news program to a full hour, and add several other new local programs, including a talk show, CH Talk Live, and a Sunday current-affairs show called CH Straight Talk.

Maybe it’s just me, but all of this – the local focus, the name change – seems kind of like a big step backwards. Isn’t that bad for a brand?

Fraser doesn’t see the situation that way. ‘We did a lot of research in the region, and it rang through loud and clear that there was a huge upside in identifying with the CHCH brand. People still call it CHCH – both in this community, and in the ad community in Toronto.

‘We felt this was a way of putting a fresh spin on it. We’re going back, but it’s new: a fresh beginning.’

In addition to new programming, Fraser says the station will introduce a new set and new opening sequences for its news shows. All of that, plus a new logo and graphic identity, will set a progressive tone miles beyond that of the old CHCH, he says.

Once all these changes are in place, Fraser expects that the station will take its new identity to the public through a combination of print, outdoor and radio advertising in the Hamilton-Niagara region and Toronto.

One important question, of course, remains to be resolved. Just how do you pronounce the name of the new station? ‘See H’? Or ‘Chuh’?