Buyers predict softening regions

While CTV and Global battle for supremacy on the national front, a series of smaller skirmishes are breaking out in Quebec, Ontario and Vancouver as the regionals jockey for position. Not surprisingly, media execs, who are just now looking to make...

While CTV and Global battle for supremacy on the national front, a series of smaller skirmishes are breaking out in Quebec, Ontario and Vancouver as the regionals jockey for position. Not surprisingly, media execs, who are just now looking to make the bulk of their regional buys, are voicing concerns over the increasing cost of inventory, while ad sales execs tout new shows, new blocks and, in a couple of cases, completely refurbished channels.

Some buyers are hopeful that softening demand and sluggish buying south of the border will have some influence on rates from broadcasters in this country.

Pierre Arthur, executive VP of Optimedia Canada in Montreal, says, ‘There’s unquestionable pressure about slowing of demand. There’s a perception that, whereas it may not be as severe as in the U.S., the pressure on demand will keep inflation modest.’

Ad sales execs have a slightly different take.

David Kirkwood, VP of marketing and sales for Toronto-based CHUM Television, says broadcasters are aware of the sluggish start to fall sales and first- and second-quarter slowdowns in the U.S., but they expect Canada to continue to be a healthy market.

‘Their [the U.S.] situation is a little different in that they have lost a lot of dot-com money that we never had,’ says Kirkwood. ‘Even our politicians are telling us that our situation is different, we won’t be hit as hard.

‘I don’t think the fall is going to be a hot fall but we’re still expecting it to be healthy. We’re not anticipating a decline.’

Theresa Treutler, SVP broadcast investment director for Starcom Worldwide in Toronto, believes initially broadcasters will come in with rates that are somewhat aggressive, but says the negotiation process will take as long as it needs to in order to bring the costs in line with increases already approved by clients.

‘Fortunately for us, a lot of our clients are in categories that aren’t as sensitive to certain economic factors as others. I don’t see us taking a hit but, depending on their client list, other agencies might.’ Treutler adds, ‘Of course that means more a buyer’s market for me, so I’m really looking forward to that.’

In British Columbia, fragmentation and the high cost of television are making things even more difficult in a market that’s already unsettled in terms of broadcast ownership.

The local word from David Stanger, head of the Vancouver office of DSA Baron, is that the shifting of dollars to specialty cable channels from traditional conventional stations has contributed to a regional softening demand.

‘I’d be surprised to see more than a 2 or 3% increase in the cost of buying television this fall versus a year ago – because you don’t have to. You can buy specialty cable; you can do other things. There are enough questions in advertisers’ minds about tuning levels being down and time on the Internet being up, that television is not quite the glamorous medium it was even a year ago.’

Dean Butler, director of media services for Glennie Stamnes Strategy in Vancouver, adds that he hasn’t been as active in television of late because his clients are pulling away from the medium.

‘For a lot of my clients, newspaper is working a lot harder for them at a lot more efficient cost. It’s really coming down to the inflationary cost of television. National buys are taking all the Vancouver inventory, driving the price of television up and making it hard on the local market to use the medium because of the expense.’

Montreal: Year-round tracking kills sweeps

In the Quebec region, the fall season is expected to see a mix of returning proven programming, a refurbishing of time periods that need work, and the top three networks – TVA, Radio-Canada and TQS respectively – continuing to focus on the program genres they do best.

But throw some changes in network ownership and broadcast measurement into this seemingly stable market, says Optimedia’s Montreal-based Arthur, and you have the potential to upset the status quo.

As the fall season begins, TVA is caught up in a buyout by Quebecor, and TQS (Television Quatre Saisons) is entertaining purchase offers, although a buyer had not been announced at press time.

Arthur says that at a time when cost is an issue, it will be a big challenge for the purchasers of these networks to keep rates down.

‘These two broadcasters will need to not only meet their costs but also reimburse debt. The pressures on price will be very contradictory. There is a softening of demand, yet a greater need on the part of the new owners to generate profits to finance acquisition costs.’

Another big change rocking the Montreal market is a move from paper diary sweeps to ongoing people-meter measurement this fall as Nielsen Media Research wraps up its test period and starts producing formal data.

‘This will obviously benefit broadcasters who program on a more linear basis,’ says Arthur. ‘It will also challenge more traditional broadcasters like Radio-Canada and TVA to program less for sweeps and more for continuity, to take their existing shows and make them work throughout the broadcast season.’

Arthur says TVA – the traditional leader of the prime 5 to 7 p.m. window – has taken some significant steps to try to regain share lost to TQS last year.

One of those steps is the introduction of a new half-hour game show. Ultimatum, which Arthur describes as a combination of Survivor, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and Weakest Link, is set to air from 6:30 to 7 p.m., right after TVA’s news package.

‘On paper, TVA certainly is making the right moves to try and regain the leadership it had,’ says Arthur, ‘but obviously it has a challenge. When you’re the leader you have to recapture share. Being the challenger is often the more competitive position, and TQS has been able to take advantage of that.’

Arthur says Radio-Canada’s position in the French market is very different than CBC’s position in English Canada. CBC’s French-language network Radio-Canada has always been the leader or number two in terms of share of hours watched. R-C may be lacking the boxcar numbers of TVA, but he says the network compensates by delivering probably the most balanced audience profile, from the lightest to the heaviest of viewers.

Meanwhile, TQS has found a programming style and a niche, and seems to be sticking to it, says Arthur. The network continues to have a good movie package, so it can almost always pull out a popular flick to counter programming on the other two networks.

Most importantly, he says, TQS has taken the lead in dinner-time local news from TVA, whose news programming leads in every other period.

Last September, TQS moved the dinner news to 5:30 p.m. from 6 p.m. TVA unsuccessfully tried to challenge this with its own move to 5:30 p.m., but has returned to 6 p.m. It hopes to bring viewers back by leading into the news with an hour-long news magazine show called Trafic.

Nicole Tardiff, press relations chief for TVA Group, says, ‘Last September, with TQS starting its news at 5:30 p.m., where we had a soap opera, it was really difficult to reach that audience. We had difficulties at 6 p.m. as well, because people were going [to TQS] at 5:30 p.m. and staying there. That’s why we’re going back to the old way, to entertain from 5 to 6 p.m., doing what we do best.’

TVA is a private network of 10 stations covering 99% of the province’s French-speaking population. Radio-Canada has similar coverage with 10 stations, which include six re-broadcasting stations and four affiliates. TQS broadcasts in French and has nine stations in the province of Quebec, covering about 94% of the province.

Toronto: Buyers eye CH

Buying Toronto means buying Ontario, because the majority of the stations are regional networks. Buyers are reluctant to choose winners or losers in this market because television is so fragmented, and because it’s very difficult for a station to come up with a consistently winning schedule.

Theresa Treutler of Starcom says, according to the spring 2001 data, Global dominates the region with the younger audience.

‘Global has got around seven or eight of the top 10 shows. Of course that depends on the target group you define as well. Looking at persons 18 to 49, a fairly common group amongst our clients, there’s a recurring pattern here for younger demos and Global.

‘If you had older adult target groups or female target groups, your ranker would change somewhat and Global dominance would be a little more equalized. CTV tends to do well against older demos.’

Florence Ng, VP, director of broadcast services for Optimedia Canada in Toronto, doesn’t think the 2000 season was a great one for either Global or CTV Ontario because they both experienced a lot of program changes and cancellations.

‘Global started a little bit slower than CTV last year in terms of sales. I think it had to do a lot with the fact that the estimates and pricing were a little too aggressive. One of the hits that delivered a great rating was Survivor 2, a program that stands out on the Global schedule as a winner for them this last season.’

Still, Ng is generally cautious about shows that are gimmicky or have a novelty factor such as Survivor or Citytv’s Temptation Island. There are no guarantees that they will continue to deliver once the novelty wears off, she says, and they should be priced accordingly.

Global Television’s CH in Hamilton is one station that buyers are keeping an eye on. While it is being positioned more as a local station, its reach is still regional. CH’s prime-time schedule is strong, but Ng says it needs to add some strength to daytime so that buyers can package prime and fringe times for clients. The fact that CH skews to a slightly older audience than Global, Ng says, could be quite complementary and give buyers a strong range of programming to choose from.

Treutler adds that CH looks to have an even stronger schedule for this fall than last. ‘I think we’re going to see CH’s position improve,’ she says. ‘No one knew how CH would be treated in regards to Global. It’s not being treated like a poor cousin at all and it’s not being distinctly targeted much different than Global. There’s a mixture of both older and younger properties on both stations.’

Doug Hoover, national VP of programming for Global Television Network, says strong, proven programs are returning to CH and a major investment in U.S. properties has been made to give the channel its own unique schedule.

The main focus of the CH day-to-day program schedule is CBS programming with a lot of simulcast. The only real distinguishing feature between CH and Global, he says, is target group, with Global skewing 18 to 49 and CH slightly older at 25 to 54, although many of the new events for the season are family-oriented.

‘Global tends to be appointment television whereas on CH we’re hoping to re-introduce the big event. We’re trying to work off our strengths. With the big events, we’ll promote those extensively on Global and in our newspapers to create awareness and excitement.’

Such big events will include a number of mini-series and event programs from NBC and ABC, as well as some Hallmark productions. Scheduled so far are Uprising; Dinotopia, a Hallmark six-hour mini-series next spring; and for Canadian content, an animated show called Voyage of the Unicorn.

New additions to CH include Monday Night Football, 24, Citizen Baine and The Education of Max Bickford (for more detail on fall debuts, see ‘The shows,’ beginning on page TV35).

Vancouver: Ownership shuffle causes delays

Buyers in Vancouver are facing a whole new ball game this season and some believe they won’t really have a clear picture of their marketplace until September.

The television landscape in the region is experiencing an unprecedented game of musical chairs that will see programming, personalities and ownership change throughout the market. The only station coming through the process untouched is CBC’s CBUT.

Glennie Stamnes’ Dean Butler says all this confusion about ownership and schedules is just another obstacle in a marketplace where local and regional buys have become prohibitive simply because of cost.

It’s been a seller’s market for quite a while but he expects the pendulum will eventually swing the other way; it’s just a question of when.

One sign of softening in the market is that of all the local automotive dealer associations, only Ford is using television, whereas two years ago all dealer groups were spending large amounts on television, Butler says.

David Stanger of DSA Baron in Vancouver says program schedules seem to have taken a back seat to ownership and personality changes this year in Vancouver.

‘For us this fall, the issues are going to be, What’s it going to cost to buy short-term versus long-term? What impact is one new station [CIVI] going to have? What impact is it going to have on the views, the cost of buying television and its competitors?

‘There are a number of direct questions and then there are secondary questions,’ continues Stanger, ‘such as what impact is all this going to have on secondary markets in B.C. that advertisers have traditionally counted on for spill from Vancouver, like Kelowna, Kamloops, Prince George and Dawson Creek? June is generally what broadcasters refer to as the ‘feeding frenzy’ and I think we as buyers feel ill-prepared to deal with that right now.’

On September 1, BCTV and CHEK, both previously affiliated with CTV, become Global Television Network stations. Global has sold its old station, CKVU, but the CRTC still has not given its approval for that purchase by CHUM Television. CKVU is currently being operated in trust and will lose its prime programming to Global properties BCTV and CHEK.

CKVU’s new programming reflects a youthful format similar to other CHUM stations, such as Citytv in Toronto, VR in Barrie, RO in Ottawa and PL in London, with such programming as Blind Date, Temptation Island, Relic Hunter and Sex TV. Similarly, CHUM’s CIVI Victoria will be positioned as ‘The New VI’ and will have a younger-skewed format.

Stanger doesn’t think there is a market for a Citytv-type station in Victoria and says that CIVI is nothing more than a ‘back door’ into Vancouver.

Also signing on in Vancouver is NOWTV, a Christian station owned by Trinity Television that will focus on family-friendly programming.

There is also the unresolved issue of a multilingual licence being granted in the market that will result in a West Coast version of Toronto’s CFMT. That is expected to happen within the next 12 months.

After all the retooling, CTV is left with only one broadcaster in the market, CIVT or VTV. VTV becomes the official CTV station and will go through a re-branding to become CTV British Columbia later in the summer. The station will assume a full CTV schedule, just like CFCN in Calgary and CFTO in Toronto, except for three shows – Oprah, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune – that stay with BCTV.

Contractually, BCTV can not use the name Global until September 1, while VTV is free to become CTV British Columbia any time after July 1. That transition is not expected to happen until closer to the end of August to avoid viewer confusion, since CTV news and programming will be seen on BCTV until September 1.

Stanger believes that all the changes in the marketplace will have very little effect on viewers and they will find all their favourite programs within a week or two. He says the real battleground in the market this fall is going to be for the local news audience.

The new CTV British Columbia is already planning an aggressive attack for news supremacy. News veteran Robert Hurst, senior VP of CTV British Columbia and general manager of the station, says the building of the CTV news presence has already begun. New reporters and camera operators have been hired and the station now has five microwave trucks for live on-scene reporting.

Hurst says, ‘This is the first time that CTV in British Columbia has offered a local province-wide television news service. The challenges are great because two other stations have been entrenched here for decades – CKVU and BCTV. BCTV, as the CTV

affiliate, dominates and has dominated for years.

‘We really began our CTV news build at the beginning of April. Building television news in 2001 involves huge investments in technology and people. This is the way to win viewers, if they know you are at the scene with live capabilities and the other guys don’t have that capability.’

The revamped VTV-CTV dinner-time news programming will consist of two back-to-back local newscasts running for a total of one-and-a-half or two hours, starting at 5 or 5:30 p.m. (The length will be determined by mid-June.) One news team will anchor the first segment and Bill Good has been stolen from BCTV to anchor the 6 p.m. hour. Good, a radio and television news anchor in the community for the past 25 years, was anchor on the segment leading into BCTV’s 6 p.m. news with Tony Parsons, the number-one news program, for several years.