Scant data forces buying by environment and enhancement opps

As we prepare for the annual frenzy of new TV program appraisal, selection and negotiation, we buyers will have at least 16 new English-language digital offerings to consider. These are the category-one licences that cable and satellite carriers are mandated by...

As we prepare for the annual frenzy of new TV program appraisal, selection and negotiation, we buyers will have at least 16 new English-language digital offerings to consider. These are the category-one licences that cable and satellite carriers are mandated by the CRTC to bring to all digitally equipped households this fall. In spite of this proximity, the new group apparently hasn’t had sufficient time to arm themselves with the standard selling tools – program details and schedules, viewer profiles and audience forecasts, not to mention the proverbial rate card. We can look forward to this to begin in about two to three weeks.

Given the role of good data within the negotiation process, buyers should note the current lack of industry consensus regarding the size of the digital TV universe (comprising both cable and DTH services). Current estimates range between 1.2- and 2.0-million households (10 to 15% penetration), but the individual forecasts for digital growth vary even more. Suffice it to say that the next 10 years are expected to see digital penetration grow to about half of Canadian households.

The current scenario of low digital penetration poses a challenge in terms of audience measurement. While Nielsen has confidence in its 3,200-meter sample, it is currently investigating how best to track digital penetration on a monthly basis to regularly validate the sample. The digital services group appears to be less confident in the existing system’s ability to accurately capture their individual profiles, and discussion between it and the TV measurement services are ongoing.

Of note to the buying community are a number of commonalties across the new entries. All are licensed for 12 commercial minutes per hour, and all are required to have 50 to 55% Canadian content overall. Not unlike existing analog specialty services, the program schedules for the new channels will likely reflect a six- to eight-hour wheel format with three to four repeats.

Since national audiences will be modest (by virtue of low digital penetration), and since the ability of current measurement services to capture individual program data is unlikely, it is not surprising that commercial air-time sales will be based primarily on daypart (or broader) rotations, with some limited sponsorship opportunities for flagship programs. With respect to sales representation for this new group, it will essentially be absorbed into existing specialty sales organizations where applicable. Where no sales infrastructure exists, those networks will more than likely look for partnership with outside sales organizations.

Specifically, CanWest Media Sales will be repping Mystery, Men TV, The Biography Channel and TechTV. Bell Globemedia will rep WTSN and Travel. Corus has the Canadian Documentary Channel and Land & Sea. CHUM has FashionTelevision and BookTelevision. Alliance Atlantis has Health Network Canada and One: the Body, Mind & Spirit. Headline Media Group/ St. Clair Group is repping PrideVision; Craig Broadcast Systems has Connect; independent Stornoway Communications is running the Issues Channel and Alliance’s Salter Street Films has the Independent Film Channel. (For details on channel programming and positioning, see ‘A channel for everyone’ on page TV22.)

As you pick and choose, some things to keep in mind are that the Biography series on A&E consistently garners high Canadian viewing audiences, which bodes well for the spin-off channel. As well, the Biography channel has apparently secured the lowest Canadian content requirement of all the new category-one licences. Other interesting tidbits include the fact that TechTV also has a low Canadian content requirement, WTSN was the only channel with a ready sales kit at press time, and Health Network has a programming strategy that’s very reminiscent of the successful TLC product.

From a targeting perspective, the majority of these new offerings appear to be fairly broad, the three exceptions being FashonTelevision (adults 18 to 34), Connect (12 to 24 group), and TechTV (men 35 to 49). For the TV buyer, this means that selections will probably be based more on network environment relevance and commercial message enhancement opportunities than standard considerations such as audience size and cost efficiency. Perhaps over time, we will see unique audience profiles evolving for each service that offer specific advertising opportunities.

We will also see the introduction of a number of category-two licences his fall. Current estimates cite 50 to 60 licences intent upon launching, however, as these are not guaranteed carriage, their viability is dependent on the outcome of ongoing negotiations with cable and DTH suppliers. Once their carriage is confirmed, though, they will match the category-one licences with respect to viewer draw potential. Within this group there are numerous appealing offerings – Global Extreme Sports, Edge TV, and SexTV, to name a few – that may very well outperform the category-ones.

But that discussion is reserved for another time.

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Theresa Treutler (theresa.treutler@starcomworldwide.ca) is SVP, broadcast investment director at the Toronto office of Starcom Worldwide.