And they’re off

It's early summer: the birds are singing and the buying's underway. It's the time of year when media execs cast a measured gaze over the performance of Canada's three biggest players - CTV, Global and the CBC - while the nets,...

It’s early summer: the birds are singing and the buying’s underway. It’s the time of year when media execs cast a measured gaze over the performance of Canada’s three biggest players – CTV, Global and the CBC – while the nets, in turn, talk up the treasures they have in store for the year to come.

Last month’s U.S. prime-time upfront got off to a sluggish start, with ad revenue forecast to drop considerably from last year’s $8.1-billion US, but here in Canada, buyers say the market is experiencing its own unique dynamics.

Looking at the past year’s performances, Nielsen Media Research figures show that Toronto/Hamilton prime-time ratings are up at CBC, down at CTV and flat at Global (see charts below).

All in all, ‘Global retained the number-one position’ in terms of having the most shows in the top 20, says Doug Newell, who runs the buying operation at Toronto’s Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell, although the net is ‘not as dominant as it has been.’ (Newell says he looks at performance in Toronto because 52-week electronic measurement is available and the market makes up about 20% of Canada.) ‘CTV did not perform as we had anticipated,’ he adds, noting that it experienced ‘a very slight decline [while] the CBC basically held its own.’

Carol Cummings, Montreal-based manager, broadcast negotiations with Media Experts, feels a little warmer towards CTV, saying the net has been ‘holding steady.’ In turn, she’s cooler towards Global, noting that ‘Survivor has done very well, but a lot of their other shows have been sliding.’ And the CBC? ‘The CBC is the CBC,’ she says, ‘It just kind of moves along.’

Over at Starcom Worldwide, broadcast supervisor Rishma Dewsi says this past year has seen a disappointing performance overall. CTV, Global and the CBC have ‘all dropped in terms of share’ among adults 18 to 49 for the full day, she says. And when it comes to primetime PVT levels, Dewsi says the major markets are ‘stagnating, seeing not a lot of growth or seeing a pretty significant decline.’ In all fairness, adds Dewsi, ‘it seemed like TV in general actually has dropped.’

Global

A closer look at Global finds the net defending its performance in light of a long-term strategy to ‘dominate the top-10 programming, which is what clients use to market their products,’ says Ken Johnson, senior VP of CanWest Media Sales. Global’s key target demos are ages 18 to 34 and 18 to 49.

By the numbers, Global was up 2% in the 18-to-49 demo and flat in both the 18+ and 25-to-54 demos. The network pulled in 10 of the top 20 shows for adults 18+. Survivor: The Australian Outback nabbed the top spot, with a rating of 18.2, far outpacing second-place ER on CTV, which posted a 12.2.

‘They had a lot of new shows for the season, but a lot of them got axed fairly quickly in the year,’ says Starcom’s Dewsi. ‘That was disappointing for them.’

Overall, Global’s stable performance ratings-wise can in part be attributed to parent company CanWest Global’s acquisition last summer of WIC, bringing southern Ontario station CH into its fold. ‘They’ve created a sort of two-tiered offensive scheduling tactic, with Global being the younger-skewing schedule and CH being the slightly older,’ says HYPN’s Newell. This played out with Will & Grace switching to Global and 60 Minutes shuffling to CH.

Looking ahead to next season, Doug Hoover, senior VP of programming and promotions at Global Television Network says, ‘The Global schedule is stronger this year than last.’ For the first time, Global will air new Survivor series both in the fall and the spring. Boston Public premiered late last year and became a hit, which boosts the Monday night lineup. Global is also scooping former CTV series Spin City, an attractive pickup because of its established fan base. Hoover also believes new show Undeclared is ‘very compatible with That ’70s Show.’ (For complete descriptions of fall debuts, see ‘The Shows’ on page TV35.)

Most of Global and CH’s schedules will be simulcast, with CH seeing more simulcasts than in the past. Popstars, ‘probably one of our most successful Canadian programs of all time,’ says CanWest’s Johnson, will be back with Popstars 2.

Last season, CH dropped 11% among ages 25 to 54 and 6% among 18 to 49, but held steady in 18+. Since a lot of the programming for this past season had been bought by the time CanWest’s purchase of WIC got the go-ahead last July, the company is looking forward to its first year of scheduling CH in its entirety. ‘We’re quite happy with the way things are going [on CH] and the progress that’s being made,’ says Global’s Hoover.

CH carries a fair amount of CBS programming, reflecting CBS’s similar target demo of 25 to 54, and its schedule is changing significantly as a result of changes at programming source CBS.

‘One of the main strategies with CH is to reintroduce the big event,’ says Hoover. In November, CH will air the four-hour mini-series Uprising, about the Warsaw Jews and their fight against the Nazis. The cast includes Donald Sutherland, David Schwimmer and Hank Azaria. For May sweeps, the six-hour mini-series Dinotopia – ‘good family fare,’ says Hoover – centres around a lost world where humans and dinosaurs co-exist.

CH has also purchased Monday Night Football (NFL). To build awareness for its programming, the network will tap into the promotional strength of Global, as well as the newspapers and Web sites under the CanWest Global umbrella.

Among CH’s new shows, 24 stars Kiefer Sutherland (continuing the recent trend of movie celebs coming to the small screen) as a government agent trying to stop the assassination of the black presidential hopeful. This addition appealed because its ‘real-time concept is very unique and it was extremely well done,’ says Hoover. The Education of Max Bickford (featuring Richard Dreyfuss) interested CH ‘because Sunday at 8 p.m. is an important time period for both us and CBS,’ says Hoover.

‘I think Global is going to be tough,’ says HYPN’s Newell. Having two networks to put programs on means both networks can get more simulcasting. And ‘the advantage that Global has of being able to schedule two stations against CTV’s one, is huge.’

CTV

Over at CTV, nothing less than total domination is the name of the game. ‘Our absolute goal is really to be number one in every single time period,’ says Rita Fabian, senior VP of sales and marketing. Demo-wise, adults 25 to 54 are the network’s ‘benchmark’ audience, with ages 18 to 49 a close second.

The net has its work cut out for it: over the last season CTV has seen decreases across the board. Ratings dropped 13% in the 25-to-54 demo, plummeted a whopping 25% in the key 18-to-49 demo, and slid 16% in the 18+ audience. Still, CTV shows accounted for seven of the top 20 programs among the 18+, with ER, Law & Order and The West Wing coming in second, third and fourth, respectively.

‘I think overall, our total audience was flatish,’ says CTV’s Fabian. ‘The big issue for us was not so much that last fall was weak. It was that in the previous year, we had Millionaire going absolutely through the roof.’ Despite levelling off, Millionaire continues to be ‘a solid performer,’ she says.

‘A big thing we were happy about was that we really came away with three breakthrough dramas,’ continues Fabian: CSI, Third Watch, and Law & Order: SVU. ‘We also had unbelievably good luck with our mid-season shows,’ including The Mole, Weakest Link, What About Joan and My Wife and Kids.

Running The Sopranos against the Olympics was ‘probably our biggest coup last year,’ Fabian says. Following its success airing season one last year (according to CTV, the series drew two-million viewers per night), CTV will air the second season of The Sopranos this fall, again showing the unedited and uncensored series. The network will build audiences for the second season by rerunning the first season in July.

‘Our biggest disappointment was probably The Michael Richards Show,’ says Fabian, in which the Seinfeld alum played a detective. ‘We thought that was going to be the next Seinfeld, but the writing was not strong enough.’

For the next season, Fabian says many hurdles have been overcome. For one, U.S. broadcaster ABC dropped Millionaire to two airings a week; CTV is dropping down to one airing, on Monday nights at 7 p.m.

Among upcoming debuts are The Amazing Race and a new version of The Mole. Both shows reflect CTV’s strategy to build its presence in the growing reality genre.

One-hour drama debuts include Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which extends the franchise, this time depicting crimes primarily from the criminals’ point of view. Alias, from the creator of Felicity, features a mother-daughter CIA/ espionage story in a ‘slick, well-written’ production, says Fabian. Philly stars NYPD Blue’s Kim Delaney as an attorney. And Thieves – starring John Stamos and Melissa George as two burglars who are caught and asked to work on behalf of the government – ‘is a lot like Moonlighting in a way,’ says Fabian, ‘because Stamos and George are really gorgeous and he’s constantly trying to get her into bed.’

‘We also think that from this buying season, we’ve come away with the best two sitcoms,’ says Fabian. Jason Alexander leads as a ‘smarmy motivational speaker’ whose personal life is falling down around him in Bob Patterson. And Scrubs, about interns in a new hospital, has been called ‘sort of the next generation of M*A*S*H, where they can be doing surgeries and you find yourself just laughing through all this crazy stuff that’s going on,’ says Fabian.

In an unusual move, CTV is filling CanCon requirements by bringing a well-known production back to life with Degrassi: The Next Generation. The property ‘has a cult following from the original’ and will be supported by CTV’s most extensive Web undertaking yet, says Fabian.

CBC

The public broadcaster may have a way to go before jaded buyers start getting excited, but execs are still basking in the glow of one of the best seasons the CBC has seen in years.

It saw gains in all key demos, up 15% among its core target audience of 25- to 54-year-olds, up 17% among 18 to 49, and up 10% among 18+. Its NHL playoffs round-two coverage landed fifth among the top 20 shows with ages 18+, and Hockey Night in Canada also appeared in the top 20.

‘We had an extraordinary year last year,’ says Slawko Klymkiw, executive director of network programming at the CBC. It was especially rewarding, he notes, given that last year was the first year of the CBC’s transformation plan.

Among shows that Klymkiw believes resonated with audiences are Canada: A People’s History, the Olympics, special coverage (including Pierre Trudeau’s funeral and a federal election package), and specials like Rick Mercer spotlighter Talking to Americans. Mother Corp. was also ‘very pleased,’ says Klymkiw, with perennial winners like Air Farce, Da Vinci’s Inquest and The Red Green Show, and the redesigned National is keeping viewers for longer periods of time.

But while the CBC rejoices, Mark Sherman, president of Media Experts, is quick to bring the pubcaster down to earth with a little cold reality. ‘The CBC offers a valuable audience, but [its] ratings levels don’t compare to CTV or Global,’ he says. ‘In that respect, if it is a race, it’s a two-horse race.’

Starcom’s Dewsi is equally unimpressed. The network ‘came out with some homegrown stuff, but [these shows] weren’t out-of-the-gate big numbers, and I don’t think anybody expects that, including the CBC.’

Next season, though, expect to see more change at the CBC than perhaps any other net in Canada, as it enters the second phase of its transformation.

Each night will be themed, with the goal of keeping viewers as long as possible throughout an evening. Sunday and Monday will be home to drama and high-impact programming, Tuesday and Wednesday feature information shows, Thursday features performing arts, Friday stays as comedy night, and Saturday is sports. Hosts, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily, will ‘personalize the network,’ provide context for the programs, cross-promote CBC’s efforts between platforms and give the network a feel that is ‘absolutely distinctive,’ says Klymkiw.

CBC is also unveiling a new on-air look with the fall schedule rollout in October that aims to communicate the brand’s attributes. ‘This rebranding is a step in the right direction because they certainly need to get out there a little more and get noticed,’ says Media Experts’ Cummings.

Turning to programming, the pubcaster is ushering in a second series of Canada: A People’s History, as well a new documentary about the history of Canadian broadcasting (coinciding with the CBC’s 50th anniversary in 2002), and a shift to one-hour investigative pieces for the fifth estate and CBC News: Disclosure. New drama series Tom Stone will also debut, along with literary works brought to film, such as The Piano Man’s Daughter based on Timothy Findley’s novel. A new mystery wheel will kick off with Mr. Jinnah, about an investigative reporter unraveling a murder mystery in Vancouver’s East Indian community.

More competition from below

Outside the three big conventional casters, little CHUM is catching the eye of media buyers, who are looking forward to seeing the second installment of Temptation Island on Citytv. The first Temptation Island placed eighth of the top 20 programs among ages 18+. Starcom’s Dewsi also calls the acquisition of Enterprise, the latest in Paramount’s Star Trek franchise, ‘a real big coup’ for the feisty net. ‘For me, the CHUM launch this year will be as important as the CTV and Global launches,’ she says.

CTV, Global and the CBC remain valuable as media vehicles, says Carol Ann Kairns, VP, media at BCP Limited, ‘because they’re still the dominant ones. The

specialty networks account for probably between 20% and 30% of viewing, depending on the target group that you look at.’ But with digital channels coming on board too, ‘The ones that are going to lose are the more traditional broadcasters because that’s where the shares are.’

This increased competition is putting an even greater emphasis on prime time. ‘You definitely have a trend today in conventional television where prime is everything,’ says Media Experts’ Sherman. ‘Since specialty television has taken hold, off-prime dayparts [at conventional nets] have been underperforming. So prime is really the linchpin of the schedule.’