The channel that never sleeps

While on a shoot in the streets of Toronto, Citytv's David Johnson remembers an excited fan leaning out his car window and shouting: 'Everywhere!'

While on a shoot in the streets of Toronto, Citytv’s David Johnson remembers an excited fan leaning out his car window and shouting: ‘Everywhere!’

Brilliant in its brevity, the one-word tagline that has so penetrated the psyche of Torontonians speaks volumes about the localism, accessibility and street-wise character of the Toronto-centric station whose very name is the brand: Citytv.

Like all powerful brands, it took years to build the station’s strong core personality, and like all powerful brands, to tinker with that would undo years of work. But since the station launched in 1972, the city has matured, and City’s image has matured with it.

In a process that started two years ago, Citytv is refreshing its look and adding a new slogan. ‘Everywhere!’ is staying; but the next guy hanging out of a window may well be shouting: ‘Where Else?’ This is not only an extension of the original slogan, but of the whole branding image that Susan Arthur, Chum Television’s director of marketing dubs, ‘the unconventional conventional.’

Stephen Tapp, City’s VP and general manager, explains the station’s branding success stems from its origins. After all, Citytv was licensed as a Toronto station, so it had to get community-focused. Also, ‘City started off financially modest, which forces creativity,’ he says. This spawned innovations like videography and low-budget people programs, like Speakers Corner.

Instead of producing from ‘closed, concrete studios,’ Johnson says IDs and programming are produced on the street. Cameras catch people buying fruit at Kensington Market or strolling at the Beaches, giving the branding package both a sense of place and a casual air.

‘It’s not that we don’t think outside creative isn’t useful, but we have such a distinct personality, an image from ground up. You have to be able to live it, portray it and sell it,’ says Tapp.

Changes to the expression of that brand have been few and considered, but sometimes change is necessary.

For instance, when City spun off MuchMusic, the station dropped ‘Music’ from the long-standing tagline: ‘NewsMoviesMusic.’

Then, last year, City started LivingCity, a weekly news special on CityPulse at Six, to reinforce the channel’s connection with the community. Trying to make Toronto a better place to live, The LivingCity Task Force teams up with local events and charities to collect used clothing for the homeless at a SkyDome event, or plant trees for Earth Day Canada’s Tree Planting Festival.

The very newest visual changes are the two-second visual ID tags on the ends of promos that reflect the persona of the channel and program content. Around movies, for instance, viewers may catch a swarm of paparazzi with flashbulbs going off that reveal the Citytv logo. Around CityLine, a paint roller reveals the logo.

Finally, for the last six months, City has run CityPulse Moments, 15-second flashbacks of momentous news events previously captured by CityPulse. The promos aren’t anything like the slick ‘overproduced’ interstitials you see on other networks. ‘We let the whole thing play,’ says Tapp, ‘We let it breathe.’

In fact, this approach might sum up City’s branding philosophy as a whole: ‘There’s no better way to brand yourself than using yourself.’

As a result of its continuing branding success, Tapp says the maverick channel is maintaining its older audience, while still skewing younger.

For instance, at 18.3%, CityPulse at Six has the highest concentration of adults ages 25 to 34 of any newscast originating in Toronto. The next highest is Global at 10.5%.

And while the advent of specialty channels is eroding the viewership of conventionals, Citytv has still been able to push through, and even grow. For example, according to Nielsen Media Research, among adults ages 25 to 54, Citytv’s fall 2001 audience increased 7% over the previous fall, while all other Ontario stations decreased.