Who’s got personality? (and who doesn’t)

In a zillion-channel universe, having a distinct brand is a must, whether you're a specialty, regional or broadcaster. Strategy asked four TV experts to flick on the tube and rate how well Canada's channels are building their personas through on-air branding...

In a zillion-channel universe, having a distinct brand is a must, whether you’re a specialty, regional or broadcaster. Strategy asked four TV experts to flick on the tube and rate how well Canada’s channels are building their personas through on-air branding…

Chris Staples, partner

Rethink, Vancouver

Part of the problem here in Vancouver is that stations are playing musical chairs. It’s an awful mishmash. They’ve changed ownership and dial positions so much, and none of them are doing an adequate job branding their identity, with the possible exception of CBC, which is standardized and homogenous across the country.

I don’t know what Global’s on-air promotion means. That black dot thing and Cirque de Soleil-type figures? The colours red, black and white are cool, but I don’t know what the network is trying to do.

Global’s sister station is called CH. What the heck is a CH? Its cookie-cutter approach has no reflection of Vancouver. It might as well be from Toronto.

Nationally, CTV is probably the best. Hollywood stars interacting with its logo is light, fun and refreshing.

The one thing about CBC, it is very consistent and their logo is very strong. They do a great on-air package for The National that is used for everything else. However, I was expecting a lot more when it hired that American firm [New York-based Razorfish]. I liked the ‘Best on the Box’ stuff better.

Both Global and CBC rate a 5 out of 10; CTV gets a 7.

A lot of Canadian stations could learn from the U.S. ABC has created real synergy with its on-air promos, advertising, print and billboards – all with the black type on a yellow background. The Viacom properties, like TV Land, do an outstanding job, mostly because of the programming, but also the on-air promos. [TV Land is launching in Canada in May.]

MTV is the gold standard! Nobody does a better job in my opinion. It harnessed independent, student and celebrity filmmakers to do its promos. Always fresh, surprising and irreverent, the graphics are cutting-edge and production values are amazing. Both MTV and TV Land have Web sites where you can see their on-air promos. I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind going to the Global, CTV or CBC Web sites to view their promos.

For comparison’s sake, MTV and TV Land rate a 10; MuchMusic an 8 and YTV a 7. They all have distinctive personalities that are very reflective of their programming. Showcase and Bravo! each get 6 for trying. I like Showcase’s indie movie thing, but it’s not quite making it. Nobody else rates.

Theresa Treutler, SVP,

broadcast investment director

Starcom Worldwide, Toronto

As a viewer with an agency background, I can acknowledge that CTV’s whole look is very attractive and that there’s a strategy there: Every colour means something. There’s consistency, and it’s definitely visible. If those are the criteria, CTV has done an excellent job. CTV’s use of starring actors is a more powerful connection to its programs than the abstract Global graphics.

However, there’s an extension of the branding effort that goes beyond the visual. Across the CanWest properties in Ontario – Global, CH and Prime – viewers are constantly reminded of the menu for the next half hour. It doesn’t mind flipping as long as viewers stay with CanWest properties.

Programming is another way to hold onto viewer loyalty. CanWest made a concerted effort to attract its core 18-to-49 demo and (the coveted) 18-to-34. You see it in its programming: Survivor, The Simpsons, Friends, Malcolm in the Middle, X-Files and Will & Grace (all Global, all top 10 shows 18-to-49, according to AC Nielsen spring ratings).

There’s no question CTV has some fantastically powerful properties, Ally McBeal in previous years, ER and West Wing. Some titles have 25-to-54 strength, some younger. But it’s a little less focused.

Regionally, the CHUM group does a pretty good job, once it moved long-time CKVR to The New VR. There’s a more consistent, cohesive effort across all its Ontario stations.

It is very good with the specialty roster too, establishing a persona for their specialty networks: MuchMusic, MuchMoreMusic, Bravo! and Space.

There has also been an impressive effort by Corus, which has been very diligent and successful in branding YTV and Teletoon. Their irreverent visuals entertain kids and teens, a tough group to please.

John Doyle, television critic

Globe and Mail, Toronto

All three over-the-air broadcasters are doing very well, but not brilliantly. They all rate a 7 out of 10.

I would describe the brand personalities of the Big Three as: CBC – Canadian and proud of it; CTV – intelligent and worth your time; Global – fun, but it’s mass market fun.

CBC has to be congratulated for shifting its market strategy in the last year and having considerable success with it. It was in a difficult position in the last few years, with less money to work with, and having to produce a 100% Canadian schedule. With some shows earning only 300,000 viewers, the net decided it was not going to apologize for that, because you’re not going to get it anywhere else.

Canadian programs like the Trudeau miniseries, in fact its whole appointment viewing schedule this year, was very strong. It’s building a kind of loyalty you can’t buy.

CBC’s key marketing strategies – in movie theatres, a focused print campaign, theme nights and billboard advertising – have also been quite successful.

CTV’s buying patterns of quality shows like Law & Order and The West Wing are pitched to slightly older and more prosperous viewers who are looking for intelligent television and are less interested in mass market sitcoms.

CTV looks very good, but I’m not certain of the impact. Unless you’re already watching the shows, you may not know who those people are [stars interacting with red ball]. It is less in your face, which supports the theme, ‘We’re intelligent and worth your time. We’re not going to insult your intelligence by being in your face.’

Global’s on-air promotion has quite a playful quality that supports the fun and entertainment definition of the channel, which is loaded with successful sitcoms. As a seamless whole, Global is slightly ahead of CTV.

Citytv is young, sexy, multicultural, urban and smart – it gets an 8. Because CFMT has a multicultural audience, it is difficult to assess, but I give it a 5 (Telelatino does a better job). CH is in an impossible position because of its relationship with Global. The schedule keeps changing. Sometimes a show is on Global; sometimes on CH. It’s very confusing. The convergent strategy may help CanWest Global overall, but it doesn’t help CH. It gets a 5. The New VR has a funky suburban, rather than urban feel, I give it a 6.

Among the specialties, The Life Network is the most successful brand, built on the reality TV fad, but offering real reality – all those shows about hospitals, delivering babies, pets, relationships, 9.

HGTV is very slick, 9.

As an offshoot of CBC, Newsworld has a quiet authority and confidence about it. Part of its success is that it’s selling you the news, not some shallow imagery.

And who’s going to say I hate animals? For its cheerfulness and easy-to-market subject, Animal Planet gets a 9.

Scream has done surprisingly well integrating programming and marketing. It’s selling horror in a sassy, funky way – it gets an 8.

Andrew Turner, president & CEO

Bat Cave youth & event marketing, Toronto

CTV graphics with the red ball are better. It reminds viewers what station they’re watching in a fun way. There are also more brand spots in the course of watching an evening of TV.

Global’s audio signature or sonic branding stands out more than the others, but visually, they could do much more with 3D animation technology. Also, the graphic IDs are too conservative for the target audience. The visuals don’t speak to me, more to a 35-50 audience than an 18-34 demo.

On-air branding for CTV fits its demo more. For the overall package, I give CTV an 8 out of 10; Global and CBC rate 7 and 6 respectively.

Global’s news team is older than its youthful core audience, and fairly serious, versus Citytv. The guy doing Global entertainment must be 90! Not a contemporized image for its six o’clock news.

CFMT’s Lucy Zilio and Citytv’s weatherman Harold Hosein stand out as real people, as opposed to more professional and safer on-air personalities.

I rank Citytv as the best targeted on-air personality of the regional stations at 8.5. The New VR and CFMT each rank 7.5, and CH gets a 7.

When it comes to the specialties, The Food Network’s online presence really furthers the brand. There are all sorts of reasons to go to its Web site, recipes and promotions to win tickets to see Emeril Legasse live. It helps build its database and revenue as it does more for its sponsors.

Discovery has also done some cool promotions such as Shark Week. It was a breakthrough promotion driving people to Lenscrafters for 3D glasses, or you could pick them up in a newspaper. These promos are great experiential components which will build loyalty. Both Food and Discovery get an 8 out of 10.

But of all the specialties, the best – bar none – is MuchMusic. It is fully integrated with great contests, a chance to meet rock stars and very relevant youth programming. It gets a 10 out of 10. For grabbing the youth demo, YTV is also good.

Some of the digitals are even sticking in my head already, such as DejaView, Xtreme Sports, EdgeTV and Lonestar.