Let the games begin

The first week in June saw the country's three main broadcasters unveil their fall TV lineups and, at press time, it looked like rates will rise once again.
Buyers are still jockeying to lock in before show trends become evident, but Montreal-based Carol Cummings, manager, broadcast negotiations at Media Experts, says she expects prime rates to go up by 3% to 5%. 'Anything more than that and they can take a hike.'

The first week in June saw the country’s three main broadcasters unveil their fall TV lineups and, at press time, it looked like rates will rise once again.

Buyers are still jockeying to lock in before show trends become evident, but Montreal-based Carol Cummings, manager, broadcast negotiations at Media Experts, says she expects prime rates to go up by 3% to 5%. ‘Anything more than that and they can take a hike.’

When it comes to spending, Florence George of Toronto’s HYPN says the total may go up, but she doesn’t see Canadians hitting the highs already seen in the U.S., which she describes as ‘a very hot market.’

The U.S. upfront ‘actually moved at a much faster pace than was anticipated,’ says Florence Ng, VP, director of broadcast for Toronto-based Optimedia Canada. Early reports show that spending has already climbed more than 10% over last year. Furthermore, an enormous 40% of network upfront inventory moved within a matter of days.

This is a significant improvement for U.S. networks. At last year’s upfront, spending fell 15% from the whopping US$8.2 billion media buyers dropped at the 2000/01 fall launch. In that banner year, the average cost per thousand (CPM) increased 15% to 17%. This year, NBC and CBS have averaged a 10% CPM increase so far, while ABC and FOX received around a 5% to 6% increase, reports Ng.

Jim Patterson, president and CEO of the Toronto-based Television Bureau of Canada, expects to see a spending increase in Canada as well, by at least 2% to 3%. This is on top of similar growth last year on Canadian ad sales that reached $2.5 billion two seasons ago (2000/01).

‘There’s a lot of confidence in Canadian growth,’ says Patterson. ‘It’s expected that TV is going to maintain the pace.’ He adds, ‘We are out of the recession.’

Still, it’s good to keep in mind that Canada and the U.S. are two different markets, says Dennis Dinga, VP, director of broadcast buying for Toronto’s M2 Universal. ‘Everybody thought last year’s big decrease in the U.S. would affect Canada, but it didn’t. And when all the U.S. dot-com companies were spending like crazy [in 2000/01], Canadian broadcasters were looking for double-digit increases as well, but that didn’t work for them either.’

However, the U.S. market does have a tremendous impact on Canadian broadcasters as it supplies new shows to fill the void left by last season’s casualties. Global Television, in particular, went on a shopping spree looking to rejuvenate its schedule.

But while Global pegs its rebound on a fresh batch of U.S. offerings, the shows have yet to impress some buyers. ‘There’s nothing really dynamite on the U.S. schedule,’ says Dinga. ‘It’s all sort of blah.’

His colleague, Inese Korbs, VP, group manager at M2 Universal, adds that this year’s programming trends are partly influenced by Sept. 11. Several rookie shows revolve around the comfort of the traditional family, complete with both parents, and ‘not the dysfunctional families of past years,’ she says.

Additionally, several dramas reflect on themes of ‘If I could change what happened in the past,’ says Korbs.

In Canada, at least one broadcaster would like to rewrite the past. As reflected in the latest Nielsen Media Research ratings (see ‘Conventional network ratings by demo,’ page TV6), the television landscape shifted somewhat this past season. CBC is up, CTV showed stable growth, but Global showed a significant slide.

When it comes to ownership of the top 20 shows in the 2001/02 season, Global had only eight, down from 10 the previous season (see ‘Top 20 shows [18+]‘ on page TV14). CTV, which only boasted seven top shows the previous season, now commands nine hits. CBC added one more top 20 show to its roster this year – for a total of three – but all three were hockey playoffs.

Within Global’s core target demographic, adults 18-to-49, the net comes back out on top, securing 11 of the top 20 shows. Show-wise, Global also beat CTV in its own demo, 25-to-54, with 10 of the top 20 shows. CTV garnered only five top spots for that demo.

Global

Still, the top 20 lists point to a worrying trend for Global. Back in the general 18+ demo, all five top comedies dropped in the ranking. For instance, Friends, which earned a 9.1 rating and seventh place the previous season, slipped to a 7.8 rating and 10th position this past season. And Frasier is about to fall off the chart altogether. With a 9.2 rating, it tied for fifth place the previous season, but fell to a 6.6 rating and 19th position this past season. Of course, both shows fared better in the younger demos (see ‘Top shows [18-49]‘ and ‘Top 20 shows [25-54]‘ on page TV14).

Overall delivery of standard sitcoms is down, confirms Ng. ‘That’s because they are more mature shows. They have reached their peak and have nowhere to go but down.’

Korbs speculates the problem could get worse. ‘The following year [2003/04] will be very interesting because Friends is not going to be there.’ (Friends has only been contracted for one more year.)

Despite the downward trend of Global’s top shows, it should be noted that the net still has the number one show across all demos: Survivor. ‘At the end of the day, Global is still the number one station to reach 18-to-49,’ Ng says.

But it may not be for long. The ratings confirm the net’s slide across all demos (See ‘Conventional network ratings by demo,’ page TV6). And an 11% decrease against its core 18-to-49 demo actually put it behind CTV. In other words, overall in the 2001-02 season, CTV’s ratings topped Global’s in both the 25-to-54 and 18-to-49 demos.

And there’s no solace to be found regionally for Global either. Media Experts’ Cummings looked closely at Global Ontario’s share for adults 18-to-34 (Oct. 8 – May 5, 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.).

‘In season 2000/01, their share was 11.4. In season 2001/02, it is 9.9, so Global is definitely sliding,’ she says.

This is ironic, considering the past season’s strategy of moving older-skewing shows to CH and leaving Global with the younger-skewed shows. Still, while Global may not have benefited from the show transfers, CH definitely did. CH posted impressive ratings increases across the board, with a notable 12% boost in the older 25-to-54 demo. ‘The strategy worked,’ says Doug Hoover, Global’s SVP, programming and promotions.

Overall, though, Hoover describes the past season as ‘extremely frustrating’ due largely to the impact of Sept. 11. ‘It was an abnormal and difficult start to the year, and the ripple effect was felt through the whole season,’ he says. It pushed back premieres, threw TV guides out of whack and delayed baseball and the Super Bowl by a week.

‘We try to launch a new show and the [U.S.] president takes over the airwaves and pre-empts us. We get through that and the Winter Olympics come along; we get through that and the Toronto Maple Leafs make it to the playoffs.’

However, Global has learned its lesson from the fall disruptions. ‘We purposely designed the upcoming schedule to ensure we get off to an early, crisp start.’ Fall premieres have been starting later and later and, ‘It’s been problematic getting programs well established,’ says Hoover.

Global will still have to wait for the American networks to simulcast some shows, but ‘those we have control over, we’re going to introduce quite early,’ Hoover says. Such shows include Band of Brothers (HBO), Shield (FX cable channel), a Will & Grace strip and a That ’70s Show strip.

Early launch appears to be a sound upfront strategy, Ng says. ‘In Canada, we have to figure out what shows to avoid. For instance, we watch who picks up most of the Fox properties. Fox carries baseball, so there will be a lot of preemptions. In most situations, Fox will not even start its season until after the World Series. If we are buying for September or October, some shows might end up not running at all.’

The solution for Global’s maturing shows is to buy lots of new ones – 16 in fact. ‘That’s a lot of new shows,’ says Cummings. ‘Of course, they have Global and CH to put them on, but still, not that many shows have been cancelled.’

‘We’re extremely pleased about the purchase,’ says Ken Johnson, SVP, CanWest Media Sales, Television Division, ‘We got all the shows we were after.’

Johnson says the key strategy for Global was to buy shows in prime protected time slots, with solid lead-ins. For instance, Girl’s Club, a show about three female lawyers by hit-maker David E. Kelly, is the Fox replacement for cancelled Ally McBeal. Girl’s Club will follow another Kelly hit, Boston Public, on Monday nights from 9 to 10 p.m.

Global plans another big change for the fall as well: dropping Nielsen Media Research in favour of BBM People Meters.

CTV

‘Going into last year, we thought CTV would show an improvement in broadcast year 2001/02 – and they did,’ says M2′s Dinga. ‘They were more aggressive in buying programming last year.’

Not only did the national net add two more top 20 shows to its roster and increase ratings 4% against the 25-to-54 target demo, but it also upset Global in the younger 18-to-49 demo, increasing ratings there by 5%.

‘Every year, CTV seems to want to get a little bit younger and I think every year they’re achieving that goal,’ Dinga observes. ‘CTV is doing a good job of moving really, really slowly, so they’re not losing their older end, but capturing more of the middle end, 25-to-34 and 25-to-49.’ He credits shows like ER, CSI and The West Wing, along with the Law & Order franchise, for the net’s broadening demo appeal.

‘Our best story was CSI,’ says Rita Fabian, CTV’s SVP sales and marketing, ‘We saw 73% growth in the show.’

Another younger-skewing show was Amazing Race. ‘While it was a little bit disappointing last fall,’ says Fabian, ‘it literally continued to build week after week, and has become a very solid performer through the spring, particularly for women 18-to-49 and women 18-to-34, which is great for us.’ It is back on the fall schedule.

Skewing even younger and returning this fall, Degrassi: The Next Generation ‘was a wonderful experiment,’ says Fabian, because it featured a parallel Web site. ‘Kids and teens could log on, get their own lockers in the virtual school, and participate. The Web site was a huge success and we were able to do a lot of fun things for the advertisers.’ The site has attracted 50,000 young members, and the show pulled in 600,000 viewers 2+.

CTV is also pleased with the whole Law & Order franchise. All three shows made the top 20 list for the 18+ demo, and the original won its time slot every time out, reports Fabian.

‘Last year we got the third one: Criminal Intent. We thought it was a strong show, but didn’t know if that would be too much Law & Order. In the end it proved to be very successful and is returning for the new season as well.’

While Fabian is gratified by the success of the shows, she also explains CTV’s rating increase as regaining lost ground. ‘You have to look at the long term, the ebb and flow of things. Two years ago, we had a difficult fall, because that was the year Millionaire really declined, so we’re building back from that dip.’

The demise of the prime-time game show is a definite trend in this year’s crop, says Korbs, and Ng identifies the lack of big-name leads as another. ‘Big stars don’t necessarily mean big ratings,’ she notes, citing Sally Fields in The Court, Richard Dreyfuss in The Education of Max Bickford and James Garner in First Monday – all canned – as examples.

‘I’ll second that,’ motions Fabian. One of CTV’s disappointments was Bob Patterson, starring Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander. CTV also had the third Seinfeld spin-off, the lukewarm Watching Ellie, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Ellie was not renewed in the U.S., but it may come back as a midseason replacement.

Fabian’s corollary to this maxim is that ‘Spin-offs are not always successful either.’ But then she notes that the Law & Order spin-offs worked. ‘So what’s the lesson there? It’s really difficult to predict.’

In fact, CTV is adding yet another crime drama spin-off to its lineup, this one a show that was identified by buyers across the country as the new season’s most promising. CSI: Miami uses the same forensic premise as the original, but with a new cast (David Caruso) and new location (see ‘The shows,’ page TV37 for full description).

CTV also has high hopes for ABC’s 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter, starring veteran comic actor John Ritter (of Three’s Company fame) running 8 – 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. ‘It’s well-written and very funny,’ says Fabian.

Ng gives it the nod. ‘It has something that appeals to everybody, spanning two generations, and the premise is good.’

While CTV is retooling its schedule, it is also retooling its selling process to create more buying opportunities. Historically the national network selling tier has been restricted to 40 specific hours a week, and the rest of the programming day was sold selectively, market by market.

‘We are reconfiguring the selling tiers, so that on both a national and local market level, advertisers will have more buying options,’ says Fabian.

For example, last year Amazing Race was in a national network time period, so advertisers wanting that environment would have to buy the whole country. ‘However, if you were buying just Ontario, you wouldn’t have been able to get it.’

Conversely, Law & Order on Wednesday was a selected time period, which meant advertisers could buy any local market, but it wasn’t available as a full national network offering.

CBC

The big story for this past season is that Canada’s public broadcaster achieved a phenomenal 20% to 22% ratings increase across all main demos, thanks in large part to the Olympics. The rise also helped vindicate the CBC’s Mondo Canuck approach to programming, with themed nights and high-impact specials.

‘It worked very effectively for us,’ says Slawko Klymkiw, CBC’s executive director of network programming for English Television.

‘In a world where most of the over-the-air broadcasters are feeling the dramatic effects of fragmentation, CBC’s regular season ratings are up for the second year in a row. The share, both daytime and primetime, is at its highest level in four years.’ Specifically, the pubcaster’s primetime average share is 9.4 – up by 0.4 from the year before.

‘They did a damn good job,’ says Cummings frankly.

However, looking at total national figures, Ng notes that when audience drivers like the Olympics, hockey and specials are factored out, the percentage increase in CBC’s overall audience delivery is marginal. The Nielsen network ratings for the Toronto-Hamilton area include the Olympics and hockey, but exclude specials (because the measurement is based on a three-episode minimum).

Klymkiw takes issue with such exclusions. ‘The drivers in our schedule are our high-impact specials, and that includes the Olympics, Trudeau, Random Passage, Last Chapter, hockey and the history project. That’s the business we’re in, so they should never be excluded from this discussion, from our perspective.’

Cummings agrees: ‘I don’t think it’s fair, because you certainly can participate in these specials as an advertiser.’ CBC specials fared ‘extremely well’ when compared to regularly scheduled top 20 shows, she says. For instance, Trudeau earned a 9.8 rating in the 25-to-54 demo, compared to Friends at 9.3.

CBC is maintaining the current strategy for its upcoming 50th anniversary season, with some minor adjustments. Hosted segments will continue, but CBC is looking to increase frequency and redefine the role of the host.

Secondly, CBC is developing more Canadian comedies. Klymkiw is very happy with the Friday night comedies, and all are returning. ‘They’re part of our brand,’ he says. ‘However, no company can go on without a rigourous and rejuvenated development strategy.’

So six new comedy pilots will air this coming season, and four new limited series of six episodes each, including new vehicles for bright talents Jonathan Torrens and Sean Cullen, as well as two previously-piloted comedies, Bette MacDonald’s Rideau Hall and An American In Canada. The prime time comedy window will be expanded on Fridays to accommodate the new entries.

Thirdly, CBC is fine-tuning its themes. For instance, Tuesday and Wednesday will be rebranded as ‘nights for the inquisitive mind,’ says Klymkiw. Tuesday’s edgier prime-time block will air shows with ‘different perspectives on important issues of the day…This Hour Has 22 Minutes through satire, Marketplace through consumer journalism and Disclosure through investigative journalism. We think they theme nicely,’ he adds.

Sunday nights will be devoted to Canadian drama series. Tom Stone, the detective series set in Alberta, is returning to CBC at 8 p.m., followed by Da Vinci’s Inquest, ‘the most highly-rated and award-winning drama in Canadian history,’ boasts Klymkiw.

CBC will also target youth in the coming season with a ‘hard, hard launch’ of ZeD. It’s part of the newest television genre since reality programming – converged or interactive programming. To varying degrees, that includes CTV’s Degrassi and ABC’s Push, Nevada. CBC’s entry, which was tested last season, will find a regular home at 11:30 p.m. Monday to Friday (for a complete description of ZeD, see ‘The shows’ on page TV37).

‘Without any advertising whatsoever, ZeD has been a remarkable but quiet revolution,’ says Klymkiw. Youth 18-to-24 came out in droves, he says. Some nights peaked at 100,000 viewers, and more than 5,000 content submissions by viewers were uploaded.

‘This is the wave of the future…and it connects us with an audience that we really didn’t have a relationship with.’

CBC Television will also be ‘converging’ with CBC Radio to produce The Great Canadian Music Dream, a contest to support young, up-and-coming musicians.

Overall, CBC will continue ‘to redesign and transform the public service’ so that it is relevant to audiences, Klymkiw concludes. However, he cautions, ‘There will be ups and downs. This is not a science. You never bat a thousand, but you know what? We’re batting close to 500, and that’s good for both baseball and television.’