Media buyers interested in Toronto | one

Sex fiends. Armchair jocks. Fashionistas. In today's multi-channel universe, there's a TV destination for everyone. So does Toronto really need another? The answer, according to media buyers, is yes, provided the new network is chock-full of original local content, with a healthy dose of multicultural programming.

Sex fiends. Armchair jocks. Fashionistas. In today’s multi-channel universe, there’s a TV destination for everyone. So does Toronto really need another? The answer, according to media buyers, is yes, provided the new network is chock-full of original local content, with a healthy dose of multicultural programming.

‘Given some of the ethnic and local programming involved, there’s the opportunity to pick up or attract a group of potential advertisers who to date haven’t considered television because the cost is too expensive and the market they talk to is fairly limited,’ points out Bruce Claassen, CEO of Genesis Media in Toronto.

That’s good news for Calgary-based Craig Broadcast Systems, which was awarded an over-the-air licence for Toronto|one in April. The regulator also handed a licence to Rogers Broadcasting for CFM2, a Southern Ontario regional network. Both emphasized an ethnic component that was absent in other bids, including one from odds-on favourite Torstar’s Hometown Television.

Despite an unsuccessful lobby against Toronto|one in early June by CanWest Global Communications, Alliance Atlantis Communications and TorStar, among others, the new channel should hit the airwaves next spring.

‘We feel great,’ says Craig president and COO Drew Craig, from Ottawa where he was camped in an effort to sway cabinet ministers to allow the licence to stand. ‘The federal cabinet did the right thing. That was to let the process take its course.’

But the newly minted licence did not come without a cost. Craig says he basically lost the revenues of an entire programming season due to the appeals. ‘The fact that we’ve missed even the fall broadcast [window] will be very costly,’ he says.

‘Everything [was] basically ready for us to pull the trigger – from the real estate to facilities to programming to staffing.’ The argument against Craig was that its commitment to Canadian content and independent production fell short of other bids.

But apparently the CRTC has a thing for multicultural content. According to CRTC spokesman Dennis Carmel, the regulator has been increasingly focusing on the issue for several years. In the last year, it has also awarded licences to Multivan Broadcasting for a multilingual station in the Vancouver area, and gave consent for Chum’s $130-million purchase of CKVU in Vancouver, which it plans to model after Citytv.

‘We’re here to serve the people of Canada,’ says Carmel. ‘The nature of the people is changing and the face of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal is changing. We recognize that and we are adapting to that new reality.’

Craig maintains that targeting multicultural groups makes ‘great business sense’ too. ‘It isn’t something that we just pay lip service to,’ he says, adding that the station will broadcast 12 hours a week of English-language multicultural content. ‘It’s something that we think is very important and opens up huge opportunities for us.’

As an example, Craig points to the success of its aboriginal half-hour magazine program, Sharing Circle, aired on Craig stations in Alberta and Manitoba. ‘It attracts a huge number of aboriginal viewers. From an advertiser’s perspective, trying to target that community, it’s a terrific vehicle.’

Claassen, for one, agrees that multicultural programming is a wise proposition for Canada’s largest metropolis. ‘The GTA is made up of a mosaic of cultural entities, both from a language and a heritage standpoint, so a station that focuses on the Toronto market wants to reflect that as best they can.’

From a demographic perspective, the ethnic content makes sense, since 40% of Canada’s multicultural population resides in Toronto. According to a study by Rogers-owned CFMT, by 2011, four million GTA citizens will have ethnic origins other then English, French or aboriginal.

‘The incidence of multiculturalism is growing year-to-year, and if anything, I’d imagine that there are more languages than ever represented in this area,’ adds Theresa Treutler, SVP, broadcast investment director at Starcom Worldwide in Toronto. ‘Clearly, all the analyses conducted and reviewed by the CRTC point to a need for more multicultural services.’

Many advertisers have realized that addressing ethnic groups is worth their while, and some have invested in multicultural media outlets or even produced creative exclusively for multicultural demographics. Toyota Canada is one of them, and Toronto-based marketing manager Peter Renz says the company would consider investing in Toronto|one if it proved it could attract enough viewers. ‘If it’s another way to reach the ethnic market, and they tune in, then obviously we would consider it,’ he says. ‘Whether they tune in or not, we’ll have to wait and see.’

This begs the question: Can the GTA sustain another Toronto-based network? If four dailies can exist in Toronto, with 80% of revenue stemming from local advertisers, then that bodes well for the viability of a local channel, says Claassen. ‘Clearly, there are monies available for advertising,’ he says. ‘And they’re probably drawing on a population in the five or six million range, [so] there’s a big enough audience [too].’

However, Florence Ng, director of broadcast services for Optimedia Canada in Toronto, points out that viewership numbers for any new station are slow to develop. ‘I’m not being optimistic and saying that with [Toronto | one] coming on board, it’s going to help us in a big way,’ she explains. ‘It won’t, but it is a starting point, and hopefully with some good programming, there is a potential to deliver.’

Ng says she would be interested in Toronto|one, because the current local scene is rather inadequate, with most of the signals being regional in nature. ‘Because [existing networks] cater to a national or regional buy, the time they have allocated to the local portion of their programming is somewhat limited. If I wanted to mount a big campaign for Toronto [exclusively], I would run out of programming.’

Among the programs in Toronto|one’s proposed schedule are New Voices, where members of ethnic communities share their stories, Toronto Life: The TV Show, focusing on arts and entertainment, and local newsmagazine Show Metro.

Claassen adds that a metro-specific channel would allow local advertisers, such as a small retail chain, to target Torontonians exclusively. ‘The majority of inventory that’s available on the four stations [Citytv, CH, Global TV and CFTO] are only accessible if you’re buying the entire province,’ he explains, adding that Toronto’s percentage of local TV advertising is likely lower than that of any other Canadian market. ‘If you’re a local merchant or business that doesn’t have locations [outside of Toronto] or if you’re a merchant without distribution beyond the scope of the GTA, TV becomes an expensive proposition.’

He also points out that the additional competition would allow media buyers to garner more control over costs, which, of course, couldn’t hurt either.

- With files from Peter Vamos