Viewership static since the ’80s

Buyers and competitors predict that CityPulse west will draw new viewers into the news-watching fold, but that may be easier said than done. That's because overall, audience numbers for news and public affairs programming have not varied much in almost 20 years, according to Barry Kiefl, principal of Ottawa-based consultancy Canadian Media Research.

Buyers and competitors predict that CityPulse west will draw new viewers into the news-watching fold, but that may be easier said than done. That’s because overall, audience numbers for news and public affairs programming have not varied much in almost 20 years, according to Barry Kiefl, principal of Ottawa-based consultancy Canadian Media Research.

It’s difficult to develop a new audience for news, says Kiefl. The overall audience seems to remain the same, it’s just divvied up differently. That audience also tends to be older, since as people age they develop more interest in non-fiction, whether it’s books, magazines or television.

The fact that the entire population of Canada is aging, he says, is also causing news audiences to skew older.

Kiefl says it’s especially interesting to note that the introduction of 24-hour news stations – such as CBC Newsworld, CTV Newsnet and CNN – hasn’t had a huge impact on viewing times and total audience.

‘People seem to have a certain amount of their time they devote to watching news. If you look at the pattern of what people are watching, that hasn’t changed either. The big peaks are 6 to 7 p.m. and again from 10 to 11:30 or so. Those patterns have stayed the same despite the fact we now have 24-hour news available on multiple channels.

‘That’s what I think any new entry, any new station, is facing. They’re going up against the fact there’s pretty much a defined market share for the news audience and it’s going to be pretty difficult to grow that audience. At least history would seem to say that.’

Kiefl says historically there have only been slight changes in the total viewing numbers for news and public affairs. For instance, statistics show that between 1984 and 1999, French Canadians became heavier viewers of news and public affairs programs than English Canadians.

Specifically, the percentage of French TV viewing time devoted to news grew from 13% in 1984 to 15% in 1999. Viewing of public affairs programming also jumped considerably, from 12% to 20%. Ninety-nine percent of that content was Canadian in 1984, and 96% was Canadian in 1999.

When it comes to English television, 12% news viewing in 1984 grew only marginally to 13% in 1999. Public affairs viewing time doubled from 6% to 12%. In 1984, 62% of English content was Canadian, but that plummeted to 36% in 1999.