Shakeup in Vancouver

There was almost an audible sigh of relief when Citytv Vancouver lit up the airwaves on July 22. After two years of television musical chairs, finally all the pieces were in place, and the local CTV, Global and CBC affiliates could focus on finding their niches in the market.
But with the new channel comes a new newscast, and it ain't any old newscast. City is introducing its proven CityPulse format to the West Coast, the same format that has already conquered the young male demo in Toronto. Such a strong new entry is sure to shake up the local news audiences - the question is, how?

There was almost an audible sigh of relief when Citytv Vancouver lit up the airwaves on July 22. After two years of television musical chairs, finally all the pieces were in place, and the local CTV, Global and CBC affiliates could focus on finding their niches in the market.

But with the new channel comes a new newscast, and it ain’t any old newscast. City is introducing its proven CityPulse format to the West Coast, the same format that has already conquered the young male demo in Toronto (see ‘Quest for youth’ on page 14). Such a strong new entry is sure to shake up the local news audiences – the question is, how?

David Stanger, managing partner at DSA Baron Communications in Vancouver, says the impact of the new CityPulse Vancouver will be significant, but gradual.

‘It takes five years for a newscast to mature and an audience to settle in,’ he says. ‘[Citytv] captures the under-30 crowd that is looking for something to call their own, instead of embracing their parents’ newscast. That’s what they did in Toronto 25 years ago. [CityPulse] has the opportunity to become tomorrow’s adult newscast.’

Already the new entry is turning heads, thanks to a surprisingly strong launch. On its first night, CityPulse at Six was the number two newscast in the market for adults aged 25 to 54, and number one for males 18 to 34. CityPulse Tonight, which airs at 11 p.m., was also number two in its time-slot.

This strong showing continued for the entire first week. CityPulse at Six eventually settled in as a strong number three, and was second in that time-slot for women 25 to 54 and 18 to 34. CityPulse Tonight was number two overall for 11 p.m. newscasts.

But whether City can sustain this momentum still remains to be seen, and generally, competitors and media buyers alike feel that the existing newscasts don’t have to start worrying yet. It’s expected that CityPulse will carve out a new, younger audience and fill a void, rather than chip away at the core viewers of the established, more traditional news programs on Global, CTV or CBC.

Although CityPulse will likely attract a younger audience than its competition, Brad Phillips, VP and GM of Citytv Vancouver, says the station doesn’t want to cast its net too narrowly, because news is a mass event. The broad target is 18 to 49.

But Phillips says that young adult is the demo CityPulse will mine for growth, and with its contemporary, casual approach to news coverage and content it will likely skew to the younger segment of its target.

‘Content-wise we will focus more than we have before on entertainment pieces. We really want to go deep on entertainment. You talk about a concert in town and you can relate to 15,000 to 20,000 people. You still have to cover the murder in the suburbs, but in reality, how many people are really connecting with that?’

Phillips says opportunities for CityPulse lie with ‘news you can use.’

‘We want to go heavy into lifestyle and consumer stories and take four minutes in the newscast to talk about the sunny weather out there and the type of sunscreen products that work the best. I think our competitors would think that was too soft and not do it.’

He says CityPulse Tonight, a half-hour program that only airs on weekdays, has a brisker pace than the 6 p.m. hour-long show, and delves more deeply into entertainment to reflect what happened that night in Vancouver, with lots of sports scores because they’re fresh.

Other information programming debuts include a Vancouver version of BreakfastTelevision and multicultural magazine show DiverseCity. The Vancouver version of BreakfastTelevision isn’t set in the same type of innovative storefront studio made famous by its Toronto counterpart. Instead, says Phillips, a unique BT house has been built with a kitchen for cooking segments, a living room for chats and even a bedroom. The hosts move around the house while on the air and a few times every morning everyone jumps on the bed to conduct some of the interviews.

Citytv is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote the station in Vancouver, says Phillips, and much of that advertising is focused on the news properties. The intensive media campaign includes radio, wrapped buses and the sides of the SkyTrain, as well as ads in washrooms in bars and restaurants.

Phillips says the message is very urban and very Vancouver-centric, with an emphasis on City’s ‘faster’ and ‘more nimble’ approach to delivering the news.

The newscast itself will feature a delivery, format and on-air look quite different from the old CKVU days, but many of the seasoned news people from the old newscast are still with the station, including Russ Froese, the anchor of CityPulse at Six.

‘When people flipped on the channel on Monday night [July 22], there were new colours, a new look, and Russ walking around – but it was still Russ,’ says Phillips. ‘So hopefully he was able to take our existing audience base and pull many of them through to the new approach. I think we’ve found the right mix of new but maintaining the base we had.’

While media buyers do not expect CityPulse to draw an appreciably bigger audience than the old CKVU newscast enjoyed a year ago, it will draw a different audience and perhaps bring new viewers to news programming.

During the month prior to the City Vancouver launch, CKVU was fourth overall for local news, with a 1.3 rating for its 6 p.m. weekday newscast and a dissappointing 0.6 rating at 11 p.m. (adults 18+).

Rick Sanderson, media director at Bryant Fulton & Shee in Vancouver, welcomes Citytv to the market, and hopes that the station and its news properties will help bring viewers lost to specialty channels back to conventional television so they can be reached by regional advertisers.

‘So much of the conventional audience has drifted into specialty channels over the past few years. That fragmentation has been a real problem for us [regional agencies] so it’s great to have a new conventional channel that’s so different it may pull viewers back.’

Sanderson also expects that CityPulse has the potential to pick up viewers that may not previously have been news watchers. But he thinks it will be City’s non-traditional presentation rather than its local focus that will have the most draw.

He says that all the other stations in the market already do a significant amount of local coverage and more than that, have already taken a page from the Citytv book with four-wheel drive vehicles and videographers zipping around the city capturing everything.

‘My view is that [none of the competition] is terribly worried about [CityPulse]. None of the other newscasts will be worried about losing tons of viewers to Citytv.’

Steve Wyatt definitely isn’t worried about CityPulse.

Wyatt is general manager of Global BC (formerly BCTV, call letters CHAN), which moved into the top news spot in the mid-’70s and has stayed there for over 25 years. At that time, the station was the CTV affiliate, but he says it has maintained its substantial lead – and its BCTV moniker – since becoming a Global affiliate a year ago.

‘BCTV News on Global is our news brand and as BCTV News it has a tremendous amount of equity in this province,’ says Wyatt. ‘It’s a very successful news organization that has traditionally been very independent minded with an agenda not necessarily set by an Eastern-based newspaper or other news organization. In that sense, it’s probably more profoundly local than most news operations.’

Wyatt says the station has stayed number one not only because of its determined dedication to local news, but also because of the sheer volume of news programming it offers – a whopping 45 hours a week.

The morning show, lunch-hour show and Early News are just the warm-up for Global National at 5:30 p.m. and the flagship News Hour at 6 p.m. (with long-time anchor Tony Parsons), which has been the market leader by a margin of roughly three to one for several years.

And unlike many conventional stations, Global BC continues its heavy news focus throughout the weekend with morning, noon, early evening and 11 p.m. shows on both days.

Wyatt says back in the ’70s and early ’80s, stations could do one big newscast at 6 p.m. and expect everyone to tune in. Today, with changing lifestyles and the availability of news 24 hours a day, he says viewers expect to be able to tune in for news when it best fits their schedule.

BCTV News on Global pretty much wins every demographic in every time period it’s on, with its core audience being 25 to 54.

Wyatt expects that news promos during the station’s hot Global prime-time programming will help it build its audience even more. Because prime-time programming is geared strongly to the 18-to-49 demographic, he believes it may even pick up some of the 18-plus crowd that CityPulse is hoping to capture.

Meanwhile, BC CTV (formerly CIVT) has gone through a number of changes since becoming the regional CTV station last September, including growing the viewership of its news at 6 p.m. nearly 700% from spring 2001 to spring 2002, according the BBM Spring 2002 Ratings Report. The audience jumped from 9,500 viewers to 75,800 during that period, moving it from a distant number four in the market to a solid number two where it currently sits.

While the station also has the benefit of tried-and-true CTV national programming such as Canada AM and its national news at 11 p.m., Tom Walters, news director for BC CTV, says its strong local reporters and anchors are really the foundation for its success.

Typically CTV goes after the 25-to-54 demographic, says Walters, so although BC CTV hopes to attract some disenfranchised CKVU viewers from Citytv, he doesn’t believe the station will be competing with CityPulse for the same type of viewers.

He does welcome City and CityPulse to the market and sees it as an alternative that defines, creates and attracts its own audience.

‘We all welcome the presence of Citytv here. What we’ve seen in Toronto is that Citytv has been able to develop a niche audience and they’ve certainly carved out their own territory in Toronto. What they’ve been over the years is a mainstream news alternative.

‘We’re happy to see Citytv emerge from its cocoon and complete the realignment that been going on in the market for this last year. It completes the puzzle and things can settle down now. I think it’s been quite a struggle for viewers to keep track of who’s who.’