Optimism at Portage and Main

Being a prairie town, Winnipeg lacks the peaks and valleys of other markets - both geographic and economic. Little bothered by symptoms of SARS or herds of mad cows, Winnipeg has managed a slow and steady build over the last half decade, with client losses offset by gains in other areas. In fact, there may even be a whiff of optimism in the air at Portage and Main.

Being a prairie town, Winnipeg lacks the peaks and valleys of other markets – both geographic and economic. Little bothered by symptoms of SARS or herds of mad cows, Winnipeg has managed a slow and steady build over the last half decade, with client losses offset by gains in other areas. In fact, there may even be a whiff of optimism in the air at Portage and Main.

Rumours suggest the triumphant return of an NHL franchise, and other evidence of a rumbling economy is easy to spot. A new $133 million sports & entertainment centre will open downtown in November, and a $270 million human rights museum project is well underway, despite the death of backer Israel Asper. How all that new money and construction will affect the city’s core – and eventually local advertisers – has yet to be seen.

Meantime, new business is scarce and a few big accounts have even left town. Beyond the 2000 emigration of the Winnipeg Jets, the city also lost the Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS) account to Vancouver. Last summer saw some city work up for grabs and before that there were the provincial elections, but little else has caused ripples in the local client pond of late.

Radio

The radio dial in Winnipeg has recently seen the most turnover. KY58, an 81-year-old AM oldies station owned by Rogers, converted to 102 Clear FM in January, with an ’80s and ’90s format targeted towards female listeners aged 35 to 49. The move resulted in howls of protest and, as Taylor George Design media planner Koen Reynaert notes, the payoff is uncertain given the increased competition the station will face on the FM dial.

Lower down on the band, CanWest jazz station Cool FM 99.1 is now a year old and has captured a small niche. But some buyers question its growth potential in a market of just under 700,000 souls. ‘I keep saying in a market the size of Winnipeg, this has got to be it. And then you hear that someone else has gotten a licence. The pie is being sliced up into some pretty small pieces,’ says Traffic Advertising media director Kathryne Grisim.

Meanwhile, number-two local station BOB-FM has slipped slightly in share to 12.6%, but it still has buyer attention and is a good bellwether for other JACK-like stations.

TV

By contrast, little has changed on the small screen. Buyers observe a healthy fight in the local news market (currently CTV’s CKY News at 6 has the upper hand, with a total audience averaging at 138,000 viewers, according to the Fall 2003 ratings from BBM). Global recently announced it was moving its traffic department to Calgary, and – along with the rest of the Calgary-based empire – Craig outlets are reportedly up for sale in Winnipeg, Brandon and Calgary.

TV buyers in Winnipeg sometimes feel the pinch of their prairie position. ‘When Toronto and Vancouver are really booming and they’re purchasing a lot of national television inventory…my rates go up and my options go down,’ notes Grisim. But inventory has generally not been an issue since the elections.

‘Lots of our inventory is actually accessed not just by agencies, but by local retailers as well. The retailers get a little bit spooked by the high prices – so it stays on the table for longer than it might in a bigger market.’

Newspaper

Even without a subway in which to wage a newspaper war, things have been heating up in Winnipeg print.

Two years into its new ownership, the Winnipeg Free Press is impressing buyers with its flexibility and problem-solving, and, more importantly, with its reduced, more competitive rates. Newspaper has become affordable enough that smaller retailers are getting into the game, where they might not have considered it before.

‘The Free Press has become very friendly to work with,’ observes Luke Moore, MD and VP, director of media, western region at M2 Universal Calgary. ‘They try to understand what your needs are and work with you, and they’re very creative.’ And it’s hard to argue with the paper’s reach – about 170,000 on Saturdays. The Free Press also introduced an 18-to-49-oriented section called Detour earlier this year.

Over at the Winnipeg Sun, a new publisher has been in place since last December, and changes are likely afoot. Rumours have the Sun revitalizing its auto section in the near future.

Out-of-home

On the outdoor front, buyers note that while Viacom has great locations, Pattison appears to be expanding the fastest, acquiring diverse locations as the city grows into outlying communities. With lots of flat space to be had, outdoor in Winnipeg has lengthy sight lines and inventory tends to be available, but prime spots need to be locked up at least three months in advance.

Grisim observes that this year’s harsh winter has obscured bus benches and transit shelter ads.

Happily for advertisers, however, drivers have more time to ponder billboards on their way to work: traffic congestion in Winnipeg is on the rise, thanks to increased urban sprawl.