Regional roundup

TORONTO

TORONTO

Background: Station rebranding in the Toronto market hasn’t made much difference to the standings of Quebecor-owned Sun TV (the former Toronto 1) or to CKVR, which received CHUM’s A-Channel treatment last year. In fact, the majority of the stations in the market suffered slight erosion over last year, including top-rated CFTO, likely due to the return of hockey and the Olympics to CBLT, giving the station a 1.3-point boost.

Steve Aronovitch, broadcast investment manager for Starcom Worldwide in Toronto, says Sun TV is waiting for the CRTC decision on its proposed increase in signal strength within southern Ontario but currently, in a hotly contested Toronto market, the station has had little impact. Nor has the transition from The New VR to A-Channel.

Aronovitch says: ‘[A-Channel's] new offering didn’t really pique audiences enough to [tune in] as a destination. It’s still looked on as second-tier programming. I don’t see any year-over-year growth. I think the rebranding was more of a cost-saving initiative. Why have multiple brands across the country when you can streamline everything into two?’

2006/2007 strategy: Elizabeth Brennan, media manager at Genesis Media Toronto, says avails and rates are a lot more flexible this year than in the past and are starting to flatten out from the big hikes of a few years ago. Of course, audiences are also starting to flatten out.

‘It’s starting to be a buyers’ market again, going into fall. Going into spring, it will depend on how a few shows work out for Global then things might get a bit tougher, but I think fall is going to be a buyers’ market.’

Brennan says specialty channels and digitals are playing a big part in helping buyers get the audience reach they’re looking for.

With A-Channel losing Everwood, one of its staples, she says it needs to find a show to fill that time period because it drew women 25 to 54 and gave advertisers a reason to buy the station.

Sun TV started running programs this spring that were originally picked up by CTV, including West Wing, Freddie, and Less Than Perfect. She says it was a good move and something that could bring some interest to the station.

What is going to have the biggest effect on regional stations such as Omni, Sun, and

A-Channel, says Brennan, is the merger of U.S. nets UPN and WB to form CW.

‘Citytv has a lot of UPN and WB properties already so there’s really no place for Omni and Sun to get programs from. It’s going to have a huge impact on the smaller guys.’

Best bets: Brennan says there are a lot more options for viewers and this is the year for Global to make some inroads. It’s building its schedule with solid programs such as Prison Break and My Name is Earl that might not be top five but are solid and staying around. It has put more emphasis on scripted programming and picked up 14 new dramas and eight new comedies for the upcoming season.

‘Global is right on the bubble. It’s had a fast turnaround because its strategy wasn’t going after [marketshare gains] fast, the strategy was to try to be strong throughout and creep in.’

CTV has a lot of older shows such as its Law & Order and CSI franchises, which take up six hours of programming each week, so it has to juggle anything else it acquires around with pre-and post-release of shows rather than simulcast with the originating U.S. net. Brennan says this happens a lot in the Toronto market and CTV risks annoying its audience by not playing shows at the times they want to see them.

‘CTV will pre-release Lost so a viewer can watch it on CTV Wednesday at 8 p.m., watch on Buffalo’s WKBW at 9 p.m. or can go on timeshift delay out in Vancouver to watch it at 11 p.m. or at 9 p.m. on the Seattle station. CTV has to be careful of pre- and post-release scheduling games with major shows.’

Brennan adds: ‘Global has two stations in the market to test new shows while CTV purges its audience by buying up a lot of properties and not running them in simulcast. By doing so many pre- and post-release games, CTV is going to find itself in some trouble this year.’

MONTREAL

Background: TVA has been hurt by the competition in the past year and while it’s still number one in the market, it has lost share to Radio-Canada and TQS – both of which have been beefing up their schedules with original programming the last few years.

Carol Cummings, senior TV buyer for Media Experts in Montreal, says TVA’s perennial hit Star Académie really helped keep it in the lead, but it’s only a short-run series. One of its other shows, On n’a pas toute la soirée, a talk show hosted by well-known comedian Éric Salvail, started out well but then the numbers started dropping each week.

TQS had a big hit with the second season of reality series Loft Story although its homegrown version of Bachelor didn’t get the numbers it expected because, as Cummings says, ‘the guy turned out to be such a jerk.’

She says SRC really deserves to be the strong second place station in the market. The broadcaster is entering the fourth year of an extensive rebuilding effort and each year has made a major investment in the production of solid, high-quality programming. Cummings is disappointed that Les Bougons – a big hit for SRC – isn’t returning this fall because the actors want to leave on a high note and move on to new projects.

Dubbed blockbuster U.S. movies on SRC and TQS performed well as did Lost and Desperate Housewives on SRC. Cummings attributes the success of the dubbed TV series to the high-quality European French translation as well as the fact that the episodes are fairly current. SRC is bringing them back with new episodes for a summer run.

2006/2007 strategy: The vibrant Quebec market makes it pretty easy for media buyers to deliver the rating points they’re looking for. Cummings says the broadcasters are approachable and amenable to working with clients – and there’s also a strong stable of French-language specialty channels, which garner higher shares than English specialties.

The broadcasters frequently come up with new ideas for advertisers, and in particular, Cummings says, an innovative one from SRC called the Countdown, is very effective.

‘It runs 30 seconds before the show in a little box [in the corner of the screen] that literally counts down from 30 to 1 – and you can sponsor it, such as ‘brought to you by Telus.’ If you sponsor the Countdown and put a couple of :30s in the show, it comes across almost like a full sponsorship.’

Best bets: SRC has three new shows for fall with the rest of them slated for mid-season with January launches, says Cummings. One is a half-hour show with a Sex and the City feel called C.A. and the other is Seventh Round, a drama about a boxer as he goes from being famous to hitting rock bottom. The third entry is still being kept under wraps. It will be scheduled on Friday nights and is something she says SRC expects to be big.

She also expects the TQS roster of new and returning shows to perform well. Reality megahit Loft Story, which isolates 12 strangers – six guys and six girls – from the world for 63 days in a loft, is back for a third season while another popular reality show, Donnez au Suivant (Pay it Forward), returns for a second season of improving the lives of others. New to the schedule are The Sopranos, CSI: NY, and Bob Gratton: Ma Vie, My Life!, an original production starring Gratton (a.k.a, Elvis Gratton), the garage he owns, and the weird bunch of freeloaders that hang around because of his cash…lots and lots of cash.

TVA will not be introducing any new shows this fall. It is relying on tried-and-true fare such as Occupation Double, a reality show that combines elements of The Bachelor and Big Brother; Nos été II, a family saga set in 1922; Le Négociateur II; and Lance et compte: la revanche, the return of the hockey cult series 20 years after it first premiered.

EDMONTON/CALGARY

Background: The Alberta market is hot, hot, hot. Ratings in both Calgary and Edmonton have CTV leading the charge, followed by Global, and CBC in third spot. Citytv, which morphed from the former A-Channel last year, brings up the rear in pretty much every demo.

Kathy Shapka, VP media director at DDB Canada in Edmonton, says things are so hot even poorly performing stations are benefitting.

Buyers had higher hopes for Citytv but Andrew McFallon, principal of OMC (Objective Media Counsel) in Calgary, says the station has lost ground since last fall and is down about one-third from spring to spring.

‘What [Citytv] is doing is not working in either market. [Decline] is consistent and not just prime. We’ve seen erosion over last year with about 10% share loss.’

The big news for Alberta in the next 12 months is the change from paper diary ratings to people meters. McFallon says media planners and buyers will be looking at how to adapt to the new system. The joint venture between BBM and Nielsen, BBM Nielsen Media Research, won’t be operational for the 2007 TV season so the timing of the Alberta rollout is still unknown.

2006/2007 strategy: It’s already starting to get tight in Alberta so those who want to buy for fall had better buy early. McFallon says: ‘[National buyers] are eating up avails unless you’re way ahead of the game. We’ve seen that for a couple of years and it’s just not going away. Right now we’re locking in January inventory.’

While CTV has a stranglehold on the top shows, local and regional advertisers are limited by avails, costs and audience delivery.

McFallon says declining TV audience delivery is quickly becoming a big problem because, except for Sportsnet, the ability to build reach into schedules with specialty channel buys is not available to regional advertisers. Shapka adds: ‘One of our ongoing concerns is how long audiences will stay with the traditional stations; they’re getting more fragmented. News used to be in the 20s, now shares are just into double digits for the two strongest stations.’

Best bets: McFallon says the best bets this fall would be anything on CTV stations. Global is finding some good opportunities, but it still has some work to do to catch up, he says. In local programming, CTV still leads in news but Global did well with its morning news in the spring BBM survey, likely taking share from Citytv.

He says the Red Deer station where CanWest MediaWorks introduced the CH format last year has potential because it has better programming than Citytv. It has found good placement in Edmonton but, McFallon says, being channel 59 on the conventional dial in Calgary seems to be holding it back.

McFallon is still optimistic about Citytv as an option for regional advertisers and says the station is very open to promotions and to working with advertisers.

‘As a planner what you have to assess is whether it’s a real opportunity or not. They may be amenable but is there enough scale to do it if I can’t reach more than 3% of the marketplace? At least in Alberta, it’s a good thing to be number four or five. You can still do really well and have a four share.’

VANCOUVER

Background: Vancouver was hot for about a decade but, although it’s still a high-demand market, it’s beginning to cool. Jane Nesbitt, media group head at Genesis Vancouver, explains that it’s simply because, with eight TV stations, advertisers have a vast inventory of avails to choose from. Of course, aside from the top shows on CTV and Global, much of the programming on the other stations is generally considered B and C grade material.

‘It’s been a horserace between CTV and Global here. Right now CTV has more top programming – this spring 11 out of 20 top programs and six out of 20 on Global. So they really hold the key for a lot of national buys.’

She adds: ‘All the stations have committed to a certain amount of local programming so there’s tons of it. There are a lot of opportunities within that, it’s just the audience you’re tapping into is smaller.’

The market has now stabilized in the introduction of new stations and last year’s rebranding of CIVI from the New VI in Victoria to A-Channel and NOW TV, a religious station, to Omni.10 after Rogers bought it from Trinity. All of this activity has had little impact on the station standings.

2006/2007 strategy: David Stanger, president of Vancouver-based DSA Media Network, says the budgets of national advertisers aren’t increasing at the same pace as the ad rates. It’s simply a supply-and-demand situation and with most regional advertisers unable to afford CTV or Global, they’re buying Omni, the multicultural station Channel M, City, CH and A-Channel.

Stanger says: ‘Yes, they’re on TV but…they’re also pushing into radio and other media. I have clients with large regional budgets but they still can’t justify paying for TV so money is being diverted into radio, newspapers, online. Plans for 2006/07 have anywhere from 10% to 25% going into online media.’

Plus, he says, the fact that conventional TV audiences are shrinking is very evident in the Vancouver market where 47% of TV viewing goes to specialty. Sportsnet is the only specialty that advertisers can buy regionally and it is also the only one that shows up in the Top 20 ratings. In fact, Stanger says, before hockey playoffs started, Vancouver Canucks hockey on Sportsnet had significantly higher ratings than Hockey Night in Canada on CBC.

On the other hand, Roxanne Shepansky, president of Genesis Vancouver, says having so many stations has made TV more accessible to local and regional advertisers. To accommodate them, she says the stations are becoming a little more creative in how they merchandise their inventory. There are more billboard ads, sponsorships, and promos on the stations that may not carry the top programming. For national advertisers, top programming is fundamental because they’re on TV to build reach and gain awareness, and that means that everyone is vying for the same small piece of the pie.

‘We’re finding lead time is key,’ says Shepansky. ‘Can you get the inventory? Sure you can, but we’re having to push clients to make decisions earlier than a few years ago to get the key programs that are going to be a strong component of overall strategy.’

Best bets: Jim Gordon, media director at Genesis Vancouver, says Vancouver is a strong news market and unique in that it is the only one where Global can claim to have the leading 6 p.m. newscast. Elsewhere it’s CTV.

He says it is also a prime-time or 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. market because the high cost of living in the area means there’s a high ratio of two-income households resulting in small audiences for daytime TV.

The smaller stations have a challenge because, Gordon says, the public is looking for something new and fresh. Stations relying on syndicated strip programming and movies have few fresh sitcoms to choose from and the time of the blockbuster launch of movies on TV is past, thanks to movie rentals and VOD.

Reality is a genre that he says performs well in the market, especially shows with legs, such as Survivor, Apprentice, and Amazing Race.

Gordon also says scheduling and simulcasting will be a big factor for success this fall in the Vancouver market.

‘Simulcasting with high cable penetration is key. When you split your audience with the U.S. station, [you can cut it] in half – and your costs haven’t gone down. People will watch an American network here in a heartbeat if their show is not being carried by the Canadian counterpart. That becomes a challenge.’