Cross-country checkup

The scoop on what's happening in Canada's big four markets

Montreal

What’s changed?

As Radio-Canada and TVA continue to duke it out for market dominance, rival TQS took refuge from its creditors and was eventually sold to Remstar, which proposes to axe the network’s news division to trim costs and restore competitiveness.

Media convergence also took its toll at Quebecor tabloid Le Journal de Québec, where journalists have been locked out for more than a year. Newspaper management wants reporters to also produce content for Quebecor’s Canoe website and the TVA network. Quebecor’s Canoe.tv is set to stream 400 series by the end of 2008, many destined for mobile platforms with product placement opportunities.

TVA launched new advertising formats in 2007-2008, with ‘qualified’ 30-second commercials to complement isolated spots by being related to a series’ content. The network also introduced 60- to 75-second programs related to a sponsors’ product, for example with SAQ, REMAX and Jean-Coutu. TVA posted a 4.5 market share during fall 2007, against a 4.8 share in the same period of 2006, according to BBM. Radio-Canada recorded a 3.7 share in fall 2007, against a year-earlier 3.6 share, while TQS fell to a 2.7 share in 2007, compared to a 3.3 share in fall 2006, according to BBM.

What’s next?

Florence Ng, VP of broadcast investments at Toronto-based ZenithOptimedia, says uncertainty around TQS – namely, whether the CRTC will allow the network to get away from local news – could have an impact on acquisition budgets. ‘At the end of the day, advertisers care about programming that delivers ratings,’ she cautions. Ng forecasts a possible shift in ad dollars away from TQS to Radio-Canada, TVA or even specialty channels.

Best bets?

All eyes are on Sunday nights, when the Radio Canada talkfest Tout le monde en parle will continue in a neck-and-neck race with returning TVA improv show Dieu, merci!, an adaptation of an Aussie show.

On Thursdays, TVA’s Le Banquier, Quebec’s Deal or No Deal, and Les Soeurs Elliot, a drama about three sisters whose father reappears after 30 years, will likely go head-to-head with Radio-Canada’s Les Boys, a TV adaptation of the popular Quebec movie franchise.

Other perennial TVA favorites include Star Academie Auditions and La classe de 5ième, the Are You Smarter…? Quebec version. Both are back next spring.

Toronto

What’s changed?

Canada’s biggest TV market remains a shootout between CTV and Global Television, with the local A-Channel and E! stations providing backup platforms for the private national networks.

The recent Hollywood writers’ strike helped CTV dramatically increase its lead over local competitors on the strength of hits like American Idol, while the CBC surpassed Global Television by unveiling its most aggressive winter schedule in decades.

For fall 2008, CTV has fewer programming slots to fill, with more returning hits. Rival Canwest did more volume buying at the recent Los Angeles screenings, as it programs Global Television and E! and considers shows for recently acquired Alliance Atlantis specialty channels.

Rogers Media has begun to program the flagship Citytv station, and the CBC found ratings success with rookie series like The Border, Sophie and The Week The Women Went.

In Toronto, CTV’s CFTO-TV recorded a commanding 4.8 share in fall 2007, against a year-earlier 4.5 share, according to BBM. Global Television had a 3 share, compared to a 2.9 share in fall 2006, while Canwest’s CHCH fell to a 2 share in fall 2007, compared to a 2.2 share in 2006, BBM reported.

What’s next?

Fall 2008 will not be the make-or-break season it once was, not least because advertisers are increasingly chasing audiences online. What’s more, the American writers’ strike delay means the major networks won’t unveil their biggest new series until the midseason.

Rogers Media took possession of Citytv, but will need to manage its growth, says Line Contant, broadcast manager for Media Experts in Montreal: ‘I don’t foresee Rogers making any significant changes to the Citytv brand, other than putting a younger face on Cityline, and perhaps other shows as well.’

Going into the 2008-’09 TV season, CTV is still the dominant local player, but Ng says some of its top prime time hits have seen ratings declines, and the gap between CTV and Global has ‘somewhat narrowed.’

Best bets?

The buzz is building around CTV’s Warner Bros. slate, which includes the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Eleventh Hour on Thursdays at 10p.m., and J.J. Abrams’ Fringe, the Fox sci-fi drama series at 8p.m. on Tuesdays. The heat around Canwest purchases is mostly about ABC’s Life On Mars at 10p.m. on Thursdays, Fox’s Dollhouse and CW’s 90210 spinoff.

Calgary

What’s changed?

Calgary continues to be a horse race between CTV, Global and the CBC. But a recent shakeup has seen Rogers Media secure a licence to operate a new multicultural station aimed at 25 ethnic groups in 19 languages. OMNI Alberta will offer at least 80% Canadian content in prime time, so the window for lucrative U.S. programming is limited. Rogers has also begun to program Citytv in Calgary, and CTV got its A-Channel in Calgary. Both are expected to skew to a younger demo.

Canwest has completed its E! makeover of CHCA-TV Red Deer, restoring its simulcast revenues. And the CBC, while closing the CBC Newsworld news unit in Calgary, also bolstered its national news coverage of Alberta.

During fall 2007, CTV’s CFCN-TV saw its market share fall to 3.6, against a year-earlier 4 share, according to BBM, while Global’s CICT-TV station posted a 3 share, compared to a 3.1 share in fall 2006. The Calgary A-Channel station recorded a 1.9 share in fall 2007, against a year-earlier 1.7 share, while CBC’s CBRT-TV saw its share fall to 2.6 in fall 2007, compared to a 2.7 share in 2006, according to BBM.

What’s next?

John Boyd, media manager at Calgary-based Objective Media Counsel, says petro-dollars have fuelled rises in TV audiences and ad inventory. But the Calgary market continues to lose ratings and revenues to distant signals, and the local market has shared in a general decline in ratings in the wake of the writers’ strike.

Ng says demand for ad inventory is up and ratings have come down, so advertisers have to buy more commercial airtime to maintain past ratings performance. ‘Before, they bought 10 spots, and now they buy 15,’ she says.

The ratings delivery from the newly revamped E! channel remains small, by comparison with incumbent players. Yet if priced right, E! is expected to help moderate ad rates. And more choice for advertisers means they’re less likely to turn to U.S. border stations to maintain ratings performance.

Best bets?

Boyd says since the U.S. networks only pitched 18 new shows at the Los Angeles screenings, against 29 last year, ‘the fall [2008] season is really not garnering much buzz or attention.’ The only standout for Boyd is Fox’s Dollhouse, which will land on Global Television. He’s more hopeful about the winter 2008-spring 2009 season, as the U.S. networks move toward adopting a 52-week schedule.

‘There’s a realization that people want to watch first-run programming year-round,’ he says. ‘If you stuff all your shows into the fall, you’re left with eight months of reruns.’

Vancouver

What’s changed?

The Canwest-CTV split is alive and well in Vancouver, with Global Television doing well locally with House and Heroes up against CTV’s Amazing Race and Grey’s Anatomy.

Canwest senior VP programming and production Barb Williams says Vancouver plays to her network’s strength, which is less as a national player than as a broadcaster focusing on key urban markets and an 18-49 demo. ‘Our strength in B.C. will continue this fall as we expect to see Prison Break and House as strong returning shows,’ she says.

Global Television still maintains Vancouver’s top-rated supper-hour newscast, while Rogers acquired Channel M, which will become an OMNI aimed at multicultural audiences in the Vancouver and Victoria markets.

Domestic broadcaster S-VOX acquired the religious station CHNU-TV from Rogers Media Inc., which in turn acquired CHNM-TV, a.k.a. channel m. That station is set to become part of OMNI Television in fall 2008, giving Rogers its long-desired Vancouver-based multicultural TV station after it failed with an earlier bid in 2002.

Global’s CHAN-TV station in Vancouver posted a 5 share during fall 2007, against a 4.9 share in 2006, according to BBM. CTV’s CIVT grew to a 3 share in fall 2007, against a year-earlier 2.8 share, while CKVU-TV posted a 1.9 share in fall 2007, against a year-earlier 1.7 share, according to BBM.

What’s next?

Ng says ratings delivery in Vancouver has suffered owing to time shifting or distant signals. But that is offset by expanding channel choices, on top of perennial players like KVOS and Citytv. ‘There are a lot of candidates out there,’ she says. ‘There are options. If you’re looking at a male skew, Rogers Sportsnet is doing well.’

Best bets?

The buzz on the CBC’s 2008-2009 fall season centres around two homegrown series: the psychological drama The Session and the Calgary-set family drama The Wild Roses, both of which are slated to launch in January 2009. But any hope that the CBC will be able to repeat this year’s midseason ratings surge during the U,S. writers’ strike could be dampened by the major American networks rolling out their biggest new dramas and sitcoms in winter-spring

2008-’09, at a time when in the past they have tended to air variety and reality TV fare.