From the St. Catharines Standard
Targeting potential new kid on the dial
By Erik White
Monday, June 06, 2005 @ 01:00
Local News - Last of a three-part series
The rival stations in the savagely competitive Toronto-Hamilton television market rarely agree on anything.
But they all concur that there isn’t any room left in the advertising pool for one new swimmer from Niagara, no matter how small.
The interventions CTV, Global, CHUM and others have filed with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which begins hearings today into the validity of a Niagara-focused television station, all make frequent use of the words “ambitious,” “overestimated” and “unrealistic” in describing Television Niagara’s plans.
They all make mention of their climbing production costs and warn that the market is still adjusting to recent additions Omni 2 and Toronto 1, and can’t support any more.
The CRTC’s own figures show a 15.3 per cent growth in Toronto-area TV advertising revenue in 2003-04, but a 3.1 per cent decrease in the region’s share of the national advertising market.
“There are more TV signals available in the Toronto market than anywhere else in the world,” said Jim Patterson, president of the Television Bureau of Canada, an agency that promotes television advertising to the private and not-for-profit sectors.
“When new players come into the market, it has an effect on everyone. I have not seen any market expand because of new players.”
Patterson said Canadian television advertising is a $3-billion industry and Toronto has a 20 per cent slice of that. But the market is increasingly fragmented by more local channels, as well as satellite and digital options.
And being close to the border, there is also the incursion of the Buffalo stations. While they don’t get as many Canadian commercials as they used to, all five stations have ad representatives in Toronto and set their ad rates significantly higher than those in other similarly sized U.S. cities.
“As a percentage, it’s not as big as it used to be, but it’s still a valid amount of money and any one of the Toronto stations would love to have that money back,” Patterson said.
WUTV, the Fox affiliate in Buffalo, which is known to attract the most southern Ontario ad dollars among Buffalo stations, refused to comment on its cross-border business or TVN.
Global was one of the few Canadian broadcasters to offer specific financial details, saying its Hamilton station CH saw a 20 per cent decline in revenue last year, while programming bills have risen 17 per cent in the past five years.
Because the station has covered Niagara since its launch more than 50 years ago, CH obviously has a bigger stake in the discussions over TVN than its Toronto counterparts.
Many have been critical of CH’s two-person Niagara news bureau, which recently moved from downtown St. Catharines to Niagara College’s Glendale campus, and question its ability to cover a region of 400,000 people.
But CH general manager Patrick O’Hara said other resources are always available when major news is happening in Niagara. CH’s intervention to the CRTC points out that its news budget is four times what TVN is proposing.
“We’re not three TV stations in one, we’re one strong regional service,” O’Hara said.
“I think one station covering three regions (Hamilton, Halton and Niagara) makes a lot more sense than pea-shooters out in the forest.”
TVN alleges that CH has increased its local presence in the three years since the idea for a Niagara station was first pitched. O’Hara said it’s “not because we’re threatened, but because it’s good business.”
While he said CH depends on national ad revenue to pay for its local programming, the station has focused on boosting regional advertising, doubling the flow of that revenue stream in the past three years.
Other than CH, the only place for Niagara to see itself on the small screen is the community access channel Cogeco Cable 10.
Community channels have long been the butt of jokes. Channel 10 didn’t broadcast in colour until 1979.
But the station’s manager of programming, Joann Tweney, believes Cogeco Niagara has earned the respect of its viewers in recent years, particularly with the introduction of the popular current events program The Source.
As a not-for-profit public-service station, Cogeco isn’t able to speak at the CRTC hearings about TVN’s plans. But Tweney said while its role in the community might change slightly with the entrance of a local commercial station, she still feels there’d be a need for Channel 10.
“I know a majority of markets co-exist with a broadcaster and I don’t know how Niagara would be different,” she said.
Jon Keeble, a professor at Ryerson University’s School of Radio and Television Arts, sees many community stations stepping up their news coverage, as Cogeco Niagara has, in the absence of local-focused programming.
And while he agrees with TVN founder Wendell Wilks that smaller local stations could be the next revolution in Canadian broadcasting, convincing the CRTC to license the first one in the Toronto area is another matter.
He suspects the case of the last station allowed to join the crowded market will be brought up a lot at this week’s hearings in Niagara Falls.
In 2002, Craig Media was awarded a licence for Toronto, beating out the powerfully local Hometown TV application filed by Torstar Corp. that initiated the proceedings.
Toronto 1 signed on later that year, but was soon facing financial shortfalls. That first year, it pulled in $14.3 million in revenue, over $2 million more than TVN predicts to get in its first year in business.
For the fiscal year ending in September 2004, the upstart station is said to have lost $21.2 million. Soon after, Craig Media was taken over by CHUM, and Toronto 1 was subsequently sold to Toronto Sun publishers Quebecor.
Keeble called the Toronto 1 licence “as close to a bad decision as you could possibly get.”
“I think the CRTC took a gamble,” he said.
This week’s hearings are being held at the Embassy Suites Hotel, just down the street from the Niagara Fallsview Casino.
Listen to TVN's CEO Wendell Wilks on a radio interview from CHSC.
A terrific interview in MP3 format, which you can stream from our site
or download in four segments.
To download these files, please RIGHT-CLICK
on the link and
select "Save Target As
" to save the MP3 files onto your computer.