UPDATE (Feb. 6): Read my review of the show’s first week and a half.
How do you compete with someone who outperforms you on budget, staff, technical resources, consumer loyalty and reputation? The short answer is you don’t.
As another ratings report comes out confirming CTV Montreal’s incredible dominance of the local TV news ratings, Global Montreal was doing its final rehearsals for a new morning show that launches on Monday. As Montreal doesn’t have a local morning show in English, it will have that market all to itself, at least until August when City starts up its morning show here.
But even with the million dollars a year that Shaw has promised this show to get it off the ground over the next five years, its resources are limited. Global Montreal has added only eight jobs for this show, on-air staff and technical people combined. It won’t have its own news team scouring the city for scoops (unless it steals reporters from the evening newscasts, which are already understaffed). It won’t look like Canada AM, which is still popular in Montreal.
Part of the station’s strategy for building an audience has been a focus on the anglophone community. In essence, it’s treating anglo Montreal as if it’s its own small town, going after the smaller stories that don’t make the same kinds of headlines.
That’s easier said than done, though. CTV’s news operation is still far larger, and Global can’t ignore the top stories of the day to indulge in community reporting. Global Montreal doesn’t have a sports department so it can’t really cover varsity sports. It doesn’t have the kinds of coverage of arts, entertainment and lifestyle stories that you’ll find on CTV News or even CBC News, so it has to be very picky about where it uses its resources, and its goal of making this the home of anglo Montrealers (rather than just an English-language newscast) is far from complete.
With a morning show, this community focus will become more apparent. The biggest aspect of this we know already is that the weather presenter, Jessica Laventure, will be doing her weather segments from a location on the West Island. This will plant the station’s flag there, allowing people to come by and interact with it, as well as show West Island residents watching from home that they’re close, at least geographically.
Will that be enough? We’ll see.
I sat down with the three stars of Morning News, and spoke with station manager Karen Macdonald and Global News chief Troy Reeb for a story that appears in Saturday’s Gazette previewing the show. Below are some additional things that didn’t make it in the story.
The back end
As you might know, Global Montreal’s newscasts aren’t controlled from Montreal. Instead, Global centralized its news production as a cost-saving measure, with control rooms in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto (markets where Global is strongest) and they take advantage of different time zones to handle newscasts in other cities. Editorial decisions happen in Montreal, but all the technical direction of the newscast happens in Edmonton.
For the three-hour morning newscast in Montreal, this would have meant adding an additional shift in one of these centres, Reeb told me, and they decided that instead of adding these people in one of the western centres (where they’d have to work at 3am), they would add people in Montreal. (In Halifax, which is an hour earlier because of the time zone difference, there wasn’t need for additional resources.)
So part of the newsroom was transformed into a control room based on Mosart, an automated system that can allow as few as one person control a newscast. Though the buttons will be pushed in Montreal, the servers will be in Vancouver, which introduces a slight delay.
The back end stars three people, two of whom I already told you about: Jim Connell and Rob Ostiguy. (The former had no comment on what happened between him and the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media radio station he appeared at a CRTC hearing to try to get off the ground.)
Ostiguy, as senior producer, is the one responsible for the show, Macdonald says.
Joining them in the control room is Julie Turcotte, another steal from CTV Montreal. Her title is “automated control room director”, but effectively she and Connell will share directorial duties on a rotating half-hour basis.
Because of the automation, Turcotte explained, the show is very heavily scripted. Everything from camera positions to on-screen graphics is programmed into the system. And while functions can be overridden and controlled manually, with only three people in the control room there may be limitations to what can be done on the fly.
This system of local control with a remote backend hasn’t been tried before at Global. “They’re pioneering a new production method for us,” Reeb said.
The new system will also mean differences for the hosts, who will, for example, now have to control their own prompters with pedals.
Dagenais warns there will almost certainly be some technical issues the first few days. “I hope people give it a chance,” he said. “We’re doing the best that we can do.”
Same old, same old. With the exception of a small interview desk (it won’t arrive in time, so they have a temporary stand-in), the studio hasn’t changed. It’s still an anchor desk in a green room, only now it’ll have two chairs behind it.
I admit I was disappointed that they didn’t build a new set for the morning show. I’ve seen clips of morning shows in other markets, and there’s a noticeable difference between those in a real set (like Toronto’s) and those in fake green-screen sets.
But Macdonald said they’d rather spend their budget on content than “bricks and mortar”, which is fair enough.
The virtual set is the same as the newscast one, except that there will be a sunrise backdrop.
Reeb admitted the show’s launch is behind its targeted date of September 2012. “So we’re behind, but not terribly behind. We wanted to find a formula where we find success in a market where we’ve traditionally found challenges.”
From the beginning, Reeb has said the goal is to make the show sustainable even after the extra funding runs out in 2017. Not necessarily profitable, he explained, but at a break-even or nearly break-even point where it’s worth keeping it going in order to build a relationship with the local audience.
As much as the delay might help Global Montreal, it could hurt it too. City is launching its morning show by September (the target date is August), and will be putting more resources into it. Any incumbency advantage Global manages to build might disappear after that. So Global needs a big marketing push behind this show (in addition to killer content) to fend off that threat. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like there will be oodles of money being funnelled into that.
Reeb mentioned that he expects there to be more growth among audiences than morning shows stealing from each other. He bases that on what happened in other markets where CTV started local morning shows to compete with Global. “The overall pie grew,” he said. “There hasn’t been an overall transfer of audience from one to the other. More people are seeing morning TV as an option than they did before.”
“Competition has made us stronger in the past.”
Camille Ross is the only one of the three who hasn’t worked here before. But she might be the most familiar to many Montreal TV viewers, because of her work as a reporter at CTV Montreal.
A Torontonian who worked in Yorkton, Sask., and Regina before coming to Montreal, she has anchoring experience, and seems to have taken pretty quickly to the more laid-back style of a morning news host.
“I love reporting,” she said. “I love the hard news. With reporting, it’s such a creative outlet. But also I feel like on the 6 o’clock news, viewers never saw me smile. It’s always hard news.”
So when this opportunity came up, Ross made the jump. “A chance to launch something brand new is a rare opportunity,” she said.
Richard Dagenais has the most experience as a morning news guy, even though he wasn’t actually an anchor on This Morning Live, the Global Quebec morning show that was cancelled in 2008. He looks back fondly on his field reports from back in those days, when he got to make “great TV” by doing crazy things for the camera.
“I basically booked my own stuff, researched my own stuff,” he said. “When the alarm went off in the morning, I was like ‘today I get to go go-karting,’ or ‘today I get to go caving’.”
Dagenais is hoping to add a musical element to the show, as he did to the weekend Focus Montreal. But his hopes might be limited by the technical challenges of recording live bands. He said he’s crossing his fingers and his toes that they can bring in regular musical guests.
Though he’s done this before, his schedule will be shifting the most, since he’s coming from a job hosting News Final until 11:30pm. (He writes about his final show on his blog.)
“I hope I do a better job of managing my rest,” he said of the shift back to mornings. “I tend to do things at night,” like play hockey or go out. That, plus spending time with his 17-year-old son, will need to be better managed.
Macdonald said she will be posting a job opening for a new News Final host within the coming days (it just needs to be translated into French, as silly as that sounds). There are obvious candidates, like weekend anchor Peter Anthony Holder or fill-in anchor Paola Samuel, but she can also hire someone from outside and save the musical chairs. We’ll see.
Jessica Laventure is a redhead, and acts like it. She’s a bit off the wall, but nevertheless takes her duties seriously. Having done a similar field job on the MétéoMédia morning show, she comes with experience in both morning TV and weather, so she should take to this pretty easily.
Laventure’s career started here, as an editorial assistant, after she left Concordia in 2006. Macdonald, who was also her boss back then, suggested she move to Quebec City because there might be more opportunities (including chances to be on air) there. Laventure moved out of her parents’ home and went to the provincial capital, where Global Quebec still had a significant presence and was technically even based.
After Natasha Gargiulo called in sick one day, Laventure got a call: “Are you ready to go on air?”
“That’s where I got my first on-air experience.”
Laventure hosted QC Magazine, a weekly show about life in Quebec. Later, her jobs included Radio-Canada reporter in Sherbrooke, researcher for cooking shows Qu’est-ce qui mijote on TVA and What’s Cooking on City, and a weekend radio announcer on Boom FM.
“When Karen called me to tell me I had this job, I felt like I’d come full-circle,” she said. “I told Karen: I feel like I’m coming home”
Laventure insists she’s a “weather geek, for real.” I’ve heard statements like that before, though with her experience at MétéoMédia, I’m willing to take hers more seriously.
“During the summer, I’m always on the radar, because I love seeing the summer storms pop up,” she said. But “the fun part about this job is that it’s not just about weather.”
After her shift ends at 9am, she’ll be heading out and recording field pieces for use in the next day’s show.
While Ross and Dagenais anchor from the comfort of their downtown studio, Laventure will be on the West Island, at a location that’s still to be confirmed, but probably a restaurant serving breakfast.
She won’t be bringing a green screen with her (which means the weather will ironically be the part of the show that isn’t in front of a green screen). Instead, she’ll prepare her maps before the show and talk about them as they appear on screen.
Being in the West Island is a clear part of Global’s community focus, and will be the closest thing the West Island has to a local television show. West Islanders are already being encouraged to stop by and say hi, and Laventure expects to conduct interviews with people who stop by the location once we know what it is.
The three hosts first met only a couple of weeks ago, but they seem to get along pretty well already. Maybe it’s nervous, fake chemistry. I can’t really tell the difference. Certainly Laventure and Dagenais are a bit more familiar with each other than either is with Ross, and they’ll spend a lot of time learning things about each other. But, at least for the hour I spent with them this week, the interactions and laughter seemed natural.
It’s hard to judge how the show will feel until I see it, but the people involved say it will be more like a newscast than a gabfest. It will have a strong headline news component, with anchors reading the top stories of the day (and perhaps some limited use of previous night’s packaged reports), but it won’t be nearly as serious or as scripted as the evening news.
I’m expecting it will be comparable to the latter half of CTV’s noon newscast, or to Canada AM or other news-heavy shows.
Expect the feel to change as well as the morning progresses. The first half of the show will have a more newsy, fast-paced focus, and the latter half will have more interviews and regular contributors (none of whom have been announced yet).
But the community focus will be a big part. “It’s going to communicate with people where they live,” Reeb said. “It will be a more community-focused show than you’ve seen in the past, more narrowly-focused on the comings and goings of the anglo community, primarily in Montreal.”
Global will be “moving away from a time when in English we would have competed against TVA and Radio-Canada and our English competitor, (getting) a big picture of what’s happening in Montreal,” Reeb said, taking care not to utter the letters CTV.
That’s not to say they won’t talk about the big headlines of the day no matter what they are. But expect the show to focus on a selection of stories that have a stronger impact for the anglo Montreal community, and the kind of stuff you might not see if you’re watching RDI or LCN.
What’s next for Global
The biggest thing up next for the Global network is the launch of Global News: BC 1, the new regional all-news channel, slated for March. It will be the first such service in western Canada, and could be something worth watching to see if regional news channels prove successful (there’s also CityNews and CP24 in Toronto, and you could argue CHCH in Hamilton also qualifies as a mostly-regional-news channel).
There are also changes on the technical side, Reeb said, upgrading systems to bring in a truly drag-and-drop newsroom that speeds up the process of putting video and stories online, and a relaunch of the Global News websites.
Global Montreal’s website has a story announcing the show, bios of the cast, and a two-minute news report that aired on Friday about the show. The first segment of this week’s Focus Montreal is Jamie Orchard interviewing the cast.
Morning News airs 6am to 9am weekdays on Global Montreal. I’ll have a review of their first episode(s) probably on Tuesday. But feel free to leave your first impressions below.