Should CBC and Global move their local newscasts?

When I was working on my story about Global Montreal, my editor suggested I write a companion story about the ratings for local newscasts, since it had been a while since The Gazette looked into that. (The last time was a year ago, when CFCF celebrated its 50th anniversary.)

I asked for basic ratings information from the three broadcasters, wanting to know what their estimated total average audience was for each of their local programs. BBM Canada, which does ratings measurements, doesn’t like too much detail about demographics being released, so I limited myself to asking for the total 2+ audience.

In the case of Shaw Media, that limitation wasn’t enough, and they wouldn’t give me their exact ratings for CKMI’s Evening News, News Final and Focus Montreal, saying they couldn’t because of their deal with BBM. Fortunately, I was able to get some ballpark figures by looking at the detailed master planners that Shaw Media provides to advertisers, which breaks down by station, by time slot and by demographics. Shaw warned me that these are just “estimates”, but they’re the best I could get, and the numbers were similar to what was reported last year.

CFCF and CBMT had no trouble providing me with their audience numbers (though in the case of CBC Montreal there was apparently some confusion over whether it was numbers for the Montreal market or total, which led to a correction on the story.)

CFCF > everyone

The numbers for the weekday 6pm newscasts are unsurprising, and haven’t changed much. CFCF dominates with almost 200,000 viewers on average. CBMT is next with its newscast peaking at 34,000 during the 5:30pm block (which is ironically when it presents national and international news), and CKMI has numbers in the four digits, somewhere around 7,000 viewers.

It’s pretty well the same story as last year, and just about the same story as a decade ago, except that in 2000, when Global Montreal was still new and still making significant investments in local programming, the number of people watching its local news was about three times what it is now, and it was in second place ahead of the struggling CBC, which had only two years previously had an audience as high as 60,000, and was above 80,000 in the early 1990s.

We have decades of numbers showing that CBC isn’t going to beat CFCF at 6pm, and 15 years of numbers that show Global trying every trick in the book isn’t going to help it succeed at that goal either. CFCF’s newscasts have more resources, more staff, more experience, and much more loyal viewers.

Assuming that the other stations want to maximize viewership for their local newscasts (and there’s certainly an argument to be made that Global is doing the absolute bare minimum when it comes to CKMI – even their upcoming morning show is being done because of a CRTC commitment), what can they do?

Throwing money at the problem is one solution, though people who remember the best years of CBC’s NewsWatch would note that they still weren’t able to create serious competition for CFCF in the 1990s.

News at 5 … or 7

Another option is to move the newscasts out of the way and hand the 6pm hour over to CTV. In 2009, CBC made a big move expanding its local evening newscasts to 90 minutes and having them start at 5pm. CBMT is seeing strong ratings gains for that hour, and is seeing more viewers from 5-6pm than from 6-6:30pm.

On the French side, the reanimated corpse of TQS known as V based much of its programming schedule on counter-programming, putting entertainment programming in the 6pm and 10pm hours when Radio-Canada and TVA have newscasts. The idea has worked for one of V’s biggest successes, Un Souper presque parfait at 6:30pm.

Of course, this has been tried before. Global Montreal tried starting local news at 5:30 twice, the last time in 2000. That lasted two years until they went to the half-hour news at 6pm that they do now. CBMT also tried starting at 5:30pm in the 90s, but didn’t have much success.

But I think it’s time to try again. V’s successes and CBC’s stronger ratings in its 5pm hour show that counterprogramming is a strategy that can work for an underdog. And the number of people working 9-to-5 jobs that get home just before 6pm isn’t the same as it used to be. Many people are working earlier and later.

I’m not a big fan of CBMT’s repetitive 90-minute newscast, though I can understand the strategy of letting people tune in for one half-hour block of their choice. I think CBC should just get rid of the last half-hour, move to a one-hour newscast with less repetition and more original local news, and use that other half-hour daily to produce some other form of local programming. A current-affairs show or local culture show would be, I think, dearly welcome in this market, and something that would fit well with CBC’s mandate. Putting such a show at 7pm, when CTV and Global air vacuous celebrity gossip shows, would be brilliant counterprogramming and give people like me a reason to watch television at that hour.

Unfortunately for CBMT, decisions like this are made almost entirely at the national level. It was a national decision to have a 90-minute newscast that starts at 5pm, and a 10-minute late newscast after The National. For such a change to happen, it would either need to be made nationally (ignoring the variations in each market) or would require a decentralization of decision-making that we haven’t seen in a long while.

As for Global, when I met with station manager Karen Macdonald, I asked why they hadn’t considered moving the newscast out of CTV’s shadow. She pointed out that they have tried that in the past, but also said they didn’t try it for long. She said they might consider it again, but that if it would move it would probably go to 5:30.

I think 7pm is a better bet. The competition – CTV’s awful eTalk and the second half of Coronation Street on CBC – is weak, they wouldn’t be up against any other local news, and I think more and more Montrealers are working later shifts or having longer commutes and are more likely to miss the 6pm news at CFCF.

But Entertainment Tonight and ET Canada are big ratings draws for Global. And replacing ET Canada with local news at 7pm would be a sign of serious commitment to local programming that I don’t think Global is prepared to sacrifice ratings for.

The other newscasts

While a lot of attention is paid to 6pm weekdays, I was curious what the other newscasts during the week get in terms of audience. Those numbers are rarely reported.

CTV’s ratings show that the late-night newscast at 11:30pm gets 57,000 viewers on weekdays and 55,000 on weekends – so those tuning in to Tarah Schwartz on Saturday nights is about the same as those tuned in to Catherine Sherriffs on Monday nights.

It’s worth noting that these numbers are higher than CBMT’s at 5pm. So when Debra Arbec left her job as late-night anchor to jump to CBC, she saw her average viewership drop. But that’s compensated by being a bigger fish in the smaller pond, being one of the faces of her station, and having more airtime in a day (with SportsNight taking up much of CFCF’s late newscast, anchor screen time is very limited).

At noon, CFCF draws 50,000 viewers, which is pretty impressive for a time when most people are at work or doing important things.

And on the weekends, Tarah Schwartz gets 119,000 viewers on average at 6pm. (She’s supposed to be getting a co-anchor at some point, but one hasn’t been announced yet.)

The other late-night newscasts have pretty poor ratings. About 14,000 viewers for the 10-minute block of CBC sandwiched between The National and George Stroumboulopoulos. Global’s ratings at 11pm are in the low four-digits, around 2,000 viewers (though that’s a seven-day average, and also includes the 11:30 slot).

Compare that to more than 80,000 Montrealers tuning in to CTV National News, and there really isn’t much competition here either.

I always found CBC’s late local news a bit awkwardly-scheduled, more as a continuation of The National than a standalone program. That’s great if you want a lead-in from Peter Mansbridge, but CBMT isn’t going to attract viewers who tune in to American dramas at 10pm. By the time the credits start rolling on those shows, the CBC late newscast is almost half done.

What do you think?

I’m curious what my loyal readers think of newscast scheduling. Would moving weeknight local news be a good idea for CBC and Global? Would you be more likely to watch if they were on at some other time? What should the other guys do to set themselves apart from CFCF? And what other kinds of local programming would you like to see in English Montreal?

17 thoughts on “Should CBC and Global move their local newscasts?

  1. Justin

    I don’t know if this would work but maybe they should try a 90 Minute Newscast that looks like this
    6:32-Entertainment Tonight (Using Turner Time)
    7:30-Entertainment Tonight

    What do you think???

  2. SN86

    What difference would a time slot change make? It’s not like people are going to watch 2 newscasts it’s only useful for viewers are aren’t available at 6pm sharp. Personally, if I had a choice between catching the CBC or Global earlier/later or no news I would choose no news and catch up to CTV Montreal online (and it takes less time).

    On the other hand, I believe CBC’s The National is one of the best news programs around and I’ve heard plenty of praise from people in the States who are able to pick it up and watch often. I try to catch it almost every night but I don’t think local news will ever be like it.

    As for local programming, I think many anglos have moved on to other entertainment offerings whether it’s international TV, podcasts, Netflix or just doing other things that would make it hard for them to fit in new local TV offerings. There will always be small pockets of viewers but other offerings will be attracting the most viewers. In some cases production values may not be factors as I usually watch some dinky online stream shows with people on Skype that I find entertaining.

  3. dan

    I don’t get home from work until 6:30 at the earliest, so it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen a supper-hour news programme. Most Montrealers I know have awkward shift-work schedules (I can count on one hand the number of people I know here with 9-5 jobs), so it would make more sense to me to cut out the syndicated crap in the 7:00 hour and make a news show there instead. I, for one, would not miss “Entertainment Tonight Canada”.

    Also, a question: are there numbers available for the French-language newscasts? Does Radio-Canada do better than the CBC? I assume it’s relatively similar to the Anglo situation, with TVA pulling the biggest numbers and Radio-Canada coming in a distant second, but I’m just curious.

    Very interesting entry. Cheers!

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Also, a question: are there numbers available for the French-language newscasts? Does Radio-Canada do better than the CBC? I assume it’s relatively similar to the Anglo situation, with TVA pulling the biggest numbers and Radio-Canada coming in a distant second, but I’m just curious.

      It’s hard to compare CBC and Radio-Canada because the market sizes are different, but TVA is definitely the ratings powerhouse in terms of news. And Radio-Canada often fell behind TQS when it had a newscast as well. It’s not quite as lopsided as Montreal’s anglo market, but it’s clear TVA is the leader.

  4. Michael D

    Well I definitely like your idea of CBC going from 5 to 6 and some other local feature, local arts and culture are in crying need of some exposure…I could give you maybe 10 names right now, but I won’t for my own reasons propietary reasons, of local singers/musicians who are getting big numbers of hits on YouTube, Reverbnation and other music sites, but have no exposure on Canadian radio,,some burgeoning names in the fashion world and a few actors/actresses would be just perfect..

    certainly a local current affairs/newsmagazine show a la CFCF’s As It Is would be a welcome addition, but is there enough around for it to be daily. It could have a weekly theme every night..i.e. Monday could be the arts and culture show show, Tuesday something else..etc,etc..

    But therein lies the problem, unlike CTV which lets the local folks make decisions for the local shows, CBC and Global make the local decisons as well..unless that changes, CTV is sitting in ratings heaven and will continue to leave the others hanging in the public airwaves..

  5. Matt Smith

    5pm might be a good move for Global Montreal. In the west Global’s 5pm newscasts do well but the west is a much stronger market for Global. If Global Montreal were to move their newscast to 5pm they would not have competition from CTV but at the same time you still have many people who are still at work or just getting in the door.

  6. Marc

    All I can say is I don’t understand newscasts before 6:00pm, people just aren’t home yet.

    As far as other local programming, since I agree with you, I’ll just parrot what you said during CFCF’s 50th: live concerts, a news magazine tyoe show, and a fun little game show where people can get their 15 minutes.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      All I can say is I don’t understand newscasts before 6:00pm, people just aren’t home yet.

      And yet 35,000 people on average are, and watching CBMT. They’re getting more viewers before 6pm than after.

    2. Josh

      American program directors disagree with you, Marc. You can go to pretty much any American tv market and find usually multiple stations programming news between 5 and 6.

  7. mike

    I think the people watching Tv news are not computer/internet wise.
    Why someone will prefer tv news at 5 instead of internet?

    1. Jim P.

      I agree with Mike. I do not watch evening newscasts as I am working or in traffic or with my family. For nightly news I am rarely tuning in as I am busy or watching entertainment. For tragedies or oher “special ocasions I would tune in.
      I catch my news online. It includes extracts from the TV news stories.

      So it makes no difference to me when they broadcast.

  8. QCnewsmusic

    Little hope for these two stations. Doing the exact same in their newscast as what is done by the CTV powerhouse and expecting results? Come on!

    Counter programming? Let’s talk counter programming. For real.


    4 PM Newscast like WABC NY & 9 PM Newscast like TQS in the end of 1990’s. This is counterprogramming.


    Offer something different. CTV is doing the traditional newscast like a pro. Global should attack them on an other front : the Tabloid style newscast. This has been the WSVN Miami recipe. «In the five years since it turned tabloid, WSVN news has climbed from fourth to second place in South Florida’s highly competitive television market, with occasional spells in the top position.»

    News? Not exactly, but a good mix of news, tabloid bloody stories and entertainment. Rating grabber right here:

    1. Michael D

      well I like this as an option..the serious option from CTV, which nobody will overtake anytime soon..and a tabloid style news show,,why do you think Journal de Montreal became an instant hit in the late 60’s,,,you have the serious papers like LaPresse an Le Devoir, and the sensational style of JDM

      And I think Global would be the perfect place to pul it off. CBC , well CBC is the CBC..but they have a good niche at 5..but should stop at 6 like was suggested,some local newsmagazine, arts and culture show..another option…

  9. Pefder Magfrok

    I appreciate these fact-filled posts.

    For the record I stopped watching tv news when I learned what “if it bleeds, it leads” meant. But I am still a news junkie, and learning more about the news biz is really interesting.

  10. John

    My 2 cents:
    Late night CBC should start at 10:59 and push it in print and radio ads.
    Catch up on your daily news in 2 minutes!
    I find that when i flip over I’ve missed most of their local stuff and I end up getting the weather forecast which is not what I want.

    Global — go to 5 *and* 7.

    5 pm for those who work early shifts (the ville marie is BUSY at 3 pm. those aren’t 9-to-5ers. ) or for those cooking dinner.
    and 7 pm — well, that won’t happen because it’s one of the network’s highest rated shows. Maybe CBC should do that instead.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      7 pm — well, that won’t happen because it’s one of the network’s highest rated shows.

      I wonder if it wouldn’t be rated higher if it moved to the 6pm hour, so people who don’t care about non-celebrity news would watch it, or maybe 6:30, so people still get their local news fix on CFCF but switch halfway through because they prefer celeb gossip to weather, sports and international news.

  11. ATSC

    How about this….

    Option 1:

    CBMT-DT (CBC) Channel 6.1
    5pm-6:30pm- Local News

    CFCF-DT (CTV) Channel 12.1
    6pm-7pm – Local News

    CKMI-DT (Global) Channel 15.1
    6pm – Global National News
    6:30 – Local News

    Basically, CKMI picks up the late to home viewers, plus those that finished watching on CBMT. Also, the second half of CFCF’s newscast is usually weaker as well.

    Option 2:

    Keep everything as is, but CKMI reruns it’s 6pm & 6:30pm news on it’s 15.2 at 7pm in standard def. Right now 15.2 is a standard def of 15.1

    This would be something like what WCAX-DT does with their 3.2 WCAXtra. Would be very interesting if CKMI would do the same. If the CRTC would allow them to of course.

    Option 3:

    CKMI-DT places ET and ET Canada at the 6pm and 6:30pm
    Then they run their news packages.
    7pm – Local News
    7:30 – Global National News

    This would help get those entertainment shows out of the 7-8 time slots. Don’t forget that even CJNT-DT (Metro14) Channel 62.1 is also running a entertainment program at 7:30pm as well.

    Between CFCF, CKMI and CJNT, we have entertainment show biz talk overload in this market.


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