CBC Vs. PPMs: Promote Peter Mansbridge

Today in Toronto, CBC announced a major shake up with their news division, re-branding CBC Newsworld CBC News Network, a.k.a. CBC NN.
Rejected new Newsworld names: MSNBCBCNN, DisneyNewsworld, CBC NNHL.
The public broadcaster also revamped their flagship newscast, The National (anchored by Peter Mansbridge, right), giving it a new set and theme song and more focus on their deep stable of correspondents. You’ll see all the new changes Monday.
What they didn’t announce was almost more newsworthy that what they did–a move away from their killer 10 p.m. timeslot. CBC is stubbornly clinging to 10 p.m.–despite their worst national news numbers at that hour ever.
Ever since Sept. 1 when the new Portable People Meter data started coming out, The National on the main network has been taking the biggest hit of any show on Canadian television, slapped down to a half million viewers a night or less, with the CTV National News soaring toward 1.5 million some nights at 11.
CBC executive vice president Richard Stursberg dismissed the early PPM data when I spoke with him Wednesday morning (along with CBC News general manager and editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire). He suggested that it is early days for the PPMs and that officials at BBM Canada have told him they’re still tinkering with the survey panels (which number some 4,350 homes in Canada). He also said the network has long stopped looking at just CBC at 10 numbers, instead tracking how The National performers on Newsworld at 9 and 11 and also how people have accessed it on CBC.ca.
Still, CTV’s National newscast is available on their newsnet and on-line and it is still growing on TV at 11. So CBC’s on-air shakeup can’t come fast enough.
What viewers will see, according to McGuire, is more of what they turn to for CBC News in the first place–the best correspondents, context and analysis, plus depth of coverage. CBC has also lured a few names away from the competition. Amanda Lang, from CTV-owned BNN, is the new senior business correspondent (and will team with Dragon’s Den hothead Kevin O’Leary on CBC New Network). Global’s Anne-Marie Mediwake joins CBC NN’s morning shift. Mark Kelly gets a showy new assignment on CBC NN, hosting an Anderson Cooper 360-like news magazine.
The new news theme and set makeover was what every network newscast does every now and then. CTV found a few dollars from their broken business coffers to give Lloyd Robertson spiffy new digs earlier this year.
McGuire and Stursberg laughed when I offered my five word suggestion for fixing CBC News: CBC News Correspondent Ron Duguay. The former Ranger and Battle of the Blades dude would add some disco cool to that new news set.
“We couldn’t afford him,” said McGuire.
Stursberg says the changes come after two years of research and called it the biggest overhaul in the history of CBC news. Still, there was no serious discussion of moving The National out of that killer 10 p.m. timeslot, where it gets hammered night after night against American hits like CSI Miami and The Mentalist on Canada’s private networks.
The National also suffers because CBC’s 9 p.m. schedule is so weak. The CBC shows that are clicking with viewers–Dragon’s Den, Battle of the Blades, the Rick Mercer Report–are all at 8 p.m. Whereas CTV gets a massive, two million viewers a night plus boost from CSI: Miami and others, 9 p.m. no-shows like Doc Zone, Just Four Laughs and Being Erica are killing CBC’s national news numbers.
What CBC does plan to do, according to McGuire, is add a quick local news update at 10:55 out of The National, one which lasts until 11:05. Maybe this will build a better bridge to The Hour, which currently and routinely sheds three quarters of The National‘s news audience each night.
The host of that show, George Stroumbouloploulos, grabbed a little face time on CBC’s red hot Battle of the Blades Sunday and Monday nights. Despite the new news push, Stursberg says you won’t see Mansbridge in the judges chair next Sunday or ever. “Although he can skate,” suggests McGuire helpfully.
When I spoke with Mansbridge two weeks ago about the changes (for a Starweek cover story which ran Saturday), one other critical ratings disadvantage came up. Whereas CTV slams straight into their national newscasts right out of the closing credits of their 10 p.m. imported hits, CBC viewers have to sit through three-and-a-half minutes of commercials every night before the start of The National. The public network does this to avoid having a commercial break in the first 25 minutes of their newscast. It has been a sacred no-ad zone for eons, but the commercial break beforehand practically dares viewers to seek out programming on other channels.
If CBC is serious about getting their newscast out to the widest possible audience, they should move Dragon’s Den to 9, slam straight into the National at 10 and surrender an ad break between all those new correspondent reports at 10:15.
Try it once. If it doesn’t result in their highest-rated newscast of the week, I will personally come down and repaint their news set next makeover.

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