After several years in ratings purgatory, CBC Here & Now seems to be bouncing back.
The news program has shown substantial growth in the latest BBM ratings, released on Wednesday.
Here & Now grew its share of the viewing audience, from 14 percent in the fall of 2007 to 22 percent in the fall of 2008.
For the first half-hour of the show, full coverage audience numbers grew from 34,000 in 2007 to 61,000 last fall, a fairly staggering increase of 27,000.
In the second half of the show, viewers increased from 34,000 in 2007 to 52,000 in 2008.
Of course, the NTV Evening Newshour is still well out in front, though I understand and this has to be confirmed that its share of viewers declined, from 66 percent down to 53 percent.
"We're very pleased," said Janice Stein, News Director with CBC NL. "And we're not going to let go of this. We're going to keep going and keep getting better. We know what it is people want from us. We've just got to keep getting better at giving them what they want."
The numbers have been trending upwards over the last year or so, Stein explained. "We had 34,000 in the fall, then 39,000 in the spring, then 52,000 this fall It's been hard work but people feel very passionate about what they're trying to do, so it's gratifying to see the public starting to recognize this, and turn back to us."
Here & Now has been making internal changes to how it covers the news, which have been controversial and not always popular with some of the staff. The show's reporters are delivering many of their news hits live, and the line-up is packed with news from start to finish. That is, every quarter-hour will start with another strong news piece, so viewers are rewarded for staying around.
"We did a lot of research about what it was an audience was looking for in a news show, the kind of stories they were interested in, and then we made a number of changes based on that; not only in the kinds of stories we do, the story selection, but also in how we present the stories," Stein said. "We knew going into all of this that it was going to take time. Of course, it's good to see the results of our labour."
There is one other ratings driver that, in my view, should not be discounted. I will call it the Ryan Snoddon factor. The new weather person, Snoddon is both knowledgeable about his subject and totally pumped in his delivery. Weather is important to viewers, so I think Snoddon is beginning to have an impact.
The changes have been not without peril. Some CBC staff are still quietly grumbling about them. And the live news hits have been hexed by more than a few technical miscues and flubs. But the perseverance of all hands seems to be paying off.
Stein said that CBC has been investing considerable human and financial resources in improving its supper-hour newscasts across the country, and pretty much all of their programs have seen an increase in viewers. "However, our numbers are the strongest in the country, in terms of share increase," Stein said.
Stein told me that CBC Radio has also had an excellent showing in the ratings, "one of their best yet. And the CBC web site is one of the best in the country, in terms of the number of hits it receives."
More on these points a little later.
UPDATE: Several readers reminded me that, last year, CBC outbid CTV for Wheel of Fortune. The former lead-in for the NTV Evening Newshour stayed in the same time slot but swapped places, so it's clear that some viewers must have moved with it. The question is, how many? I sent a note to Janice Stein, who in turn consulted the network people. She advises me that, from 5:30 to 6:00 pm, Wheel of Fortune had a 20 per cent share (30,000 viewers) of the full coverage viewing audience, which is not too far off the 22 per cent Here & Now captured at 6:00 pm. That seems to say a lot, but the only way to really judge is to compare ratings for the previous show in that slot, which I believe was The Simpsons. However, I've bothered the Corporation enough for one day. Perhaps I'll follow up next week...