The last ratings book was not a fluke. CBC Here Now is on a definite growth trend.
In the fall Bureau of Broadcast Measurement (BBM) ratings, which came out in December, Here Now increased its viewers, from 49,000 in the fall of 2008 to 66,000 in 2009. Thats an increase of 27 per cent. The growth rises steadily, from the fall of 2008 and into the spring and then fall of 2009.
The ratings are up, and its a trend, said Janice Stein, News Director for TV, Radio and Online with CBC in Newfoundland. This is the third book in which ratings have gone up pretty substantially. The first time, you wonder if its a one off, and the second time its good, but on the third you have a pretty clear indicator that we are on an upward trend. Its a validation of all the stuff that we have been trying to do, not only with television news, but with radio news and online news. And its hard to separate them. Weve been doing TV renewal for three or four years, and more recently have been working on radio renewal, and doubled the size of the unit working on online news.
Clearly, the majority of Here Nows increase has been won away from The NTV Evening Newshour.
It should be emphasized that NTV News is still away out in front at 6:00 pm, with more than 100,000 viewers and this is just a guess. (I sent a note to Fred Hutton, News Director with NTV, who replied to say he will answer my questions at his first opportunity. I will follow up when he does.)
However, NTV has to be concerned about this growth, which is sure and steady. If you project the line forward, Here Now could overtake NTV in a couple of years.
Much has happened in recent years to nurture this ratings growth. There have been changes at Here Now, which I have written about previously. As well, a new show has been added at 5:30 which has changed the TV landscape dramatically, and is in my view already helping to enable the increase of viewers at Here Now.
Last year, both networks introduced early edition news programs at 5:30 pm; NTV being first out of the gate, launching theirs in the summer and allowing them to get positioned ahead of CBCs fall launch.
The ratings for CBC at 5:30 have improved, from 27,000 in fall of 2008 (for Wheel of Fortune) to 36,000 in fall of 2009. That said, it is clear that NTV is dominating this time slot, as there are well over 100,000 viewers at that time who are not watching CBC.
UPDATE: I have put my hands on the NTV ratings. At 5:30 pm, NTV has 56,000 viewers, which is much less than the amount I was assuming. At 6:00 pm, NTV has 119,000, which is about what I would have guessed. Thats still a substantial lead over Here Nows 66,000, but a big drop from where they were a few years ago, at 180,000.
What the new 5:30 news show meant for me, as a media watcher, was that I could catch NTVs news lineup at 5:30 pm, then switch to CBC at 6:00 pm. Of course, I am not the only media watcher in the province, and I suspect a lot of people are doing the exact same thing. (Honestly, I dont have time to record the other show, and watch two hours of newscast every night. Do you?)
The result is that NTV dominates at 5:30, but dominates a little less at 6:00 pm. And this is where I expect future growth for Here Now, as more and more viewers watch both programs but at different times.
An interesting anomaly is that Here Now viewership actually declines by 6:30 pm, down to 60,000. On the one hand, theyve grown (numbers have risen from 49,000 at 6:30 in 2008). On the other, they have 6,000 fewer viewers than at 6:00 pm. I dont think these eyeballs are switching over to NTV, however. Chances are, they are drifting away for a workout, to take a nap or whatever, probably assuming that the top stories of the day have been covered.
That assumption would be a mistake.
For the last couple of years, Here Now has been slotting its lineup strategically, to beef up every quarter-hour of the show including the last 15 minutes with substantial news stories. Conversely, NTV plays its best cards off the top of the deck, the result being that syndicated material and extended national stories dominate the back half. Yes, there is some local stuff, but most of it pre-recorded features and not hard news.
Speaking of assumptions, I thought I was getting NTVs full lineup at 5:30 pm. I was not. NTV does break stories, and they do so fairly often. However, when they do have a major story, they save it for 6:00 pm, to ensure the competition doesnt get it too. The thinking is, if they run a big story at 5:30, CBC will chase it down and have something ready for 6:00 pm.
I saw this in action on January 5, when NTV opened its 5:30 show with a story about Andy Wellss lost dog. I rolled my eyes about this placement decision. But then, at 6:00 pm, NTV opened with a blockbuster an out of court settlement in the lawsuit against Sikorsky Helicopters. CBC didnt have that story, but they did cut in 30 minutes later with breaking news about the settlement. (There is a good chance that Here Now does the same thing I just havent seen it in action yet.)
Perhaps you are waiting for me to pronounce on which is the better newscast. On that, I have to give it to CBC Here Now. The show still does top quality investigative work, the kind of stories that take days and even weeks to develop something you never (well, rarely) see on NTV News. As well, there is more local content, stretching right to the end of the newscast, with more and better contributions from off the Avalon.
However, I wont say Here Now has better people. Yes, they have some top performers and a deeper talent pool than NTV, but the key thing is, they have more people. NTV has a smaller crew, but their reporters are capable of delivering a story and do carry themselves in an ethical manner. As well, NTV News has been breaking stories too. They may not do much investigative work, but their reporters seem to be plugged in and digging for breaking news.
In particular, I have been enjoying Michael Connorss weekly political wraps, which are delivered live in the 5:30 Early Edition. Its clear that Connors has a head on his shoulders, and is not afraid to say things that might annoy the political powers-that-be.
On the downside, NTVs Larry Jay makes a capable host but I am not sure why he is doing background pieces on the fishery. On two occasions, I heard him cite a Telegram article as the source for a story that he was, presumably, rewriting. NTV wouldnt need to do this if they had more full-time reporters.
When it comes to weather, Here Now holds the trump card in Ryan Snoddon, as I have noted before. However, CBC is weak in its second-tier support; the people who step-in when Snoddon is on vacation, away or sick. I wont mention them by name, but the people who have replaced Snoddon in recent months have not been very good.
NTV, on the other hand, has a number of experienced people who can do weather, and do it well, including the latest addition, Aamie Gillam, who is a natural.
I do have a problem with the canned material that NTV airs, usually in its last half-hour, or last 15 minutes of the early edition. This is clearly filler syndicated material purchased from other networks to flesh out the show. I can live with that, but I am bothered by the way NTV edits these pieces. They seem to allot a fixed amount of time to each piece, then abruptly end it without any wrap from the reporter or narrator, often cutting abruptly, in mid-sentence. By doing this, NTV shows contempt for the material airing in its own newscast. If its not worth a proper edit, its not worth broadcasting at all.
The production values sets, lighting and equipment at Here Now are better than NTV Evening News. That said, Here Now HAS been having issues major issues with technical glitches in its newscasts. Ive seen a number lately, including two major miscues that happened right off the top, during the headlines. They also happen with some regularity within the newscast, usually involving the live remote pieces filed by reporters.
NTV News has technical issues too Ive seen them but they dont happen with the same frequency of those on Here Now. Theres a reason for that NTV doesnt do as many live remote news pieces, which is where things most often go awry.
I have some minor quibbles with Here Now. I am disappointed that they use anonymous viewer feedback in their Point of View segments. Whats up with that? Our public broadcaster should insist on identifying all commenters (and Jonathan, please insert a space after the comma that is, like this, not like,this).
To summarize, the NTV Evening Newshour should be concerned about the gradual drain of its viewers over to CBC. They could help stem this by addressing some of the quibbles mentioned above, but their biggest issue has to do with human resources more good people are needed on the ground, in order to hold off the encroaching competition. (This will reopen debate about the struggling private sector versus the subsidized public broadcaster, which is a valid topic for another day.)
CBC Here Now is the overall better program, and is on track to eventually dominating the supper-hour news ratings. Its biggest issue is the frustrating number of technical miscues. The majority of these could be addressed if the leadership reconsidered the live remote to introduce so many news items. Live remotes are good, but only when they add real value to the story (as was the case Monday with the shooting incident at a retail store parking lot). Bottom line: Here Now cannot emerge as a really top drawer program until it comes to grips with and resolves its technical miscues.