TVA eyes sports, sitcoms for T1

Now that he's got it, Serge Bellerose still isn't sure what to do with Toronto 1. But that's okay, he says, no rush. There won't be any real changes at the struggling station until fall, which gives him and the other brass at Quebecor a bit of time to figure out what went wrong and how to set it right.
TVA and Sun Media, both arms of the Quebecor empire, bought the station from CHUM late last year and will spend the better part of 2005 running market research in the Ontario capital, he says, examining public perception of the station and its programming, which failed to attract significant viewers or advertisers after an ambitious launch in late 2003.

Now that he’s got it, Serge Bellerose still isn’t sure what to do with Toronto 1. But that’s okay, he says, no rush. There won’t be any real changes at the struggling station until fall, which gives him and the other brass at Quebecor a bit of time to figure out what went wrong and how to set it right.

TVA and Sun Media, both arms of the Quebecor empire, bought the station from CHUM late last year and will spend the better part of 2005 running market research in the Ontario capital, he says, examining public perception of the station and its programming, which failed to attract significant viewers or advertisers after an ambitious launch in late 2003.

‘There will not be too many changes until then,’ he says.

But Bellerose, SVP of specialty channels and business development at TVA, already has a few ideas – Toronto 1′s fall budget for both in-house programming and acquisitions will be increased and the station will probably keep its slot of primetime movies, one of its few money-makers. He is looking at keeping pro sports and is also toying with the idea of introducing a Quebec-style low-budget sitcom, something akin to TVA’s Caméra Café.

‘There are concepts with which we’ve had a lot of success within the French market that could potentially be adapted for the English market and that could be produced at a reasonable cost,’ he says.

The station is looking to hire a new programming and acquisitions exec, and will continue to target adults and young adults in the Toronto region with a heavy slant towards multicultural programming, entertainment and local news, as spelled out in its original licence, he adds.

Toronto 1 is an important move for the Quebec media giant, which has long sought to enter English Canada, just as Craig Media had wanted to break into Ontario. The western station group was put up for sale just months after its Toronto debut and was bought by its rival CHUM, which then sold T1 for $46 million, on orders from the CRTC.

‘A big problem that Toronto 1 had in year one was there was not a lot of promotion,’ Bellerose offers. ‘It was a stand-alone and they were not able to promote the station as they should have. We intend to correct that.’

The new Toronto 1, if it keeps the name, which it may not, will be heavily cross-promoted with the Toronto Sun and other Quebecor properties, such as the local commuter paper 24 and the Canoe.ca Web sites.

Bellerose believes the station could be profitable in two or three years. T1 says it now brings in about one million viewers in the 18-49 demo per week and is seeing improvements in its ad revenue, mostly around its movies.

‘We do not need a six or seven share. Having a three in two or three years would make the station profitable,’ he says. ‘We’re modest in our ambition to turn it around and I think we will be able to do so.’

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