Rogers to become Canada’s fourth TV network

Whether or not champagne corks are actually popping at the agencies, there is definitely joy in Mediaville today.

‘I can’t believe there’s any media buyer in the country who doesn’t think this is a good outcome,’ Bruce Claasen, CEO of Genesis Media, tells MiC. He’s talking, of course, about the sudden announcement last evening that Rogers Media has ponied up $375 million to solve the dilemma foisted on CTVglobemedia last week by the CRTC. Namely, that CTVgm’s acquisition of CHUM properties could proceed only if the five City stations were chopped out of the $1.7-billion deal.

‘In a single move, Rogers has become a fourth television network in Canada,’ Claasen explains. ‘Six months ago, they owned a couple of specialty channels and that was an interesting dabble. But now they’re actually a player. That’s an incredible achievement, but the funny thing is, it wasn’t even their own initiative. It was the CTV deal that put Rogers in play.’

David Campbell, president of MBS, amplifies the point, saying the deal ‘creates another strong broadcasting presence in the country, which we sorely needed because it had turned, certainly in English Canada, into a duopoly.’

We’ll probably never know how long Rogers had this chess move in mind. But Rogers Broadcasting president Rael Merson nailed its significance, stating that the deal ‘gives Rogers an instant and significant television presence in the largest markets in the country and is a natural complement to our existing television broadcasting and specialty assets.’

It’s partly the breadth of Rogers Media’s assets – and the opportunities they offer for big-time synergies – that makes the news so welcome to the media community. A division of Rogers Communications, it operates both Rogers Publishing and Rogers Broadcasting, which has 51 AM and FM radio stations across Canada. Television properties include multicultural television broadcaster Rogers OMNI Television; the Shopping Channel, a televised and electronic shopping service; and Rogers Sportsnet. Then there’s Rogers Publishing, which includes major consumer magazines Maclean’s, Chatelaine, Flare, L’actualité and Canadian Business, as well as industry, medical and financial pubs. All these media properties are integrated with Rogers websites. Additionally, Rogers Media owns The Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club and the Rogers Centre sports and entertainment facility.

But it’s also Rogers’ proven marketing savvy and professionalism that’s exciting the media professionals who spoke to MiC today. ‘Rogers has a great track record, and I think virtually all the agencies have had very good relationships with them,’ says Campbell. ‘They’re very professionally run and managed.’

How should Rogers proceed, if the CRTC approves its purchase of the City stations, as seems likely? ‘My big hope would be that they would maintain the culture of the City stations and their approach to business, which has in the past been quite different in many respects from that of other broadcasters,’ says Hugh Dow, president of M2 Universal. ‘It’s very important for them to keep their personality. That’s what made the City stations an attractive buy for many advertisers, and particularly for the target groups they reached, which tended to be younger audiences. So I’d like to see them continue the tradition of City being a kind of entrepreneurial and promotionally oriented broadcaster that was prepared to work with the advertising community to develop innovative and different approaches to reaching their target audiences.’

As the possible dropping of a third shoe in this drama, there is now speculation about what will become of the A channels. In what looked like an unenthusiastic concession when the CRTC balked at the scope of the network’s proposed acquisitions at the spring hearings, CTVgm sold the A channels to Rogers. Might that deal now be halted?

If it isn’t, in Dow’s opinion, ‘the first thing CTVgm has to figure out is exactly what role the A channels are going to play within their portfolio, and how to differentiate them from their other television properties. The A’s tend to be smaller, local market stations, so how are they going to be programmed, and how will they be marketed in combination with their other properties?’

Campbell doesn’t believe CTVgm will get rid of the A Channels. What interests him more is how the micro-surgery that will be necessary to separate some former CHUM assets will be accomplished. A case in point, he says, is the CP24 news operation, which has depended heavily on Toronto’s Citytv for programming, but is a specialty channel that’s now owned by CTVgm. ‘It will be interesting to see whether CP24 will be folded into the Rogers deal or reprogrammed.’

How are Rogers’ Omni multicultural channels likely to fare now? Campbell doesn’t see much synergy between Omni and the City stations – ‘apart from behind-the-scenes operational efficiencies to reduce costs. In terms of what Omni does for consumers and for advertisers, I’d see it staying fairly distinct.’

Dow envisages attractive ‘cross-promotional opportunities with Rogers’ extensive print and radio properties’ to promote the City channels. But ‘rather than much cross-television synergy,’ he expects to see ‘more synergies between print and television. There’s a whole bunch of new areas that we’ll be looking at to see how they develop and what new elements they bring to the market.’

Another question on people’s minds is whether City’s physical operations will stay put or be moved. Rogers spokesperson Jan Innes says it will vary by city. ‘We will have to find a new home for the City station in Toronto because CTVglobemedia owns that building . . .’ In other cities, she says the decision to move or not to move will ‘depend on whether the real estate is owned or not.’

Concludes Classen: ‘The good news is that we’ve now got Astral, CanWest, CTV, CBC and Rogers, which is lovely because we’ve now got a strongly competitive marketplace. So I think all the media buyers in the country are happy campers.’

Bottom line? Says Sunni Boot, president of ZenithOptimedia, ‘The future looks exciting.’