Analysis: When it comes to momentum, Global’s got it

Amid the net's recent war of words with rival CTV lurk some interesting facts.

To hear CanWest chief Leonard Asper tell it, Global Television is, well. . . his own words during the company’s recent year-end conference call say it best: ‘We really are in a dead heat with the CTV group across the key demographics in the key markets.’

That kind of rhetoric is nothing new from Global. Here are a couple of recent zingers from a little further down the ladder. Press release, Oct. 2: ‘Global Grows. . . CTV Falls, But Can’t Get Up.’ Another one, on Oct. 11: ‘Powerhouse line-up dominates ‘top 5′ including No. 1 show of the week.’ The message: look out, CTV, Global is just about to blow past you.

Not surprisingly, CTV’s got an entirely different version of events. ‘Global Remains Also-Ran in Key Demos,’ says a smack-down issued on Oct. 2 that goes on to say, ‘Contrary to a sour grapes press release today from CanWest MediaWorks. . .’

Ouch. So who is this fall’s winnah? Drum roll, please. It’s Global. But guys, before you break out the bubbly and the baseball bats, respectively, let me say, this is a real squeaker. CTV’s programming continues to garner larger audiences overall, and it also has the best US pickups.

So, why Global? It’s all about momentum, and, as the network has been wont to say, Global’s Got It!

Let’s look at some numbers. As far as 2+ audiences go, CTV continues to dominate, with eight of the top 10 shows. But 2+ means not a bean to media buyers. ‘We don’t ever look at 2+,’ says Dave Crammond, VP/managing partner and director of broadcast for Toronto-based Mediaedge:cia. ‘Whenever that goes out in the media, it’s strictly for PR. We don’t buy 2+ for anybody.’

Global has made gains in the key 18-49 demo. House, Survivor: China and Heroes are three of the top five programs this fall for those viewers.

‘[Global's] programming’s always been younger-skewing, and they’re doing really well,’ says Natalie Ramsay, media broadcast director for Saatchi & Saatchi Toronto. ‘This is a plan they’ve had in place for a few years. . . It’s slow coming, but it is a turnaround.’

Or as Florence Ng, VP broadcast investments for ZenithOptimedia, also of Toronto, puts it: ‘They are making gains – that’s the critical part – but I don’t think it’s something to get excited about.’ She goes so far as to say that Global’s 18-49 success comes down to its Sunday night Fox cartoon sitcom mainstays, including King of the Hill, The Simpsons, Family Guy and American Dad.

Interestingly, Global put some energy into casting CTV as the oldsters’ station (‘CTV’s success has been largely focused in the 50+ demographic,’ states an Oct. 2 release). Not only is that not the case – CTV is focusing on the 25-54 demo – but, Ng points out, two of Global’s hottest shows, House and NCIS, are themselves skewing older. An equally feisty CTV, meanwhile, points out that its Gossip Girl is the top pick this year for teens.

As far as the new season goes, CTV takes the kitty for new buys, in spite of some significant scheduling challenges. Several of CTV’s hit shows overlap in their US air times, forcing the net to do quite a bit of scheduling out of simulcast. This year’s breakout, Grey’s Anatomy spin-off Private Practice, is a prime example.

The new skein has an average of 1.4 million viewers, according to BBM Nielsen. ‘Not bad for a new show,’ Ng says, in spite of being shuffled around and finally settling into its pre-simulcast Wednesday 8 pm slot, an hour ahead of ABC. It’s also got this season’s number-two new show, Pushing Daisies (average 2+ ratings: 965,000), and the aforementioned Gossip Girl (662,000).

Ng also gives CTV credit for pulling its dogs quickly. Dirty Sexy Money suffered on Sundays (806,000), airing days after its US time slot, and Big Shots (950,000) also failed to deliver up to expectation on Thursdays at 10 pm. Now, both shows find themselves relegated to CTVglobemedia’s A-Channels (in simulcast).

CanWest, meanwhile, has a stronger array of shows producing solid, if not surging, returns, starting with Heroes (1.4 million), Brothers & Sisters (861,000), NCIS (which has taken off with 1.7 million in its new Tuesday timeslot) and Las Vegas (doing well at one million with the addition of Tom Selleck), and going down to Survivor: China (2.3 million, down 20% to 30% below Global’s projection, according to Crammond) and the Family Guy and Simpsons set (1.1 million and one million, respectively).

Ng tipped her hat to Global for recognizing that for Heroes to entrench that ‘hit’ position, its fans need to be able to find it, and so it isn’t shuffling it around like it did last year.

For its part, CTV has graying standbys such as ER and the CSI and Law & Order franchises. To be fair, the network also has plenty of ‘second wave’ hits: Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Dancing with the Stars and the hasty re-entry of Amazing Race to Sunday night. But they know that their crime and punishment mainstays (‘How many CSIs are you going to watch?’ as Ng puts it) have nowhere to go but down.

So give the net full marks for addressing it, she adds, by taking a chance and pulling ER’s Thursday night simulcast spot, however briefly, in favor of Big Shots. But take that aging programming out of the picture and their lead falters significantly.

So, here’s to you, Global. But wait. There are two more concerns that tarnish the cup. Crammond points out that the conventional universe continues to shrink, and the top 10 shows across the board are slipping as viewers migrate to specialty TV. While both CanWest and CTVgm are dealing with that by buying into the specialty universe, the fact remains.

‘There aren’t too many shows performing up to what the forecast was on either side,’ says Crammond. ‘It’s a disappointing start to the season.’ And then there’s that US writers’ strike. If it goes into January, both nets will run out of new US programming and have to turn to either reruns or reality programming.

From Playback Daily