Alberta free dailies: is 3 too much company?

The war of the free daily newspaper brands in Alberta is complete. Sun Media launched 24 Hours in Edmonton and Calgary this week, against a backdrop of recent RushHour announcements by CanWest and the coming introduction of Metro editions for both cities. For advertisers, there's choice in Alberta's commuter freebies. But are the markets big enough for these big three?

Scott Stewart, an account director with Toronto-based Genesis Media, tells MiC the Alberta market may not sustain the free daily wars and fragmentation of newspaper choices that Toronto has enjoyed. ‘The free dailies can really thrive in Toronto, very simply, because of the transit system here,’ says Stewart. ‘When you look at newer or emerging markets, you still don’t have the overdeveloped transit systems like you do in Toronto. Three free dailies in that market takes a Toronto-centric view that maybe that market can’t bear. They’ll face challenges.’

Quebecor-owned Sun Media kicked off distribution of its 24 Hours free tabloid in Calgary and Edmonton on Tuesday, pumping an initial press run of 50,000 copies of the brand into each city’s commuter system, street boxes and coffee shops. The launch added to what Sun Media calls Canada’s fastest growing market for fast-paced news and entertainment. The company expects to reach 120,000 transit riders in Edmonton alone. The brand’s launch in the two Alberta markets raises its total readership in Canada to 900,000, with editions already established in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa (English and French) and Vancouver. Sun Media already operates the Calgary Sun and the Edmonton Sun in those markets.

Sun Media says 24 Hours increase the overall readership of newspapers in Calgary and Edmonton, where about 50% of adults in the 18 to 49 age group currently do not read a newspaper regularly. The company expects overlap for readers of 24 hours and its other paid dailies in Calgary and Edmonton to be less than 10%, based on research. 24 Hours readers are typically aged 18-49 (74%) and have a post-secondary education (71%). Slightly more than half of the pub’s readers own their own home, and slightly less than half work white collar jobs.

CanWest’s recent launches of Calgary RushHour and Edmonton RushHour this month gave advertisers the free daily format to choose from among the other CanWest flagships, the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal. But RushHour‘s entry into the Edmonton market kicked off with 5,000 copies, and in Calgary, the brand launched with 10,000 copies. Not such strong starts as the 50,000 copies of 24 Hours that hit the streets of both cities this week. And, as reported in MiC‘s Feb. 21 issue (click here for that story), Metro‘s getting ready to dump 60,000 copies of its free daily into each market, with Edmonton slated for a March 5 launch and Calgary to follow suit on April 2.