Is the strike-affected sked so bad?

So the strike talks broke down, and we know a bit about what CTV and Global are planning to air in January. When your favourite show disappears, do you change the channel or turn off the tube?

The Television Critics Association has just cancelled its traditional January meeting, and it makes sense. Since the screenwriters’ strike talks with Hollywood producers broke down again last Friday, is there really anything on TV that’s gonna be worth writing about? Time will tell for Canadian audiences. In the past week, both CTV and Global have come forward with lists of new shows that media buyers and viewers can expect to see in January (click here and here for MiC‘s coverage), and both broadcasters have assured clients that ad dollars spent will not be wasted. So what’s the big fuss about the writers’ strike? Is the situation really all that bad for Canucks?

‘There’s a lot of programming that’s available for broadcasters, from within North America and even from outside of North America – depending on how long this strike goes,’ says Television Bureau of Canada president and CEO Theresa Treutler. ‘I think all broadcasters are just as displeased with the strike as the buyers are. However, every broadcaster is totally committed to delivering on the original contracts and honouring their initial negotiations. Certainly in both letters, there’s been mention of bonusing or pre-compensation. So there is a safety net to ensure against any kind of audience shortfall.’

ZenithOptimedia president/CEO Sunni Boot isn’t as worried about the situation as she was when MiC surveyed media buyers at the end of November (click here for that story). With the January shows promised by CTV and Global, along with dependable hockey and news audiences in Canada, Boot says the mood among buyers at ZenithOptimedia isn’t so bad. ‘We think we’re going to be able to make it,’ she says. ‘The problem is that nothing has an exact schedule yet. The issue right now, because this is happening, is that we can’t manage it. We do not have a schedule from January 1 to February 28. We have a contingency schedule from January 1 to January 15. It’s being parceled out because nobody knows. But the broadcasters and the buyers are working well to try and deliver on clients’ needs. It’s a tough game, though.’

So far, says Boot, the majority of the upcoming shows – about 75% – will have similar characteristics for media buyers. But that leaves about 25% of primetime that ZenithOptimedia’s buyers may have to ‘piece together differently,’ she says. And given the timelines, that’s a problem. ‘I am worried in the sense that there’s going to be about 25% of programming that we’re going to have to work very, very hard to replace. And we’ll have to replace the ratings on the fly, because schedules are going to change. It’s not like we can put a whole schedule to bed. We’re going to have to revisit it on a much more stringent basis.’

OMD Toronto managing director Sherry O’Neil is less optimistic about what’s going to be on Canadian conventional TV in January following the breakdown of talks in the US. ‘I wouldn’t say it’s a time of panic, but if things aren’t resolved in the next few weeks, buyers will be revisiting their plans and having to advise clients about whether or not they should affect the buy,’ says O’Neil. ‘The media mix will change. Perhaps not for January-February, but if we see a loss in ratings, there’s going to be a cry for us to take action, and we will have to add more specialty channels or go to other media like online, radio or whatever.’

For OMD, January is the redo deadline. ‘We’re not quite there yet, but if the strike’s not resolved by January, we’ll all have heavy labour on our side of things. Advertisers are going to be looking for their money back if their buys are not performing, as they are already in the US. The overall issue is delivering our clients’ total ratings objectives in any given week. If I’ve been asked to buy 100 GRPs on conventional television, with this volatility I don’t have as much confidence that I’m going to get my GRPs.’

Despite the January programming announcements by CTV and Global, O’Neil says it’s hard to ignore the holes that will be created in the Top 20 without shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, Desperate Housewives and My Name is Earl.

‘I think that shows like Survivor and Prison Break will do fine,’ says O’Neil. ‘Apprentice was on the down-swing, and that will be tough. I wasn’t a big fan of Lipstick Jungle, and I don’t think it’s going to rock anyone’s world, and I don’t know where they’re placing it now. Law & Order and Nip Tuck will get popular again. Obviously, Idol fills a number of hours.’

Boot is optimistic about several new titles. ‘CTV does have some shows,’ says Boot. ‘They’ve got Jericho because they purchased the A-Channel, so that might be a good show to put in for some shows that will go into repeats. Of course, we’re going to have a gazillion CSI repeats, because I think the number of runs on that are probably ad nauseam. A lot depends on where they’re putting the shows. They may move some of their cable shows to prime. That would be interesting. CTV has Bravo and a number of stations where there may be some offerings. These could be excellent trial times in January. Viewers are willing to say, ‘Hey, let’s look at that and see what it’s like.’ They’re a little more receptive.’

‘I have more confidence on the CTV side,’ says O’Neil, ‘but I don’t have enough confidence on the CanWest side. And it just might be the level of detail that has come out. Idol fills a lot more hours on CTV than, say, Global’s Survivor at one hour. What’s dynamic for us is that the Top 20 is going to change more dramatically than it has in the past. The total performance of conventional should be a big concern for them. Frankly, my opinion is that the specialty channels are going to benefit immensely.’

In this prime-time milieu, specialties may have a busy New Year.