How CMT got its groove back

Programming exec Ted Ellis on audience boosts, programming changes, and the channel's goal of being a top 10 specialty.

Corus Entertainment is placing a greater emphasis on CMT, aiming to bolster the station’s ratings after a couple of years of decline.

Ted Ellis, VP programming and scheduling, Corus Entertainment, tells MiC that declines at the station came from a shift in focus of programming to moms, as well as from a decline in investment in the channel from the company, which resulted in “fairly significant” ratings dips over the past couple years.

After some research, the channel refocused, discovering that the opportunity for CMT was in co-viewing, with males controlling much of the viewing going on in the homes of its core demo of primarily suburban women aged 25 to 54.

“We have made a shift toward shows that could operate under co-viewing, where we had been successful with shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos and According to Jim,” he says. “Since that shift back we have been having great success with things like Fear Factor and Wife Swap, and that’s where the strategy behind our new originals like Mom’s a Medium and Tornado Hunters came from. CMT is a family-safe viewing environment.”

Since flipping the switch to co-viewing, Ellis says the channel has seen growth, sitting around #15 in the Canadian specialty rankings based on a 24-hour schedule. He adds the goal with this recent push is to make the channel a top 10 specialty in the country.

Programming for CMT is being developed under the headers of general entertainment programming, signature originals and music, with the latter still making up half the schedule for the channel.

In addition, the channel plans to have more digital-first launches, similar to its rollout of Tornado Hunters, aiming to create content that works with advertising clients online.

This boost in original content is also aimed at promoting the channel ahead of this fall’s CRTC Let’s Talk TV hearings, which include a discussion on introducing pick-and-pay to consumers’ specialty TV packages.

“We will be sharpening our branding a bit to speak to that middle Canada solution,” he says. “If someone is faced with a pick-and-pay decision you want to be able to offer something more than old reruns.”

Ellis says that unlike Much, which has recently reworked its staffing due to changes in its demo’s viewing habits around music, CMT has seen a boost in viewing on that side of the channel. He attributes that to the habits of CMT’s older-skewing audience.

“Country music is pop music now,” he says. “Music content on CMT is still relevant because our target isn’t as YouTube-savvy. We have seen growth in our music video day parts, which are half our schedule over the past year and a half, after a decade of declines in ratings.”