Upfronts 2015: Rogers wants to go broad, and stay niche

The media co's executives talk about plans for OMNI to break even and the strategy for City.

One of the good things about having hockey on City, says Hayden Mindell, VP, television programming and content, Rogers Media, is that it has given the media co access to a broad audience of Canadians that it previously didn’t hit.

The strategy behind building this year’s schedule on City was to keep that expanded audience on the channel for its non-hockey hours, with new shows like Scream Queens and The Muppets and new-to-City programs, including Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy and Empire.

“The focus on the programming side is broaden the demo, and then geographically broaden ourselves as well, not to just be a strong Toronto station, but to strengthen ourselves out West,” says Mindell.

Hockey programming will see a line change as it heads into its second season on Rogers, with Sunday night’s Hometown Hockey moving from City to Sportsnet One.

Al Dark, SVP, media sales, Rogers Media, says moving Hometown Hockey was always the long-term plan, but it was accelerated when Bob’s Burgers and Family Guy were available for a switch from Shaw Media to City’s Sunday night slate. The new Sunday lineup on City allows the channel to build up its youth audience, a demo the media co will continue to target as it moves Vice content onto the channel in the coming months.

The first year of hockey had some wins, with Wednesday night games performing better-than-expected, says Dark, while Saturday night’s Hockey Night in Canada lineup was off its projected numbers. He says that performance had a lot to do with having the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs in the showcase 7 p.m. games, and drops in numbers for those matches leading to a smaller lead-in for the 10 p.m. games that followed.

Apart from off-season excitement like rookie wonder kid Connor McDavid signing with the Edmonton Oilers, and the Leafs snagging new head coach Mike Babcock, Dark says Rogers will be making some adjustments to ensure a more positive result for next year’s Saturday night games.

“We will waterfall the games depending on the matchup, to City and Sportsnet, depending on the mix and trying to garner the biggest audiences,” he says. “It’s a very different setup, because at the CBC everything was regionalized in scope. But now with the multiple national platforms we need to be picking the right games and putting them in the right places to get the most reach.”

In addition to new hockey lineups, there is the potential for a change-up in ad options on Rogers’  NHL GameCentre LIVE app, says Dark. His team is testing dynamic ad insertion for Rogers VOD this summer with partners, and rolling that out into the market in September. Following the testing on Rogers VOD, dynamic ad insertion might also be added to non-Canadian games on the app, which currently shows full feeds of all NHL games.

Elsewhere on Rogers, Colette Watson, VP of television and broadcast operations, unveiled more of the long-term repositioning plan for OMNI, announcing Blood and Water, the channel’s first commissioned Chinese drama.

The eight-episode half-hour Chinese crime drama has English subtitles, aiming to create co-viewing opportunities between second and third generation Canadians. Watson notes that development funds have been given to the show’s production company, Breakthrough Entertainment, for a second season.

Blood and Water is joining other new programming, like Kitty Talk, Kama Sutra, the Chinese version of Glee and Planet’s Got Talent, as part of a new primetime strategy that aims to get the ethnic channel to “break even” this year, with the potential for making money in the years ahead, says Watson.

“The long-term plan for OMNI is to make it profitable,” she says. “It will break even this year, and if viewers and advertisers like our primetime strategy, the next couple of years will make money. It won’t be massive amount of dollars, but if I can stop the hemorrhaging, I will be happy. Yes, we will go through a hard time, but I believe it will be worth it.”

Watson adds that OMNI’s USP in the Canadian ethnic media market is local programming, pairing that with the new primetime slate. Last month the channel cut an estimated 110 jobs from OMNI and City when it replaced its national newscasts with two hour-long current affairs programs.

Dark says the new programming strategy at OMNI allow his sales team to create more branded content programs that were previously not possible with the national newscast.

Overall, he says that about 12% of Rogers Media’s sales revenue is coming from non-traditional packages such as branded content, but adds that category along with digital, are the two fastest growing sections for his team.

With files from Jordan Pinto