Network ratings releases are like luncheon meat. Best to check the label and give it the ol' sniff test before consuming.
Still, CTV delivered a nasty one-two yesterday to the chin of an already staggering Global.
The CTV release suggests the network has outperformed Global by 92% in the ratings so far this season. What's more, those gains came in Canada's two largest urban centres, Toronto and Vancouver, thanks mainly to an uptake in younger viewers.
It is, however, an odd time to take stock, just six weeks after the official start of the fall season. CTV is taking advantage of two things: Global's reliance on Fox programming, which gets derailed every Sept/Oct. during the baseball playoffs (knocking new episodes of powerhouse shows like House and Bones off the Global schedule) and big, opening numbers for a couple of highly anticipated returning CTV shows such as CSI and CSI Miami.
CTV's not the first network to strategically pull a few weeks out of a season and go, "Lookit us!" CBC pulled the same trick last winter when their four new series launches caught the private Canadian networks with their shows down due to the U.S. writers strike. They sent out a release pinpointing big gains, declared victory and then ran home and turned off the lights. Things, of course, went back to normal when the strike ended and the U.S. shows returned. Think George Bush and that woefully premature "Mission Accomplished" victory banner on that aircraft carrier a month or so in to the Iraq war.
The TV business is war, too, and CTV knows the enemy is wounded. This P.R. assault comes as Canwest tries to shrug off a breathtaking drop in the value of its corporate stock, which has lost most of its value in the last year. The meltdown in the U.S. economy and the slowdown in Canadian media advertising has everybody in the TV business freaked. While it was a set back for CTV, too, that CRTC turn down last month of the broadcasters request for carriage fee loot was a dagger to the heart at cash strapped Canwest.
So--never one to miss an opportunity--the CTV PR department just wanted the ad community to know that their network is as big and dominant as ever. Given the arbitrary and advantageous six week time frame they have set, CTV can claim to have eight out of 10 of the country’s most-watched programs in total viewers and A25-54, and seven out of 10 in A18-49. Again, in that short sprint, they have Canada's No. 1 show, Grey's Anatomy, the nation's No. 1 new series and top Canadian program, So You Think You Can Dance Canada and Canada's top comedy series, Corner Gas.
Even CTV's numbers, however, concede that the gap is narrowed in the 18-49-year-old demo. CTV's total national audience beats Global's by nearly a two-to-one score, while the demo advantage is just 656,000 to 414,000 (average minute audience, entire prime time schedule).
The opening week leap in CSI and CSI: Miami numbers have also tailed off in recent weeks, but they still allow CTV to boast big gains in those shows and others (including Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy) that might not hold up in even a mid-season tally.
On the other hand, Global enjoyed no such early return spike from the returns of House, Heroes and Prison Break (although House is still No. 2 in Canada among both 18-49 and 18-34-year-olds). Worse, all three of those shows are slipping badly in the U.S.
The other shoe dropped when CTV's second ratings release yesterday detailed how A is kicking E's ass in Toronto and Vancouver. In the battle of the B networks, a.k.a. the sister station scrap, shows like Two and a Half Men and Fringe have pushed A ahead of E nationally and in Vancouver and ahead of City-TV in Toronto. Again, the jump comes nationally among 18-49-year-old viewers, where A is up and E is down (and City-TV in Toronto is down sharply).
While this is worthy of note it would have been a shock had A not taken a leap this fall, especially after big spender CTV off-loaded several of their younger skewing, high profile U.S. imports like Private Practice, Pushing Daisies and Gossip Girl over to the A schedule.
Still, E and Canwest will need more than Knight Rider to get back in this race. Rumbles about cost cutting, particularly in their local news division, have been floated all week. They need cash and they need hits and the long-delayed return of 24 in November (as a two-hour TV-movie) and January (as season seven) will help. The bad news is that CTV gets American Idol back in January, too. Jack Bauer, Global forces need you!