The new television season has started. Network after network are trotting out their new programs and their popular returning shows hoping to win a bigger piece of the ratings pie. The competition for viewers gets fiercer and fiercer every year, new networks, the internet, superstations, there are more and more challengers for the eyeballs of North American TV viewers.
The biggest networks have just a few weeks to attract viewers to their offerings in hopes that the audience will like what they see and make the viewing of the network shows a regular weekly thing. All the networks know that habit plays a huge role in securing big numbers. Once a TV consumer is hooked on CSI or NCIS the likelihood is that he or she will come back week after week. That’s how hits are made and ratings are grown. Everyone knows that, right?
Wrong. The good folks at CBC are smart enough to get Being Erica and Little Mosque on the Prairie going but where is the new CBC National News. It seems the large brains behind the revamp and renewal of The National are not planning to get the new and improved newscast to air until some time in October. That’s, let me get this straight, after viewers have had the opportunity to get hooked again on their old favorites or be seduced by the new offerings available on CTV, Global and the U.S. networks.
What the heck is going on at CBC News? What have they been doing all summer? In fact what have they been doing since last winter when the decision to make big changes was taken?
Let’s go back to the basic premise of what CBC News is trying to accomplish. They want to make the news faster paced. They want to remove long form journalism and replace it with a fifty minute CNN style newscast. They came up with this plan because they saw CNN’s ratings soar during the run up to Obama’s election victory and during the economic crisis. They have not considered CNN’s huge ratings drop in the past nine months to a year. Hello! It was the big news stories that led to CNN’s big numbers, not their format. All news numbers have suffered in the past months. ABC, NBC, CBS, CTV and yes, The National have seen their numbers drop, in The National’s case to under 500,000 regular viewers at a time when there is little or no competition.
So whether you agree or disagree with CBC’s long range news plans, the question remains: why are they not on the air attempting to take a bite out of the available new season audience before viewer preferences are set in stone?
From the outside looking in it seems to be an incredible lack of organization. What they are attempting to do is in fact easy. Just take what you’ve done in the first 25 to 30 minutes of the program and add another 20 minutes. Sure there will be new bells and whistles but those can be created in a month by the most incompetent of networks. The problem, I am told, is that none of the workers, the people who actually get the show on the air every night, know what’s happening. They have not been told what’s expected of them. They have not been told what their new jobs are. They have not been let in on the specific plans for the new newscast. How long can an item be? Six minutes? Four minutes? Whatever it is worth in air time? Nobody seems to know.
New news hubs have been created, planning, investigative, health. Old areas have been turned into news hubs meant to serve all of CBC News, local, national and Newsworld. But they don’t know what is expected of them. So what are they doing? Some are continuing to act as they did before the changes came, others are twiddling their collective thumbs trying to understand what they should be doing and how.
All of this begs the question, less than a month before they are supposed to debut, do the managers know what the new National will look like and do they know what the staff should be doing to accomplish their goals. If they do, why are they not telling their beleaguered workers? If they don’t, what have they been doing for 40 hours per week over the last six months?
In the meantime the contradictory rumors are flying around “the corpse.” Documentaries will not be banned. No story will be over four minutes.
Besides the wrong headedness of the basic premises that the new newscast is based on, besides missing the beginning of the new season, besides the incredible lack of organization, besides the complete lack of internal and external communication, besides the complete lack of morale they are fomenting, what are the managers of CBC News doing? If anyone knows please let me know.