There is one show on Canadian television that I just do not get, that’s The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos.
It’s not the content. The interviews are generally light and fluffy and even fun befitting a late night entertainment show. The guests are generally good, I would even say better than most of the Canadian talk shows that preceded The Hour. The format is just about right. And George, he’s glib and engaging in the way a late night TV host should be most of the time.
So what’s my problem?
In fact I have several, but they are so interconnected I don’t know where one ends and the next begins. I’ll start with the fact that while the CBC and the Canadian media treat George Stroumboulopoulos like he’s a media star he in fact, can’t draw flies to his show. There is no real audience to speak of. The show’s numbers are similar to those of the dismal local news on CBC. Considering the advertising dollars and promotional time the show gets it should be a late night staple challenging Lloyd Robertson and CTV National News. I think Lloyd gets more viewers in Calgary than George gets coast-to-coast. It’s not a bad show. So where is the audience?
I believe the CBC and George Stroumboulopoulos are doing each other a grave disservice. The CBC chose George to be host because he is young and hip. He never wears a sports jacket, let alone a tie. The earring and the haircut are supposed to speak to the youthful viewers the network is trying to attract. As usual the idea was much better on paper than the reality on TV for the CBC. After several years it should be painfully obvious to all but the most indifferent observers that young people are not going to tune in to CBC for a talk show, even if George is the host. The other painful side of that coin is that typical CBC viewers are not going to watch the likes of George Stroumboulopoulos. He just doesn’t speak to the 50-somethings from Fredericton and Saskatoon who just finished watching Peter Mansbridge grasping for every last political straw in Ottawa for close to an hour.
George works. We know that from his days at Much Music and City-TV. Young viewers loved his work and flocked to any show he was associated with. If George did the exact same show at City he would have a hit on his hands. Most people in the industry I talk to understand this. What nobody seems to get is why the CBC has allowed this failure to continue and why George Stroumboulopoulos stays with a gig that clearly puts him in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Hour’s numbers are a black hole for the Corp sucking up advertising time and dollars with little or no payback. George’s street cred has to be hurting. Cool people just don’t work for the CBC. He must know this. I’m sure George would be grabbed up by any one of CBC’s competitors given the opportunity to get him. The end of The Hour would surely be a win-win situation for both George and the network.
The first time I heard the CBC was trying to attract a more youthful audience was in 1984. The powers-that-were tried to get me to dumb down my newscast, cut the length of news stories, be more sensational. I refused then because I believed CBC viewers had expectations of high quality news and information they could trust. I was proven right when we more than doubled our audience. But now, even though the network has never succeeded in drawing younger audiences, 25 years later the CBC is making the same mistaken assumptions.
In the 500 channel universe it is more important than ever to know your audience and keep them happy. A niche is a good thing. Especially if the niche, in CBC’s case, is the largest portion of the available audience: baby boomers and the elderly. By abandoning them, the Corp is abandoning any hope of success. We are all taught to play to our strengths, focus on what we know, so why isn’t the CBC doing this? Is it the ad dollars that won’t be forthcoming because CBC is not attracting females 18 to 49? That’s silly. No network in Canada is less dependent on advertising. A huge audience would go far further to cement their future. It would be very difficult for Harper’s Tories to cut CBC’s budget if more than a million people were tuned in to all or most of CBC’s offerings.
Okay, maybe it’s because they worry about their future. If the entire audience gets old and dies who will watch? The truth is CBC has always had an older audience. When people reached a certain age they somehow began to watch more CBC. It has been a natural progression for over 60 years. Be happy with that natural progression. All the other networks have been TV training wheels for CBC viewers. At a certain age the viewers expect more depth, more quality and CBC has been there to give it to them. With this quest for youth CBC is giving away its niche, losing its advantage and perhaps throwing away its future.
If you want proof look at CBC Radio, it has never done better. CBC Radio One is number one in several markets. And what shows are selling? Metro Morning, As It Happens, Sunday Morning. In fact most of the newer edgier programs are anchors pulling the network’s ratings down. Radio Two’s changes have cut their ratings in half. I am told by avid listeners that Radio Two has been sneaking on more and more Classical music and dropping the nutty content. They have not admitted their mistakes with words but their actions are speaking for themselves.
The CBC’s future and its success depend on being the best CBC possible rather than trying to be a bad U.S. network imitation. Perhaps the bosses will wake up one day and realize this. Perhaps I am dreaming.