I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

Bye, George

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.

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11 Responses

  1. kassidy says:

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

    At least try to spell George’s last name right the next time.

    • hlbtoo says:

      Thanks for the spelling tip but what do you disagree with? You think George has big numbers? You think the CBC doesn’t spend enough money promoting George? You think The Hour is a poor show (I think it would be a hit on most other stations)? You think CBC is the place to be for a youthful audience?

  2. Pedro says:

    “In fact most of the newer edgier programs are anchors pulling the network’s ratings down.”

    What’s the evidence for this? Q, which most would consider to be “newer and edgier” is doing the opposite. The ratings for that show’s timeslot are are the highest they’ve been in decades.

    • hlbtoo says:

      You are right, I am generalizing, there are always exceptions, but the truth is Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon have become much “hipper” over the past few years and the audiences have decreased. By the way, do you think Q is edgy? I don’t. It’s the same show that Jeff Pevere did for years only the host is different. Not as thoughtful as Pevere but a better interviewer.

  3. Lon says:

    It sounds as though you are saying that deeper and more serious programming is something that younger viewers don’t have an appetite for.

    CBC should continue to go after younger viewers, Howard, not walk away from them. That’s a cop-out. A great national network should remain a “general” network.

    What needs to change is that programmers stop thinking they have to be “hip”to get younger viewers and instead concentrate on quality shows, just as they do for older viewers.

    Young people are just as hungry for insight and depth and a bigger, more sophisticated view of the world. Unfortunately, George is not the one who can deliver that. So go out and find a young person who can. They’re out there.

    • hlbtoo says:

      Lon, Lon, read what I wrote, not the imaginative stuff you think I wrote. I never said young people don’t want depth and quality. In fact I agree that good quality programming will attract people of all ages. More important, it will not turn off loyal viewers and listeners as CBC did with the changes to Radio Two. Where I do disagree with you and the CBC Lon is the Corp should “go after” younger viewers. The CBC should just go after viewers in a way that is consistent with the depth and quality the audience expects from a subsidized national network.

  4. kassidy says:

    CBC or whatever channel.

    If you enjoy spending time with George what’s the difference ? You’ll come back.

    I think he appeals to a wide spread crowd…

    -statistics, you can stick them where the sun don’t shine, cause they’re worth nothing !

  5. Jason Paris says:

    While there are some things that make The Hour a very CBC show, in general, I don’t think most people are even aware what network airs what show anymore, especially when they are downloading clips on YouTube, etc. So I’m not sure your thesis is all that correct.

    Should CBC Radio cancel Q for the same reason?

    Granted, I’ve never seen The Hour’s ratings, but in my 30-something group of friends there often seems to be general chatter about the show and I’ve always assumed it did o.k. ratings-wise.

    • hlbtoo says:

      I never said CBC should cancel The Hour or Q. I was lamenting the fact that good shows go unwatched because CBC is trying to get viewers who show little interest in their choice of programming. I have a friend who works at CBC who says the viewers have given up on the Corp. He believes that if CBC picked up CSI it would get less than 500,000 viewers. I am trying to figure out what the failure of shows like The Hour mean. I bet The Hour gets way more views on You Tube than on TV. Unfortunately there is no revenue in that for CBC.

  6. Jason Paris says:

    CBC’s ratings often beat CanWest (and sometimes even CTV). Shows like HNIC, RMR, Battle of the Blades, Dragons Den etc. get very respectable ratings often in the millions. I guess though that you are arguing that they aren’t of the generation that would consider watching CBC?

    • hlbtoo says:

      CBC’s ratings are generally pretty dismal. Yes they get a few shows over a million but over at CTV they get that for the news at 11. At Global “House” had over 4 million viewers for its season opener. Of the top 20 show in Canada 15 are on CTV and 5 on Global. The CBC does not show up. But it’s not just pure numbers. CBC’s audience is far more rural and quite a bit older. What really hurts here is that the advertisers are paying for younger and urban. The CBC doesn’t even get the ad dollars it deserves for the numbers it produces because they deliver the “wrong” audience.
      As far as George is concerned, my feeling is that the audience he is seeking don’t get to see his promos because they are watching the other channels. Regular (older) CBC viewers tend not to be interested in hipster hosts. It’s too bad. They might enjoy the show if they gave it a chance.
      What I wonder is that after chasing a younger audience for close to three decades and showing no signs of success should CBC change its tactics and try to cement itself as the broadcaster of choice for an older, more educated audience. It’s a niche that is growing and achievable.

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