I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

Read ’em and weep…the CBC News story

We have been hearing an amazing amount of self congratulations from CBC management about how the new National is doing well or it’s on the right track. There has been a series of hero-grams sent to staff pushing them to keep up the good work. The bosses maintain that the changes in the newscast are a work in progress and that staff is busting their butts.

All this blather in spite of the fact that I have never met a single viewer who thinks the changes in the newscast were anything other than awful. In fact many media friends, including some who still work for The National tell me they have stopped watching the program. Non media friends complain about the set, Peter’s walks, the dumb reporter interviews that add nothing to show, but really, would they notice any of this if the quality of the stories and storytelling was high enough to keep them interested in the content? I suspect not.

It has been too easy to blame criticism on unhappy former employees who are disgruntled because they were pushed out. It has been too easy to point fingers at older viewers who don’t like change. It has been too easy to fall back on “it’s a work in progress” excuses. The truth is, and the numbers are all too clear, the new National is an abject failure that has not resonated with the viewing audience and worse, has turned many loyal news junkies away.

With the help of a mathematically inclined friend who has access to the ratings I put together a table that clearly shows how poorly The National is doing. But first an executive summary of our findings:

We used 70 programs (Monday-Friday) in 2009 from the beginning of January to the second week of April. The National average was about 804 thousand, while CTV News got 993 thousand.

This year, 2010, we looked at 59 programs during the same period. (The Olympics made 11 weekdays not applicable.) This time the National averaged 644 thousand, CTV News — 1257 thousand. That’s almost exactly double. Using last year’s system — if you reasonably assume CTV News didn’t gain viewers, their ratings jump can be attributed to the new people meters — that would mean that The National has averaged less than 500 thousand in 2010 using the pre-people meter numbers, a ratings fall of almost 40%! Incredible and embarrassing…

Two other small observations. Last year, there were 9 days when The National actually got higher numbers than CTV. This season, it never got close. The other thing is that we picked a period when The National‘s ratings were actually UP! If you were to look at the September-December stretch, CTV’s numbers were regularly more than double, sometimes, even triple those of CBC’s flagship news program… The numbers are even more startling than we expected.

A few more facts to ponder. During the study period in 2009 the lowest rating at CBC was 615 thousand. In 2010 the lowest rating was 451 thousand. In fact the CBC failed to reach 500 thousand viewers four times. During that same period CTV News had four nights with over 1.5 million viewers.

Here’s the actual numbers for you to ponder:
2009                                                                                              2010
Monday Jan. 5                                                                          Monday Jan. 4
CBC 681       CTV 1033                                                            CBC 553      CTV 1057
Tues. Jan. 6                                                                                Tues. Jan. 5
CBC 857     CTV987                                                                 CBC 514       CTV 1137
Wed. Jan. 7                                                                                Wed. Jan. 6
CBC 713     CTV 855                                                                 CBC 659      CTV 1268
Thurs. Jan. 8                                                                              Thurs. Jan. 7
CBC 976     CTV 986                                                                CBC 689      CTV 1147
Fri. Jan. 9                                                                                   Fri. Jan. 8
CBC 843     CTV 855                                                                CBC 547      CTV 1067
Mon. Jan. 12                                                                             Mon. Jan. 11
CBC 971     CTV 933                                                                CBC 543       CTV 1175
Tues. Jan. 13                                                                             Tues. Jan. 12
CBC 807     CTV 943                                                               CBC 733      CTV 1435
Wed. Jan. 14                                                                             Wed. Jan. 13
CBC 731     CTV 1289                                                             CBC 675      CTV 1314
Thurs. Jan. 15                                                                          Thurs. Jan. 14
CBC 719     CTV 1013                                                             CBC 729      CTV 1211
Fri. Jan. 16                                                                                Fri. Jan. 15
CBC 771     CTV 987                                                               CBC 578      CTV 1231
Mon. Jan. 19                                                                             Mon. Jan. 18
CBC 808     CTV 1119                                                              CBC 629      CTV 1140
Tues. Jan. 20                                                                            Tues. Jan. 19
CBC 1003     CTV 967                                                            CBC 667      CTV 1070
Wed. Jan. 21                                                                             Wed. Jan. 20
CBC 959     CTV 903                                                               CBC 685      CTV 1374
Thurs. Jan. 22                                                                          Thurs. Jan. 21
CBC 806     CTV 1087                                                            CBC 703      CTV 1532
Fri. Jan. 23                                                                                Fri. Jan. 22
CBC 880     CTV 929                                                               CBC 685      CTV 1327
Mon. Jan. 26                                                                             Mon. Jan. 25
CBC 928     CTV 918                                                                CBC 628      CTV 1164
Tues. Jan. 27                                                                            Tues. Jan. 26
CBC 907     CTV 926                                                               CBC 571      CTV 1195
Wed. Jan. 28                                                                            Wed. Jan. 27
CBC 907     CTV 1002                                                           CBC 640      CTV 1004
Thurs. Jan. 29                                                                         Thurs. Jan 28
CBC 909     CTV 1050                                                           CBC 678      CTV 1152
Fri. Jan. 30                                                                               Fri. Jan. 29
CBC 587     CTV 923                                                               CBC 603      CTV 1026
Mon. Feb. 2                                                                               Mon. Feb. 1
CBC 827      CTV 983                                                              CBC 528      CTV 1069
Tues. Feb. 3                                                                               Tues. Feb. 2
CBC 947     CTV 850                                                               CBC 492      CTV 1183
Wed. Feb. 4                                                                               Wed. Feb. 3
CBC 1007     CTV 907                                                           CBC 571      CTV 1477
Thurs. Feb. 5                                                                            Thurs. Feb. 4
CBC 885      CTV 1089                                                           CBC 665      CTV 1272
Fri. Feb. 6                                                                                 Fri. Feb. 5
CBC 615      CTV 694                                                              CBC 537      CTV 1000
Mon. Feb. 9                                                                              Mon. Feb. 8
CBC 805     CTV 1061                                                            CBC 670      CTV 1112
Tues. Feb. 10                                                                           Tues. Feb. 9
CBC 872     CTV 941                                                               CBC 820      CTV 1174
Wed. Feb. 11                                                                            Wed. Feb. 10
CBC 716     CTV 863                                                              CBC 791       CTV 1542
Thurs. Feb. 12                                                                        Thurs. Feb. 11
CBC 903     CTV 902                                                             CBC 669      CTV 1320
Mon. Mar. 2                                                                             Mon. Mar. 1
CBC 686     CTV 883                                                              CBC 707      CTV 1256
Tues. Mar. 3                                                                            Tues. Mar. 2
CBC 706     CTV 878                                                             CBC 451       CTV 1113
Wed. Mar. 4                                                                             Wed. Mar. 3
CBC 809     CTV 996                                                             CBC 550      CTV 1248
Thurs. Mar. 5                                                                         Thurs. Mar. 4
CBC 828     CTV 994                                                            CBC 666       CTV 1272
Fri. Mar. 6                                                                               Fri. Mar. 5
CBC 731     CTV 909                                                             CBC 492      CTV 1268
Mon. Mar. 9                                                                            Mon. Mar. 8
CBC 658     CTV 1108                                                           CBC 623      CTV 1350
Tues. Mar. 10                                                                         Tues. Mar. 9
CBC 833     CTV 1023                                                          CBC 645      CTV 1426
Wed. Mar. 11                                                                          Wed. Mar. 10
CBC 832     CTV 1273                                                          CBC 709      CTV 1618
Thurs. Mar. 12                                                                      Thurs. Mar. 11
CBC 728     CTV 1045                                                         CBC 669       CTV 1663
Fri. Mar. 13                                                                            Fri. Mar. 12
CBC 727     CTV 881                                                            CBC 551      CTV 1269
Mon. Mar. 16                                                                         Mon. Mar. 15
CBC 742     CTV 940                                                           CBC 705      CTV 1481
Tues. Mar. 17                                                                        Tues. Mar. 16
CBC 754     CTV 974                                                           CBC 548      CTV 1456
Wed. Mar. 18                                                                        Wed. Mar. 17
CBC 953     CTV 1141                                                         CBC 714      CTV1382
Thurs. Mar. 19                                                                     Thurs. Mar. 18
CBC 933     CTV 1221                                                         CBC 778      CTV 1374
Fri. Mar. 20                                                                          Fri. Mar. 19
CBC 623     CTV 898                                                          CBC 595       CTV 1161
Mon. Mar. 23                                                                      Mon. Mar. 22
CBC 837     CTV 1107                                                       CBC 635      CTV 1308
Tues. Mar. 24                                                                      Tues. Mar. 23
CBC 875     CTV 1027                                                       CBC 462      CTV 1341
Wed. Mar. 25                                                                       Wed. Mar. 24
CBC 826     CTV 1162                                                         CBC 778      CTV 1240
Thurs. Mar. 26                                                                    Thurs. Mar. 25
CBC 900     CTV 1110                                                        CBC 722      CTV 1238
Fri. Mar. 27                                                                          Fri. Mar. 26
CBC 735     CTV 882                                                          CBC 545      CTV 1101
Mon. Mar. 30                                                                      Mon. Mar. 29
CBC 680     CTV 1097                                                       CBC 936       CTV 1119
Tues. Mar. 31                                                                      Tues. Mar. 30
CBC 930     CTV 921                                                          CBC 645       CTV 1219
Wed. Apr. 1                                                                         Wed. Mar. 31
CBC 849     CTV 1025                                                      CBC 634       CTV 1347

It is pretty obvious from the numbers, The National is getting killed since the new format kicked in. Only five times in three months did the newscast have higher ratings than one year earlier, this even though the people meters have buoyed the numbers of all the big networks. Only once did the rating approach the million mark, this was after the second night of the Don Cherry movie. All in all, a most dismal showing. At this point it is fair to question the changes made at The National and the people responsible for those changes. Anywhere else in the real world the people behind this sort of failure would be looking for new jobs.

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Filed under: Media Commentary, , ,

2 Responses

  1. I,N. Sider says:

    In response to feedback we have gathered over the past few months we are making some structural changes to our assignment complex which, among other things, will merge our current Planning and Daily assignment desks. These changes begin Tuesday, May 25th.

    Beginning that day, our domestic assignment producers will be handling smaller geographic areas, but tackling a wider range of responsibilities. These responsibilities include daily and short term planning across radio, television, and cbcnews.ca.

    We will adjust the staffing and boundaries of these areas as we gain experience with the new structure, but the breakdown for our Assignment Producers beginning Tuesday is as follows:

    Linda Kelly and Vaune Davis / British Columbia and Alberta

    Michael DSouza / Saskatchewan, Manitoba, The North

    David Tweedie and Allison Brachman / Ontario

    Phil Park and Rita Tonelli/ Quebec and Atlantic Canada

    They will be working with Senior Producers Brenda Murray and Ian Kalushner

    The group can continue to be reached at 6301 in Toronto.

    On the foreign side, we will also be dividing areas of responsibility. Karen OLeary will be doing multi-platform assignment in the United States and South America. Brien Christie will do the same in the rest of the world. They will be working with Senior Producer David Taylor.

    On the weekends we will continue our current radio structure with Jeff Brown assigning for weekend programs, and Harmen Meinders assigning for television and cbcnews.ca.

    Cathy Perry and Greg Reaume will oversee this combined daily and short term planning desk. They will also supervise a small team that will continue to do long term planning for larger events and elections.

    Also beginning May 25th, our Content Units will be put together under a single assignment producer, Pat Onysko. Pat will be on leave until September and Carrie Schipper (5716) will step in until then. Joanne McPherson will now manage the units. Senior Producer Sandra Varanesi will also work with Joanne, organizing our multi-platform projects and series. And Joanne will continue to manage the Live Now desk.

    Assignment structures in our Parliamentary Bureau will remain the same.

    We hope these changes move us toward a streamlined operation with clear lines of responsibility and communication, and fewer points of contact for our network reporters and producers. It is also designed to help move the focus of discussion from process, to content.

    We also hope the smaller geographic focus of our domestic assignment producers will help create a more functional and efficient two-way relationship with the centres. Our assignment producers in Toronto will work as a team with their regional counterparts to create coverage plans designed to benefit both our local and network programs and platforms. This stronger relationship, combined with the further integration of the desk, is in keeping with our larger one news strategy for CBC.

    We will be announcing and implementing more changes over the next six months, as part of an ongoing process of evaluating how our new integrated assignment complex is functioning.

    Thanks for your help (and patience!) as we continue to evolve and strengthen the Hub.

    Jonathan Whitten
    Executive Director of News Content
    CBC News

  2. In response to feedback we have gathered over the past few months we are making some structural changes to our assignment complex which, among other things, will merge our current Planning and Daily assignment desks. These changes begin Tuesday, May 25th.

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