Before her ouster as anchor of CTV National News this week, Lisa LaFlamme presided over one of the most-watched newscasts in Canada, whose ratings significantly outpaced competitors – raising questions about the rationale presented by CTV’s parent company, Bell Media, which referred to the abrupt change as a business decision.
Information about TV ratings in Canada is limited, but the ratings service Numeris publishes a list of the top 30 programs each week that shows CTV’s 11 p.m. newscast consistently drawing hundreds of thousands of viewers.
For example, during the most recent week of results published by Numeris, from Aug. 1 to 7, CTV National News recorded an average minute audience of 886,000 people. (Average minute audience is a measurement Numeris uses to gauge the average number of viewers over the age of 2 who watched a show during any given minute.)
That result ranked the 11 p.m. newscast only behind other CTV news broadcasts, such as the cumulative results for the network’s 6 p.m. local newscasts, which drew 1.2 million viewers by average minute audience that same week, and CTV Evening News Weekend, which drew just over one million viewers by the same measure.
By comparison, CTV’s closest competitor in the ratings, Global’s 5:30 p.m. News Hour program, drew an average minute audience of 588,000 that same week, and Global National drew 562,000. CBC’s The National did not appear in the top 30 programs list.
While ratings vary from week to week, the trends are largely stable, with CTV topping viewership rankings compared with other newscasts.
Ms. LaFlamme departs CTV after 35 years with the network and more than 10 years as the face of its national newscast. The news became public on Monday, after Ms. LaFlamme posted a farewell video on Twitter. In the video, she explained that she was told on June 29 the network was ending her contract, and said she was “shocked and saddened” by the move.
In a statement on Monday, Bell Media said that CTV national affairs correspondent Omar Sachedina will replace Ms. LaFlamme on Sept. 5. The statement cited “changing viewer habits,” and said it would be taking the show and the role of chief anchor “in a different direction.”
Bell Media spokespeople did not respond to questions from The Globe and Mail on Tuesday asking for more details on the business rationale for the move, in light of the ratings numbers.
“All news outlets have been under pressure, because of the evolution of digital media,” said Gord Hendren, the managing director in Canada for global market research company YouGov, who has studied media consumption trends in Canada for many years. “But the fact that it [CTV’s newscast] outperforms its peers definitely raises questions.”
CTV National News ratings have fallen slightly this year on a month-over-month basis, from numbers consistently over one million viewers from January through March, to average minute audiences above 900,000 throughout April, and above 800,000 from May through early August. But it is not clear how this performance stacks up against seasonal trends in previous years. Numeris publishes top 30 ratings data on its website only as far back as Aug. 30, 2021, making it difficult to compare ratings year over year.
There is no question that viewership habits are changing – even though CTV’s ratings led the country’s newscasts. Recent research from the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, which surveyed more than 2,000 Canadians, found that TV has been declining as a source of news – falling from 71 per cent of respondents who reported watching TV news in 2016 to 58 per cent this year.
“It is hard to imagine taking the face of the brand and tossing it overboard,” said Janice Neil, an associate professor with Toronto Metropolitan University’s journalism school, who spent more than two decades as a broadcast news reporter and producer.
She cited the Oxford survey, whose respondents rated CTV highest among English-language news organizations in terms of trust. “Lisa is the face of it. … In an era when every media organization is so concerned about building trust with their brand, when you have it, you want to hold on to it.”
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