Shaw Communications Inc. plans to launch a 24-hour channel focused on British Columbia, a model it could roll out in other provinces if it finds local advertisers are willing to pay space on the regional broadcast.
Shaw, through the Global News division it acquired from CanWest Global Communications Corp. in 2010, is already a dominant player in the province's news industry. It produces about 17 hours a day of news, and will add staff to fill the other seven hours if the CRTC approves its specialty channel application.
And while many large media companies have seen advertising revenues shrink in the last year as companies reduce their marketing budgets, Shaw Media's senior director of national news, Kenton Boston, said smaller local companies seem willing to buy airtime on a more targeted channel.
"There's a difference if you're out of New York and Toronto or in a local market," he said, adding that the model could be considered in other provinces if it proves successful.
"Advertisers seem very interested in what a news channel could provide. And I'm not talking about big spenders – more like buying ads on a ticker or something small."
Cable and telecommunications companies across the country are scrambling to develop the type of exclusive content that will keep customers loyal – and Shaw is betting that if it develops a news network focused on the province and makes it available not only on television sets but also mobile devices, it will have one more way to entice its subscribers to stick around.
That's one of the main drivers behind the sale of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment to Rogers Communications Inc. and BCE Inc. – owning things that people want to watch. And since they own the digital rights to the content they produce, they can differentiate themselves in the ever-important mobile market.
"These companies are pretty much all the same," said Greg MacDonald, an analyst at Macquarie Securities. "They all put big pipes into your house – and your hands – that can deliver content. The pipes are becoming commodities, so they want to develop little niches that they can own the digital rights to, so they can personalize the customer's experience, keep them around and maintain pricing power."
Shaw said Wednesday it had filed an application with the CRTC to run the channel, adding it would like to start broadcasting by the summer. The CRTC confirmed the application, but said it would not be made public until it called for public consultation. It didn't provide a timeline.
Shaw didn't release many programming details, other than saying that it would use the existing Global B.C.'s staff to cover more live events and produce local content. Mr. Boston added the company would need to hire new journalists and production staff . The company said it wants to build "on the 50-year legacy of news and community service at Global B.C." by broadcasting 24 hours a day on "local, national and international headlines."
Anchor Jill Krop is expected to host a prime time talk show, the only solid programming note announced Wednesday.
While evening talk shows may take a page from another recently introduced 24-hour news channel in Sun News Network, Shaw's regional focus make it a different undertaking than Quebecor Inc.'s national effort.
Since most of the infrastructure is already in place, Shaw will sidestep many of the startup costs incurred by Sun News Network, whose launch helped drag down profit at parent company Quebecor's broadcasting division by 77 per cent in its third quarter.
And Shaw has committed viewers in place, Ryerson University journalism professor Janice Neil said.
"They are the killers in terms of their newscasts," she said. "And this is just intensifying what they already do. This is something that could really work, given the strong regional identity in the province."