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Report On Business Bloomberg channel to come to Canadian TV, but profit uncertain

Bloomberg LP founder Michael R. Bloomberg and Channel Zero president Cal Millar.

Bloomberg

With plans to launch a new business news channel in Canada, Bloomberg LP is making a bold bet on a profitable but uncertain corner of the television market.

The new network, Bloomberg TV Canada, is set to launch in mid-2015, based in downtown Toronto. It is a partnership with Channel Zero Inc., an independent media company with experience in news that also owns a suite of specialty channels.

On many TV packages, the revamped channel will effectively replace the existing Bloomberg Television, an American feed broadcast into Canada. At launch, it will have about 35-per-cent Canadian content supplemented with programs from the United States, produced from a Toronto studio high above Bay Street. The Canadian segments will consist of regular news updates, Toronto Stock Exchange coverage and evening newscasts built around interviews.

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It is also intended to draw heavily on Bloomberg's 146 bureaus worldwide, including 30 staff across six Canadian outposts, generating content to cross-pollinate a range of platforms and screens online and on TV. And as demand for digital news increases, it remains to be seen how long TV business coverage can hold the attention of its core audience of investors and business professionals.

"It's the $64-billion question for the industry," said Jack Fleischmann, a former general manager at the incumbent Business News Network (BNN), Bloomberg TV's closest Canadian competitor.

Bloomberg is expecting to launch its new venture as a Canadian specialty channel, joining a segment of the TV dial that is decidedly unsure of its future profitability. The federal broadcast regulator is set to rule next month on whether to unbundle cable and satellite packages and allow viewers more freedom to choose which channels they pay for, a move that many networks worry could cost them large swaths of paying subscribers.

Business news ratings can also be cyclical, "fluctuating depending on whether the economy's in really good shape, in bad shape, [or] the bottom is falling out of the market," said Christopher Waddell, Carty Chair in Business and Financial Journalism at Carleton University.

In the U.S., dedicated business networks on television have seen their ratings falter. In 2014, American leader CNBC had its worst year for viewership since 1995, with its average audience between 9:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. down 13 per cent year-over-year to 177,000 people, as it struggles to tailor a winning format.

So far in Canada, BNN's performance has been relatively stable. It had nearly 6.4 million subscribers and $14-million in pretax profit in 2013, even as its advertising revenues dipped, in line with the industry trend. (BNN's parent company, Bell Media, is owned by BCE Inc., which also owns 15 per cent of The Globe and Mail).

"It's got a relatively small audience, but it's a loyal audience and it's a very good audience," Mr. Fleischmann said. "You know you're getting a certain demographic … so it's valuable in that sense."

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Roughly 70 per cent of BNN's audience is thought to be retail investors – including executives with personal portfolios – and most of the rest are financial professionals, Mr. Fleischmann said.

Bloomberg is gambling that it can grab a larger slice of that demographic, drawing viewers to the new network through its widely used financial terminals and covering news on issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline with a more global outlook. "It's an international story and we can tell that story from the various angles in a way that really nobody else can right now," said David Scanlan, managing editor of Bloomberg Canada.

To come out on top, both Canadian networks know they need to attract business leaders not only as viewers, but as guests. With the nuts and bolts of business news now accessible within milliseconds online, there is a premium on getting insight from CEOs and insiders.

"The interesting potential for them is if they can use the channel to become the platform to which people in business are speaking to the market," Mr. Waddell said.

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