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Sun News Network to devote more hours to opinion-based journalism

The television news studio at Sun News in Toronto, August 8, 2013.

j.p. moczulski The Globe and Mail

Sun News Network is hitting the reset button.

The money-losing network wants less repetitive news and more analysis, and will dedicate more of its daytime hours to opinion-based journalism in a bid to differentiate itself from news channels operated by CTV and CBC. The format change will see its daytime hosts talking about breaking news rather than repeating it, and is intended to attract new subscribers and help rescue the network from continued losses.

"We basically want our opinion to be more opinionated and our news to be newsier," said Kory Teneycke, vice-president at Sun News. "When we're going to a reporter to update a story, we only want to hear from them if there's something new to contribute."

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Its prime-time lineup, which is already tilted heavily toward comment and didn't concern itself with breaking news, will be modified to include several news updates an hour.

The two-year-old Sun News is counting on Canada's broadcast regulator to follow through on changes it proposed earlier this year that would ensure the channel is offered to any Canadian with a television subscription who wants to have it on their dial.

"We delayed doing a revamp until we were sure what we wanted to do and had some clarity in terms of what the regulatory environment might look like," he said.

The channel is available in about 40 per cent of Canadian homes, but has struggled for viewers. More availability could save the channel, which is losing about $18.5-million a year as it tries to build its audience, because it could negotiate higher rates with the country's television providers and also charge more for advertisements.

The changes could be made by the end of the year, and were announced as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission rejected Sun News' request to be included on basic cable earlier this year. They also include a plan to ensure all news channels are close to each other on the dial.

Mr. Teneycke said many of the channel's viewers tend to leave the channel on through the day, which makes a shift toward an all-talk format reasonable. It's also a format embraced by large U.S. networks such as Fox News and MSNBC – not to mention hundreds of AM radio stations across North America.

The format change isn't yet complete, and will be rolling out over the next several months. Its daytime plans are locked in, with the day broken into two-hour chunks hosted by current Sun News hosts Pat Boland and Alex Pierson, Toronto Sun comment editor Adrienne Batra and Newstalk 1010's Jerry Agar.

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"We believe this format is going to leave viewers feeling better informed and it will eliminate a lot of repeated material that happens through the daytime," Mr. Teneycke said. "Repetition is an audience killer."

There are still questions about its prime-time lineup, however, but long-term rejigging likely won't happen until early in the new year. In the meantime, the network is exploring its options and asking viewers to complete a questionnaire in which they rate each host and guest contributor. It is also asking whether they are interested in seeing the channel produce documentaries, a national morning show, a business show, a U.S. politics show or live overnight programming.

"I would say we knew what we wanted to going in," he said of the channel's long-term vision. "But it's one thing to know what you want and another thing to figure out how to do it."

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