Shaw Communications Inc. is pitching a new 24-hour news channel with a flexible mix of national and local news, hoping to make its local Global networks more financially viable.
The company's broadcasting division, Shaw Media, has applied to the federal broadcast regulator for a license to launch Global News 1. It is envisioned as an all-news channel to compete with other around-the-clock networks like CTV News Channel and CBC News Network, catering to audiences that have grown less patient about waiting for evening newscasts.
But the proposed Global channel, which could launch in late 2016 if approved, comes with a key difference: Its hourly newscasts would be a mixture of national news and programming fed in from local stations. And it would be able to adapt to breaking news in one community by locking the local signal onto coverage of that event, while the rest of its viewers would stay with country-wide programming.
"This is not another national news channel," said Troy Reeb, senior vice-president for Global News and station operations at Shaw Media. "... What we're proposing to do is to shift that local weight to a specialty service that will provide a mix of local, national and international stories around the clock."
Conventional TV stations have struggled to cover their costs as advertising revenues have sagged across the system. But if Shaw's application succeeds, Global News 1 would launch as a paid specialty channel, likely as part of a bundle of networks but also on a standalone basis, modelled after Shaw's existing BC 1 channel.
In some aspects, the proposal doubles down on the value of local news to viewers. Shaw is pledging to create eight new bureaus of perhaps six employees each in under-covered communities from Fort McMurray and Red Deer, to Quebec City and Charlottetown. But in the coming years, it is also possible that more of Global's local programming could shift from its conventional stations to the paid network, which would draw subscriber fees as well as ad dollars.
"I wouldn't anticipate any significant changes in the short term," Mr. Reeb said, but added that over time, Global would need to decide "what is the right amount of local programming on which service."
Shaw currently operates Global stations in 12 cities. And in addition to adding eight bureaus, it plans to offer eight independent stations in cities like Kamloops, B.C. and Thunder Bay, Ont. the chance to contribute their programming onto the new Global all-news network. The independent channel would keep the proceeds from local ad sales for those programs, while Shaw would reap revenues from national ad sales and subscriber fees.
The channel promises to be a logistical challenge. It will have news tickers with sports and weather information that are locally tailored, and will make programming decisions about when to switch any given market to all-local coverage.
"We have our work cut out for us," Mr. Reeb said. But it will allow global to offer comprehensive breaking news coverage not only of major national or world events, but also of developments that are of major interest to an audience in Saskatoon, for example.
"Local will come first," Mr. Reeb said.
The new channel will need investment to get off the ground, with a gradual plan to hire as many as 100 new people. To make the math work, Global News 1 will need a large audience of subscribers.
But if it can fuse "cost-effective" new ways of covering breaking local events with a new revenue stream from subscriber fees, Shaw hopes it can make news reporting in more than two dozen communities sustainable.
"There's a whole lot of news organizations that are wondering how they can keep the lights on now," Mr. Reeb said.