Rogers Media Inc. president Keith Pelley took to the stage at Toronto's Canon Theatre on Monday with a message aimed as much at his competitors as at his audience.
"It seems some people are taking notice of us," Mr. Pelley told the crowd of ad buyers, who had gathered to see CITY-TV's programming lineup for the fall season.
Indeed, if one theme stood out on the day that Rogers Media made its "upfront" presentation of new shows, it is the growing rivalry between CTV and CITY-TV.
The day began with BCE Inc. announcing that it will rebrand its A Channel stations as CTV Two, extending their reach to 89 per cent of viewers in English Canada. In its release, CTV took shots at CITY's ratings, and referred to its secondary network as a "strong contender for Canada's fourth network," suggesting it is attempting to position the new CTV Two as a rival to the network owned by Rogers Communications Inc.
CTV has been watching the smaller network's growth: Rogers says ad spending on CITY increased 300 per cent in prime time last year. And Rogers spent more aggressively on programming this year during the negotiations with Hollywood studios, Bell Media president Kevin Crull said in an interview last week.
"It's flattering," Mr. Pelley said in an interview, referring to the attention Bell Media gave to CITY-TV in its announcement. "But we're focusing on ourselves, and focusing on getting better."
Still, Rogers Media fired its own shot on Monday, with an announcement that it will launch a new specialty all-news network, CityNews Channel, in October. The channel will start out with a focus on Toronto, which puts the station in direct competition with Bell Media's CP24, a Toronto-focused all-news cable channel.
Before the CityNews channel licence was granted in December, 2008, then-owner of CP24, CTVglobemedia Inc., complained to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission that such a channel would compete too directly with CP24. The CRTC disagreed. That same year, it opened up news and sports channels in Canada to more competition, saying those genres were robust enough to tolerate new players.
The cable all-news channel format is now expanding rapidly in Canada. In April, Quebecor Inc. launched its own English-language 24-hour news channel, Sun News, which aims to challenge existing networks CBC News Network and CTV News Channel with more opinionated, right-leaning coverage.
Rogers already runs a 24-hour news radio station - 680 News - in markets such as Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver, and broadcasts local TV newscasts on CITY-TV stations across the country. It also publishes weekly news magazine Maclean's and other magazines such as Hello! Canada and Today's Parent. Existing staff at all those brands will be expected to do on-air news reports or commentary on the new station. Sports news will come from Rogers Sportsnet staff. The business plan for the CityNews launch calls for hiring fewer than 25 people.
"When you start talking about integration, it started to make sense," president of Rogers Broadcasting, Scott Moore, said in an interview Monday.
CP24 was originally launched in the 1990s by CITY-TV's former owner, CHUM Ltd., before it was bought by CTVglobemedia and the CITY stations sold off to Rogers, in 2007.
"This isn't something that's new for us," Mr. Pelley said. "We have the history of City News Everywhere, and we thought, let's start with Toronto and, fingers crossed, we'll expand across the country."
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