Canadian TV networks bring stars to the fans in attempt to boost sagging ratings

If you can’t bring the audience to the TV show, bring the TV show to the audience.

That seems to be the strategy as Canadian television struggles to survive the current upheaval in the industry.

This fall, CBC has sent stars from two of its series — “Murdoch Mysteries” and “Kim’s Convenience” — to various Canadian cities in an attempt to strengthen connections with their viewers. The live audience response has been encouraging. More than 700 fans lined up to see “Murdoch” stars Yannick Bisson and Helene Joy last Sunday at the Vancouver Police Museum. In the same city, 1,200 people recently jammed a sold-out screening with the cast of “Kim’s Convenience.”

For “Murdoch,” catering to its loyal fan base is paying off. The Monday night drama returned to 1,227,000 total viewers for its 11th season premiere.

For all shows made in Canada, it’s is clear that reaching out to viewers has become more important than ever. The clutter of competition, especially on streaming services is steadily chipping away at the broadcast television audience.

The erosion seems more apparent than ever this fall. In English Canada, based on the first three weeks of the season, the total available TV audience among broadcasters CBC, CTV, City and Global is down eight per cent year-to-year. Among viewers aged 25 to 54, a demographic advertisers covet the most, the drop is 12 per cent in all day parts, according to Numeris, which measures TV viewership in Canada.

This mirrors similar declines to start this season among American broadcasters. Even NFL viewership has been thrown for a nine per cent loss year-to-year in the United States.

In the United States, this is the fifth straight yearly decline. Viewers have migrated by the millions to less expensive streaming services such as Netflix. They are, in turn, “cord cutting” the old link to cable and satellite providers. According to one recent report, as much as 22 per cent of the U.S. population is now “cordless.”

The unusually warm weather in parts of Canada has also likely contributed to the drop. Some viewers are simply enjoying the outdoors while they can.

All of these factors are making the perennial challenge of bringing Canadian content to Canadian viewers even more difficult.

For example: Rogers-owned City introduced the limited run drama “Bad Blood” in September. Boasting an all-star cast of Canadians and Americans, including Kim Coates, Anthony LaPaglia, Paul Sorvino and Enrico Colantoni, the Thursday night drama has received rave reviews from critics.

Overnight ratings, however, were disappointing. “Bad Blood” drew just 209,000 viewers across Canada in Week 1 and 216,000 the second week.

The series, however, saw the premiere receive a 31 per cent lift in total audience once ratings gathered over a seven day period were added.

A similar bounce occurred for CBC’s new Monday night drama “Alias Grace.” The series, based on a novel by Margaret Atwood, launched to 442,000 overnight viewers on Sept. 25. The total audience counted over a seven day period jumped 45 per cent to 636,000 viewers.

The second year comedy “Kim’s Convenience,” which has stiff timeslot competition up against popular imports “Bull” and “This is Us,” had a so-so overnight tally upon its return: 516,000 viewers. That audience jumped nearly 50 per cent to 757,000 viewers once the PVR and streaming numbers were added, with 43 per cent being in the sought-after 25-54-year-old range.

That total number is down from “Kim’s” average audience from a year ago, but so are audience numbers for just about every single show, domestic or import, on every Canadian network this fall.

Sally Catto, CBC’s general manager of programming, said she’s OK with Canadians watching imports live and Canadian shows later on their PVRs.

“It doesn’t matter to me when they watch it,” she says. “I don’t think we can afford or expect audiences to tune in anymore just on that old-fashioned, linear schedule timeline.”

— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

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