Last month’s much-publicized departures of popular Breakfast Television personalities in Toronto and Vancouver are part of a broader refresh of City’s popular morning brand, says a senior broadcast executive with parent company Rogers Media.
In April, City announced three on-air personalities, including BT Toronto’s Jennifer Valentyne and BT Vancouver’s Jody Vance, were no longer with the company. Their departures prompted an outcry on social media, with fans taking to BT’s Facebook page to express their dissatisfaction.
Colette Watson, vice-president of TV and broadcast operations for Rogers, said the personnel changes were the result of a decision to eliminate BT’s long-standing “Live Eye” segments, while increasing its newsgathering capabilities and its presence in the community.
Watson said the approach had already paid off, pointing out that BT Montreal reporter Domenic Fazioli first broke the story that convicted schoolgirl killer Karla Homolka was living in a Montreal bedroom community.
Watson said City tried unsuccessfully to find another on-air role for Valentyne, who had been with BT for 23 years. “It wasn’t how we planned to do it,” she said. “We had hoped for something more transitional, but it didn’t work out.”
Remote segments typically account for 28 minutes of BT’s three-and-a-half hour run time, said Watson. She said the plan going forward was to incorporate more locales in any given day. “We’re going to explore Toronto and the [Greater Toronto Area] in a more innovative way and cover a broader track if you will,” said Watson. “Instead of doing one place for 28 minutes, I’m going to go to four places.”
She also said future remote segments could be tailored to individual BT personalities. A Toronto segment from the National Home Show, for example, might feature Frankie Flowers, while BT Toronto co-hosts Kevin Frankish and Dina Pugliese could be called on to deliver segments from more prestigious events. “We’re actually going to make remotes more prestigious,” said Watson.
The public outcry and extensive media coverage that greeted Valentyne’s departure, as well as the U.S. media frenzy surrounding Michael Strahan’s recent decision to leave ABC’s Live! With Kelly and Michael for a new role with Good Morning America, underscores the continued importance of morning shows to broadcasters.
“It’s big business; it’s important advertising” Watson confirmed. Indeed, a recent report by the L.A. Times on Strahan’s departure called morning TV “the most lucrative day part in the [U.S.] network TV business,” attracting a reported US$1 billion in national advertising revenue each year.
Janice Smith, VP of national media sales for Rogers, said BT operates in a sell-out position for the “majority” of the year, with Rogers continuing to add new advertising categories through “evergreen sponsorship opportunities” including weather, traffic and BT celebrations.
Smith said travel continued to be a “priority category” for the program both from a media and integration perspective. “The power of BT allows us to be flexible and open with partners,” she said.
Watson told Marketing that BT remained “wide open” to advertiser integration, reiterating the program’s long-standing approach. “If they’ve got ideas, we’re open,” she said. “In this day and age the television industry has to work with our advertisers. We have to work with them and be a little more proactive with respect to that.”
Tim Horton’s recently signed a two-year deal as BT’s official coffee sponsor, replacing the show’s former partner Maxwell House and, according to Watson, beating out Starbucks for exposure during those prime coffee-drinking hours.
The coffee chain’s return as a BT sponsor prompted a nearly three-minute discussion on a February episode, with co-host Dina Pugliese talking about how she takes her coffee (double double with milk: “It’s the way to go,” she explained) and BT personality Kevin Frankish extolling the chain’s virtues.
“Having them as a sponsor is so easy, simply because they have worked their way into the [Canadian lexicon],” he said. “People don’t just go for a coffee in Canada – they go for a Tim’s.”
Smith said BT’s integrated partnerships includes product placement, contesting, new media, live remotes and “organic” integration with partners (BT hosts, for example, now drink out of Tim Horton’s branded mugs). The introduction of the online BT Extra, she said, also provides advertisers with a second-screen experience.
Watson said BT is now “firmly Canada’s #1 morning show,” having taken over the ratings lead last fall. According to Numeris numbers supplied by Rogers, BT reaches 1.75 million Canadians each week, and has grown its key adult 25-54 audience 9% in the past year.
Watson said City’s senior management is currently “brainstorming” ways to ensure the show maintains its ratings lead, but stressed there would be no radical overhaul of its format. “There will be no huge transformation,” said Watson. “I’d be crazy to break this thing, so everything will be evolutionary.”
Marketing and MarketingMag.ca are also owned by Rogers Media.