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Changing channels - THE COMMENTARY

By Joseph Planta

VANCOUVER -- Tomorrow, the first of September, the local world of television in this town will be in practical disarray. No, Pamela Martinís TelePrompTer hasnít gone on the fritz, nor Tony Parsonsí make-up go missing. Nothing so severe, but it will be utter confusion for the average viewer. Channels will be switched, network allegiances will change and the average viewer will be befuddled at best.

It all started about four years ago when Bell Canada bought out Baton broadcasting in Ontario and merged it to the whole CTV network. The original alteration was just to have the CTV affiliate for the last 30 odd years BCTV (cable 11), relinquish itís affiliate status to the upstart VTV (cable 9). At the time some wondered what would become of BCTV, as it was the ratings leader in the area and much of its success was courtesy of its exclusive airing of CTV programming.

And then came the blockbuster announcement, a couple of years ago that the company that owned BCTV, and a bunch of other broadcasting holdings including radio leader CKNW, was going to divest itself of its holdings. All the radio holdings went to the Shaw company and the television holdings -- BCTV and its sister station in Victoria CHEK -- were going to the CanWest Global company; whom if you read my last column also owned a vast catalogue of newspaper holdings across the country. CanWest also owns television stations including what was Global TV (cable 13) in this town. Since BCTV was to be a CTV affiliate no more, it was natural that it would become the Global affiliate.

Why this all seems to matter is because these stations make most of their money on advertising on American sitcoms and dramas. However closely tied to all of this is the fact the local news casts dominate the ratings. Itís largely unique in Canadian television and thatís why the shifting and changing means so much here in this town.

The ratings giant is BCTV (cable 11). Its supper hour newscast, the News Hour, is anchored by the veteran Tony Parsons. His colleagues Pamela Martin and radio talk show host Bill Good -- who anchored the preceding newscasts to the News Hour, Early News and Canada Tonight, respectively -- have since fled and joined the upstart VTV, which tomorrow becomes CTV British Columbia. VTVís former newscast, Live at 6, was a perennial ratings stinker, even though it was ably anchored by Ravi Bachiwal and Brigitte Andersen. Thereís a lot of hope that with Martin and Good, CTV British Columbia will capitalise on their anchorsí history in the market. Martin spent 26 years as Parsonsí deputy at BCTV, and before Good spent 7 years at the same station, he squared off against Parsonsí anchoring the CBC newscast, back in the Ď80s when it meant something.

The CBC in this whole switch over is relatively idle. Their Canada Now newscast hosted by Ian Hanomansing and Gloria Macarenko, which was launched last year hasnít been so groundbreaking. Canada Now is a good mix of local reporting, married to a national supper hour newscast. It hasnít been able to make any exponential gains to its perpetual lagging in the ratings department.

The Global network will wade into Canada Nowís territory by launching its own national supper hour show. Global National will be hosted former ABC News personality Kevin Newman. The former Good Morning America host and Nightline contributor will host the program out of Global BCís studios. Newman launches on Labour Day.

BCTV becomes the Global affiliate and thus will change its name to Global BC. It will rob the former Global affiliate (cable 13) of the hit American shows like Will and Grace, X-Files, Friends and Survivor. What was Global until tomorrow (cable 13), will morph into ckvu 13 and will become an independent station. The station itself is affiliated with the CHUM broadcasting group, which owns cable outlets like MuchMusic and Bravo!, but because the take-over has yet to be approved by the regulatory CRTC, theyíll have to lump it for now. Their own local newscast anchored by Russ Froese and Jennifer Mather is currently second to the BCTV show, but word is that theyíre giving up the ratings fight already. Their GM George Froelich is quoted to have said that he believes that the ratings game will be dominated by the new Global BC and CTV BC, that theyíll just play a waiting game for now. Utterly preposterous, if you ask me. If youíre second and wanting to remain solvent in this cut-throat business, youíve got to keep punching and not relegate to third or fourth.

Vancouverís TV biz is buzzing, but Victoria and the Islands are burgeoning themselves. CHEK (cable 6), BCTVís sister station (thus now Global BCís station) will become CH Victoria. Because of the Global deal, CH Victoria will inherit the old Globalís (cable 13) highly popular Sports Page program. And with that, some competition. For years, those on the Islands had only CHEK as their own local station, as they had to rely on stuff from the Mainland. Now, the CHUM group will launch the New VI, a competitor to CHEK and which will be a sister station to ckvu 13 here in Greater Vancouver. The New VI will be modelled after Torontoís hip CityTv and hopefully work to bringing the Island itís own voice.

Now comes the confusing part, if it hasnít been already. With The New VI hitting the air, it needs placement on the channel line-up. Thus KVOS, a Bellingham station will get bumped and The New VI will take over KVOSí space, cable 12. KVOS will move to cable 23, which right now is the Weather Network.

And if that isnít enough, KOMO 4, the Seattle affiliate of ABC, will move to channel 21 to make way for a religious station called NowTV. Look for reruns of old shows like The Andy Griffith Show and that religious show Itís A New Day.

Itíll be interesting changes and made no less historic, by the amount of movement. The networks are hopeful that this will all be beneficial for them. With the proliferation of digital cable networks, the stations are pulling all the stops. Vancouverites have a hell of a task and the networks want to make sure they understand the mess or else their viewership will erode. It is a business after all.

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