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Sun News 'ahead of where we thought we'd be'

Kory Teneycke

HO/REUTERS

A year ago this month, Kory Teneycke stood up at the announcement of Quebecor Inc. 's plans to launch the Sun News Network with some fighting words for the other 24-hour news channels in Canada.

"Canadian TV news today is narrow, it's complacent, and it's politically correct. It's bland and boring. … We'll be different," he vowed.

Nearly two months after the launch of the network, Mr. Teneycke, vice-president of Sun News, offered a glimpse into how the fight to build a "different" all-news station is going so far

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Ratings for the first six weeks of the network, which began broadcasting April 18, show that Sun News draws roughly one-third the number of viewers attracted to CTV News Channel, and about 18 per cent of the audience size for the CBC News Network. This is based on numbers from BBM Canada, which tracks television ratings, showing the average number of people tuning in during any given minute of a broadcast.

The audience number for Sun News is, on average, 12,900 viewers. In the target demographic of viewers its advertisers are most often trying to reach - adults aged 25 to 54 - Sun News reaches an average of roughly 4,000 viewers.

"We're very pleased with where we are right now. We're ahead of where we thought we'd be," Mr. Teneycke said in an interview.

One of the big issues Quebecor executives are working on is deals for cable and satellite companies to carry the station. Sun News currently has agreements with Quebecor-owned Vidéotron Ltée, as well as Shaw Communications Inc. Sun News is also available on Rogers cable, but is still on a free trial basis and is not yet receiving subscriber revenues. The rest of its reach depends on the fact that Quebecor is broadcasting the feed on its free over-the-air station in the Toronto-area.

While Quebecor executives are encouraged that Sun News's ratings are on average higher than those of Business News Network, it is not directly comparable given that BNN is a niche, business-driven channel while Sun aims to cover general news and offer opinion shows in prime time.

"They're tracking okay. I don't think the other stations at this point have anything to worry about," said Sunni Boot, chief executive officer of ad buyer ZenithOptimedia. "I like the idea that they're there … I'm a buyer, I want more sellers. I'm a buyer of news, I want more sellers of news. It's important to the viewer, it's important to the advertiser."

News channels are currently seeing a boost in ad revenues, as advertisers tend to buy slightly more in the summer months when non-repeat other programming is more scarce. But Dennis Dinga, vice-president and director of broadcast investments for media buyer Universal McCann Canada, said he won't be looking for space on Sun News. He has not sold the channel to his clients.

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"I've recommended against it, because of the quality," he said. "The whole look and feel of the station is lower quality. It's nowhere near CTV and CBC."

Quebecor executives say the entire point of Sun News is that it is not CTV or CBC - and they want to attract viewers who are not watching cable news, even more than they want to draw audience share from those competitors. The channel aims for a talk-radio feel, executives say, and on-air personalities are encouraged to build their profile with that audience by appearing regularly as guests on talk-radio shows across the country.

"We're trying to attract people who are not attracted to people who are not interested in the product on the air," said Luc Lavoie, senior adviser to Quebecor CEO Pierre-Karl Péladeau. "There is no real transfer of audience from one to the other. We're building something new."

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