Conventional wisdom may hold that TV news anchors don't much matter to viewers any more, but the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation stuck a thumb in the eye of that belief on Tuesday, unveiling an unprecedented four hosts for its flagship English-language news program, The National.
Adrienne Arsenault, Rosemary Barton, Andrew Chang and Ian Hanomansing will be the new faces of a revamped National when it launches on Nov. 6, taking over from Peter Mansbridge. The changes to the program will include the rollout of new freestanding National-branded segments airing throughout the day on CBC News Network and on digital platforms, as well as a broadcast that will air live in each Canadian time zone at 10 p.m., from studios in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.
With Mr. Mansbridge's departure, CBC believes it has an opportunity to overhaul a show that in many ways still feels the same as it has for decades, if not 29 years, which is how long Mr. Mansbridge held the anchor chair. Though the broadcaster says it reaches 13 million Canadians online every month, its flagship news program remains primarily a creature of television.
"The big strategic question for this show was, what does a nighttime marquee television show need to do in a continuous news environment?" Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor-in-chief of CBC News, said in an interview with The Globe.
"We still see it as a guided and curated experience," she added. "The anchor is the primary relationship with the audience, and they do matter immensely."
In the case of the four anointed successors to Mr. Mansbridge, they also come with strong personalities that could make the show a unique challenge for producers – a topic of conversation within CBC as the derby for the anchor jobs heated up over the past few months.
In tapping the four, the public broadcaster sought to blend strength in international, domestic and political reporting with a gender-balanced cast that also, as Ms. McGuire noted during the announcement, "needed to reflect our country."
How they will be used will depend on the news agenda of any given day. Ms. Arsenault and Mr. Hanomansing will be based in Toronto, Ms. Barton in Ottawa and Mr. Chang in Vancouver. During a broadcast, one or two may be in studio, while the others may be reporting from the field or off working on longer stories. Or they may hand off one to the other, like a daisy chain, as the show cycles through a series of main stories. Hosts will also have regular features connected to them similar to Mr. Mansbridge's At Issue discussion panel.
Ms. McGuire said the new National operation will include stories that only appear online and also experiment with new digital products, such as a podcast, newsletter and different social media strategies.
While some evening news broadcasts have had multiple hosts who reported from the field – after Peter Jennings's death, ABC News tapped Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas in December, 2015, to host its flagship show, but Mr. Woodruff was injured in a roadside bomb in Iraq the following month – Ms. McGuire noted there are no current models for what CBC is attempting.
In an interview after the announcement, Heather Conway, the executive vice-president of CBC English-language services, argued the television ratings for The National, which is the only one-hour nighttime news program airing on a Canadian broadcast network, are solid. (Last season, the show averaged about 866,000 viewers per night across the main network and airings on CBC News Network. CTV National News pulled in about 1.1-million viewers for a 30-minute broadcast at 11 p.m.)
"In a world of short-form snappy content, I think it's actually a testament to the audience," Ms. Conway said.
She anticipated the transition would have its challenges, just as CBC experienced blowback from viewers in 2009 when Mr. Mansbridge began anchoring the show while standing. "It's always lumpy. People forget, when Peter stood instead of sitting, there was a dip in the audience. It recovered, but there was a dip – from something that small."
Ms. McGuire acknowledged wrangling the strong wills of her new team will be a unique challenge for the show. "We had very explicit conversations with everybody up front, and assessing how they fit together as a team was part of our assessment process," she said. "We're pretty confident we can make it work. But it'll get managed as well."
The announcement was made in the atrium of CBC's Broadcasting Centre headquarters in downtown Toronto to a standing-room-only crowd of cheering CBC employees. Speculation about who might get the nod had been simmering for months, fuelled in part by a February report in a Trinidadian newspaper that said Mr. Hanomansing would land the job, and another in HuffPost in June reporting there would be three anchors.
In an uncharacteristically playful move, Ms. McGuire appeared to bring the proceedings to a close after introducing Ms. Arsenault, Ms. Barton and Mr. Chang. Then she smiled, paused, and brought Mr. Hanomansing to the stage.