CHCH turns 60, launches viewer rewards program

Purchased by Channel Zero in 2009, the Hamilton station finds new life as an independent.

On the brink of forced retirement just five years ago, Hamilton’s CHCH has found new life since being acquired by Toronto broadcaster Channel Zero for a reported $12—plus assumed debt—in 2009.

On the eve of its 60th anniversary (the station first began broadcasting on June 7, 1954 as a CBC affiliate), CHCH has launched a new viewer loyalty program called, appropriately, CH-CHing!

The free program has attracted a blend of advertisers, including car dealerships (Hamilton Hyundai and Parkway Nissan), regional attractions like Wild Water Kingdom, and local restaurants.

Members earn points by interacting with the CHCH brand, either by entering keywords from TV programming or watching or sharing news clips online. “It gives people points for doing what they’re already doing: watching the station, watching online video clips, commenting on stories… now we’re just rewarding them,” said Chris Fuoco, vice-president of sales and marketing for Channel Zero in Toronto.

The program is designed to move consumers between CHCH’s TV and web properties, said Fuoco. People watching the CHCH anniversary documentary 60 Years Strong on June 6, for instance, will see a keyword worth 6,000 points displayed during the program.

CH-CHing! recently emerged from a beta test for employees, friends and family, and Fuoco said Channel Zero is “really happy” with enrollment, noting that some participants have already begun redeeming some of their earned points for CHCH merchandise.

Channel Zero will use viewer insights gleaned from CH-CHing! to provide potential advertising partners with additional audience insights. “We’re going to learn a lot more about who our customers are, and that will become very attractive for advertisers,” said Fuoco.

Looking back

Channel Zero—which also operates the specialty services Rewind, Silver Screen Classics and a U.S. service called Fight Now! TV—acquired CHCH and Montreal’s CJNT (subsequently acquired by Rogers Media) in 2009.

Operating at that time as E!, the station was projected to lose $30 million in fiscal 2010, as then-owner CanWest Global Communications struggled to attract advertising in the midst of an economic downturn.

Channel Zero subsequently took the station back to its independent roots, with a heavy focus on local news complemented by a smattering of well-aged but perennial favourites like Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy and 60 Minutes.

It has slowly built its primetime schedule—with a particular emphasis on movies—to increase advertiser appeal. Movies have been a cornerstone of the CHCH schedule for decades; in 1974, it made viewers in the pre-VCR/DVD era an offer they couldn’t refuse by hosting the worldwide broadcast premiere of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 masterpiece The Godfather, a major TV coup at the time.

While today’s schedule might not exactly set advertisers’ hearts racing, it has stabilized the channel and enabled it to attract a loyal audience among adults 25-54 (shows like Heart of Dixie and The Originals do manage to attract younger female viewers, said Fuoco).

Fuoco said continued cuts to local market coverage by the major broadcast groups has opened the door for the station, which is available to more than 92% of Ontario households, to become more of a regional news station.

Channel Zero’s focus remains on the QEW corridor stretching from Toronto to Niagara Falls, the province’s second-largest TV market outside of Toronto and one that is growing rapidly.

“We’ve really stepped into that regional void, but we know where our home is,” said Fuoco. “We’ve been a heritage station in Hamilton and Niagara for 60 years, and we’re very loyal to our viewers and they are loyal to us in return.”

Fuoco said CHCH’s current incarnation hearkens back to the days when it was not affiliated with any of the major networks. “The more it’s a standalone doing its own thing, that’s when it’s at its strongest,” he said. “There was a part when it was part of a big network strategy and it suffered and struggled.”

Privately owned Channel Zero does not disclose financials, but Fuoco said CHCH is having a “solid year” in an acknowledged transition period for traditional media. “We like very much where the station’s at right now,” he said.

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