Ford, L’Oreal, other national advertisers “dipping their toes” with Saskatchewan’s newest TV player
Bluepoint Investment president and CEO Bruce Claassen spent the past year-and-a-half rebuilding a TV network armed with a BlackBerry, a laptop and his trusty black book of contacts.
The former Aegis Media Canada chairman’s hard work will come to fruition on Sept. 12 when the Saskatchewan Communications Network (SCN) is re-launched as a commercial entity – complete with a new logo, a new on-air look and a revamped schedule combining educational and cultural programming with standard TV fare such as 60 Minutes, 20/20 and Supernatural.
Bluepoint acquired SCN in July 2010 and successfully applied to the CRTC to change the channel’s conditions of license from that of a commercial-free educational and cultural broadcaster (similar to Ontario public broadcaster TVO) to a hybrid station showing a blend of educational and populist programming.
Beginning in September, SCN will air educational and cultural programming from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. (thereby enabling it to retain mandatory carriage from the province’s cable and satellite providers), but will begin airing commercial programming between 3 p.m. and midnight.
While Claassen has no illusions that the provincial broadcaster will be able to unseat incumbent broadcasters CTV, Global Television and CBC, he said SCN will create some much-needed advertising inventory in the market of 1.05 million people.
In meetings with his former counterparts in the media buying industry, Claassen heard that Saskatchewan was an under-served TV market, with inventory on the big three broadcasters often sold out.
“We’re hopeful,” said Claassen. “We know we’re the new kid on the block and we have to prove ourselves, but so far it’s going as planned.”
While SCN will cater to primarily adults 25 to 54, Claassen said the channel’s mandate in the early going is to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. “It has to settle in,” he said. “You can’t go into the market and be Spike TV when you’re SCN – that just does not work. You’ve got to settle into a groove that’s going to be pretty wide in terms of its potential appeal to people that don’t have a perception of SCN currently.”
Fuelled primarily by the potash boom, Saskatchewan is one of the country’s fastest-growing regions. In May, the Conference Board of Canada released a report indicating that the province’s two biggest markets, Saskatoon and Regina, will have the first and third-highest economic growth rates in the country this year at 4.1% and 3.1% respectively.
With Toronto-based Air Time Television Sales handling national ad sales, SCN has signed ad contracts with between 30 and 40 companies, including Ford, Chrysler, A&W Restaurants, L’Oreal and SC Johnson.
“They’re not for as much money as we’d like because we don’t have a track record,” admitted Claassen. “But they’re dipping their toes in the water. The good news is they’re willing to come to the party.”
Claassen called SCN’s programming lineup, which also features local and regional news and a daily public affairs show called 5 Days, “very respectable,” and said the company’s objective is to continue adding to its program library.
Bluepoint has also committed to spending a minimum of $1.75 million per year on Saskatchewan programs and $1 million in Saskatchewan on digital programming and content.
“The first year we’re probably not going to make any money, but that’s okay – no station makes money in the first year,” said Claassen. “We’re on the stage now and everybody knows us.”
Claassen said that Bluepoint will actively seek out other acquisition targets in “medium-sized” markets such as Regina and Saskatoon. “That’s a nice space to be in,” he said. “What we want to do is be a respectable broadcaster, and we like those mid-sized markets. The more [stations] we can find across the country that fit our criteria, the more we’ll add.
“I guess there’s a new player in town.”