The days of perky chefs and paternity tests are over on Omni 2. Rogers Media-owned Omni Television announced today that it plans to adopt an ethnic-only programming model for the Ontario channel beginning Monday. The switch means an additional 35 hours per week of ethnic programming and the end of English-language strip programming including the Rachael Ray Show, Maury and The New Adventures of Old Christine.
The latter two programs will migrate to Omni 2’s sister station Omni 1, but it’s the end of the line for Maury. The switch will not adversely affect Omni 1’s condition of license to maintain a 60-40 ratio of ethnic to English programming, said Madeline Ziniak, national vice-president of Omni Television.
Omni 2’s new programming model will be built around multilingual documentaries, exclusive coverage of events like the Indian Film Industry Awards and Bollywood programming, as well as nightly ethnic newscasts. The schedule also includes the multicultural documentary show Signature Series air at 7 p.m. Sunday and the U.S. reality show Shahs of Sunset.
Ziniak said that the change is largely in response to Census data released late last year, in which 1.8 million people in Toronto reported speaking a non-English language at home most often – with one third of that group speaking one of five languages: Cantonese, Punjubi, Chinese, Urdu and Tamil.
“As Omni continues to try to carve out its niche as an over-the-air broadcaster, the fact that the growing population is trending towards Asian, South Asian and pan-Asian… was a great opportunity to try to do something new to see how we could satiate the growing audiences,” said Ziniak.
The decision was also accelerated by the fact that English-language strip programming for over-the-air channels like Omni, undermined by its sheer ubiquity, is “limping a little bit,” said Ziniak.
“I think every broadcaster would say it’s been a very challenging year for English strip, and I think if it was doing fantastic we may not have accelerated towards an all-ethnic model,” she said.
The switch will also enable Omni 2 to run more multicultural newscasts in the key 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. window, said Ziniak. The Punjabi newscast, for instance, moves to 8:30 p.m. from 11 p.m. “I think we’re going to breathe new oxygen into our news programs with a key position on the schedule that makes it more convenient for individuals to choose the times they want to watch the news.”
Rogers launched Omni 2 into the Ontario market in 2002, and the channel has experienced a series of what Ziniak called “ebbs and flows” in the ensuing decade. She said the re-launch provides an opportunity to attract more advertising revenue, particularly as advertisers continue to adopt a more ethnic approach.
“As a commercial over-the-air [channel] we live and die by advertising,” she said. “It’s also a great opportunity to continue to educate national advertisers as well as evolve regional advertisers. We know that the equity in diversity is quite high externally, and we continue to want to motivate the different advertising sectors to show the importance of this growing niche area.”
Ziniak said there are no plans to alter the programming for the Omni channels outside of Ontario, although she didn’t rule out future changes. “I wouldn’t say it’s an experiment, but we know that program schedules continue to shift in response to both audiences and advertisers,” she said. “We’ve very excited and curious to see how this plays out.”