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CBC 'comfortable' with ratings for revamped 'The National' despite post-debut dip

Last Updated Nov 16, 2017 at 6:40 pm EDT

New CBC The National news anchors Ian Hanomansing, left, and Adrienne Arsenault rehearse a news cast in Toronto on Wednesday, November 1, 2017. CBC's revamped ``The National'' debuts Monday with a new format that aims to reinvent the evening news experience. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

The CBC says it’s “comfortable” with the early buzz for its revamped “The National,” even though the debut newscast’s ratings were only on par with the kind of numbers Peter Mansbridge used to draw.

And they’ve slipped since last Monday’s first broadcast.

On a randomly chosen Monday night in January, when Mansbridge was still anchor, “The National” on the main network had an estimated audience of 734,000 viewers during the first half hour of the show, dropping to 584,000 viewers in the second half.

For the debut of the new “The National” — now hosted by Ian Hanomansing, Adrienne Arsenault, Rosemary Barton and Andrew Chang — 739,000 viewers were tuned in for the first 30 minutes on CBC, while 601,000 were still watching for the second half.

But subsequent nights saw ratings peak between the high-300,000 to low-600,000 range.

Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor-in-chief of CBC News, says the network is “comfortable with the audience numbers and the anecdotal reaction to the program so far.”

“We anticipated that it would take time for the audience to adapt to what is a new format on television,” says McGuire, adding it’s still “early days” for the new show.

According to CBC’s own research department, the average minute audience for “The National”‘s main network broadcasts — the show also airs an hour earlier on CBC News Network — is in line with this time last year, when the U.S. election cycle was drawing in viewers.

And out of the gate, the new “The National” is averaging about 50,000 more viewers a night compared to the weeks prior to the relaunch.

The dominant player in late-night national newscasts, the 30-minute “CTV National News” with Lisa LaFlamme, drew an estimated 841,000 main-network viewers on the night of “The National”‘s premiere. In the week leading up to that evening, the CTV newscast had averaged a little over a million viewers a night.

“The National”‘s numbers in its first week weren’t helped by underperforming shows on the CBC’s prime-time schedule.

The hyped reality remake “The Great Canadian Baking Show” and imported drama “Top of the Lake” offered weak lead-in audiences to boost “The National”‘s ratings.

The best news for CBC is on the digital side.

For each day so far with the new format, live streaming for “The National” has been up 90 per cent over last year on CBC.ca, the CBC News app and other so-called “over the top” internet-based players. On Twitter alone, 85,000 viewers streamed the new “National” premiere. And Facebook videos from “The National” are up 29 per cent over the previous year to date, according to Numeris.

The reinvention of “The National” comes as the overall English television audience has fallen 11 per cent for all Canadian broadcasters over the first nine weeks of the season. More alarming has been the 16 per cent decline over the same period among viewers aged 25 to 54 — the most important demo to advertisers.

The drop is most likely the result of increased digital competition and the gradual yet steady decline in the number of traditional cable and satellite subscribers across the nation. A hold for the “The National”‘s numbers might be seen as a win in the shrinking world of network TV.

— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had incorrect information regarding the combined broadcast and digital audience for the debut of the new ‘The National,’ and incorrect sourcing for the number of Facebook streams.