CBC touts ratings rebound


TORONTO -- Pointing to its growing momentum in primetime, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said Thursday it is on the rebound both in ratings and relevance in the emerging digital age.

Kirstine Layfield, the public broadcaster's new executive director of network programming, pointed to two new series -- Vancouver-based crime drama "Intelligence" and reality series "Dragon's Den" -- driving a ratings rebound as the CBC continues to revamp its programming and promotion strategy.

"I wouldn't say we're halfway, but we're very much in transition given what we were able to do in the fall to improving our scheduling, (commercial) break structure and our promotional opportunities," Layfield said of the new-look CBC.

Like private Canadian conventional networks Global Television and CTV, which rolled out a number of new U.S. dramas and comedies this fall, the CBC had its share of ratings duds including a documentary series on hockey and animated series "What It's Like Being Alone."

The CBC also aired the ill-fated ABC star search series "The One," which only lasted two episodes, as a prelude to launching a homegrown Canadian version.

But there was ratings gold from the pairing of two satirical comedies ("The Rick Mercer Report" and "This Hour Has 22 Minutes") in a one-hour Tuesday night blockthat routinely beat out the U.S. competiton on rival channels.

And Layfield is satisfied with audience numbers for "Hockey Night in Canada," which slipped compared with last year when the National Hockey League resumed play after a one-year labor stoppage.

"There was a lot of pent-up interest last year. This year the numbers are settling back to the year before the lockout," she said.

Going forward, the Jan. 9 launch of the much-hyped comedy "Little Mosque on the Prairie" could signal whether the public broadcaster can sustain its fall momentum and eventually get back into a serious network ratings battle with its private sector rivals.

Layfield urged patience with the CBC's new programming strategy, insisting it was a "slow cook" to eventually bring viewers back to the public broadcaster as well as create new ones.

"The success of 'Dragon's Den,' part of that was promotion, but another part was people getting used to the fact that there's a new kind of show at the CBC," she argued. "People attracted to the series are younger, there's more co-viewing as families watch Dragon's Den together. They didn't naturally come to the CBC before."

The public broadcaster's programming architect added the the she likes the CBC's chances in the emerging multiplatform age because the public broadcaster is creating its own content, while rival Canadian broadcasters continue to depend on negotiating tough deals with Hollywood program suppliers.