Once considered a maverick, low-overhead music-and movies-oriented network, Toronto-based indie City-TV has shocked its more established rivals by snaring the lead in the coveted 6 p.m. newscast race.

For the first time, the “City Pulse” newscast ranked No. 1 in the Toronto market at 6 p.m., according to the just released Bureau of Broadcast Measurement’s November sweeps book.

The Toronto indie also gained two share points (going from 9.0 to 11.0) in its signon to signoff share.

The BBM figures for 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. were: City-TV, 227,000 households; CBLT-TV (CBC o&o) 175,300; CFTO-TV, 146,900; Global-TV, 116,800; CHCH-TV Hamilton 10,800; U.S. stations, mainly WGRZ-TV and WIVB-TV Buffalo, 76,500; others (including cable and specialty stations), 265,000.

Competitors unimpressed

Some competitors are unimpressed. “I think it’s an aberration, frankly,” says Rudi Carter, program director at CBLT-TV, pubcaster CBC’s Toronto outlet.

Carter says his station is not planning any new programming strategies after being bumped out of the top spot at 6 p.m. “It’s necessary to look at ratings over at least a one-year period before drawing conclusions.”

What’s undeniable about City-TV is the low production cost. The flagship newscast is produced for between $5,000 and $10,000 per hour.

Station manager Jay Switzer says the numbers reflect that City’s cost-efficient approach to tv is working. Take, for example, City’s “videographers,” people who function as both personalities and technicians. They shoot, produce, write, appear on camera and edit their own stories.

Moses Znaimer, City-TV prez and exec producer who developed the City-TV format, says one of the first things he discovered while working in tv was that the excitement of making it was rarely reflected in the final product.

He says he prefers to hire on-air personnel with little or no experience because people who have worked elsewhere don’t fit the City mold. “My interest has never been in polish but in memorability. I’m more interested in the fact that you have something you burn to say than to smooth the way in which you might read it,” he says.

Anyone walking by the network headquarters in downtown Toronto can witness live tv through the floor-to-ceiling windows, pay a buck to have their say in Speaker’s Corner, or buy City-TV/Much Music paraphernalia in the station’s retail store. And then there are the promotional stunts that invite viewers to take part in contests.

In addition, shows often are shot on Toronto locations. “When you do it the way we do it, you not only get a sensibility, an esthetic that’s instantly recognizable, but you get radically efficient economics,” Znaimer says. And because of their success in a fiercely competitive environment, Znaimer says foreign broadcasters are drawn to City.

Model for Fox

Broadcasters have come to City from Japan, France, Holland, England, Israel, Russia, Poland and the U.S. Fox chairman and CEO Barry Diller had high praise for City’s spontaneous format, and indicated he was using City as a model for Fox’ to-be-constructed broadcast center.

“They find it extraordinary that it’s possible to have such a thing as local tv and make it work with cost levels that are low,” says Switzer.

City-TV produces 33 hours per week of original programming, including four information-oriented shows that are syndicated internationally: City Lights, the New Music, FT Fashion Television and the Originals. Much Music and Musique Plus both produce 56 hours of original programming per week. Much Music exports a daily four-hour programming block to the South Pacific, as well as music program “Soul In The City” to Japan.

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