New sets, graphics and hosts part of rebranding

Canuck pubcaster CBC is ramping up its news operations as commercial rivals continue to challenge its once dominant position.

The changes include a relaunch of CBC’s all-news net. Formerly known as CBC Newsworld, it was rebranded CBC News Network or CBC NN on Oct. 26. Focused on covering breaking news 24/7, it now boasts a primetime schedule heavy on high-profile anchors.

The pubcaster also revamped its flagship 10 p.m. nightly newscast, “The National,” on its main network, with anchor Peter Mansbridge now spending more time standing and interacting with his correspondents.

“It’s a gigantic shift,” says Richard Stursberg, executive VP of English services at CBC. “The sets, the graphics, the hosts have all changed, and they’re all very much about delivering an experience that’s much more accessible, modern, faster and much more of the moment.”

Though primetime shows on CBC NN are more personality-driven than was the case on Newsworld, Stursberg bristles at the suggestion that he and his colleagues are borrowing from the formula created by iconic U.S. newscaster CNN.

“That’s a bizarre thing to say… I find it a very odd notion,” Stursberg says. “All great journalism, particularly in contemporary life, is inevitably (built) around personality. If you want to know whether you can trust what’s being said, you have to know the person who’s saying it.”

The changes come as the pubcaster struggles for market share for its newsshows.

For years, CBC was the go-to source for TV news in Canada, and “The National” was the uncontested ratings leader. But it has slipped dramatically over the past 15-to-20 years as its commercial rivals carve into its share.

This fall, CTV’s “CTV National News” at 11 p.m. had an average audience of 1.2 million, up 37% from last fall.

Even Global, a perennial also-ran in the news sweepstakes, has assumed a much stronger position. Its “Global National” had an average aud of 979,000 this fall, up 23%, beating “The National’s” average aud of 477,000, which is down more than 20% on last fall.

CBC NN and the CTV News Channel have similar market shares, at just over 1% of the ratings pie.

CTV News prexy Robert Hurst says he likes some of the changes at CBC News, but he doesn’t think the re-launch will make much of a dent on its competitors’ market dominance.

“In television news, it takes years and years to develop viewer habits,” Hurst says. “There have been lots of makeovers in the last 10 years at CBC. Change for change’s sake does not win you new viewers. We don’t do makeovers every two or three years. The most powerful news brand in Canada is CTV News.”

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