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UPDATE: "No apologies" for Toronto 1, says Williams


TORONTO - While many are making her new station the scapegoat for the sale of Craig Media to CHUM Limited, Toronto 1 general manager Barbara Williams says she is proud of the work she and her team has done in its first months and would change little.

"I don't apologize for the efforts that have been made to date," she told today. "The challenges that the company has faced and the resulting announcement today is not because Toronto 1 has been a disaster.

"We're a really young station. We've been on the air for less than seven months - someone did the count today and it's been 208 days. For a station that's been on the air for that short of a period of time, we've had a lot of great successes," she said.

Despite the disparaging things that have been said about the new channel (heard the one about "Toronto point-1"?) Williams is defiant, saying it's not as bad as some have made it seem. In fact, she says, it's not really that bad at all. "We had many many movies where we've broken 100,000 to 150,000 viewers. Those are significant numbers up against any Toronto broadcaster. We've had similarly strong numbers with Raptors games, with football in the fall - we've had some consistent and ongoing successes in the ratings game," she outlined.

"We're not hitting it every single night all the time. Nobody in their right mind would be expecting us to, frankly. This is a really tough market and we've taken on some big players and every time we have a win, we're really excited about it and those wins are coming more frequently."

Toronto 1 is in the middle of a marketing campaign right now focusing on its nightly "Prime Ticket Movies" and she says the ratings growth is, in fact coming.

Some examples include: over 190,000 viewers watched Forrest Gump in February, over 275,000 viewers took in Independence Day right after the Super Bowl, 110,000 Toronto race fans watched the NASCAR Daytona 500 broadcast which was exclusive to Craig Channels. As well, Toronto 1 has increased its share by 19% in the 9 a.m. to noon time period over last month, says the company.

In March, Toronto 1's ratings share for its Prime Ticket Movie increased from 1.1 to a 1.5 and on Palm Sunday, April 4th, the The 10 Commandments drew a 3.7 rating, putting it in the top three spot for that day.

The company also pointed out that its research says the Ellen Degeneres Show has surpassed Citytv's Cityline for the number one program at 10 a.m. where Cityline averaged a 0.6 rating in March and Ellen averaged a 0.9 (all numbers are Nielsen Media Research figures 2+ average minute audience).

Williams adds she is satisfied with the performance of most of the channel's original programming such as morning show Toronto Today and evening news and current affairs program Toronto Tonight. "It's been a very interesting experiment in a new time slot," she said about Toronto Tonight's 7 p.m. start-time. "We've brought a new kind of current affairs programming to this audience in a new time slot (and) we do well. We have nights where that show is doing as well as the other local competition that's on in the same hour.

"There's good news in there. I think people have to respect the newness of the operation and what could rationally be expected to have happened in this short of a period of time."

And, perhaps justifiably, Williams said the station doesn't get enough credit for the risk it took (and is still taking) on The Toronto Show, the three-nights-a-week variety show which features Toronto musicians, comedians and actors. "The Toronto Show has been a really interesting experiment. It was a bold new venture. No other (Canadian) broadcaster has ever taken on a project like this before and done it in the kind of volume that we've done it. No one has ever really tried to take truly local talent and give them prime time opportunity.

"It was a big adventure for us. We learned a lot. We had some success with it (but) we didn't have as much success as we would have liked," she said.

"I think we ought to be, frankly, commended for the efforts we've made to do some interesting and bold new things in this market to support the population here, to reach out to viewers, to support the talent. I think there's real 'A-for-effort' in a lot of that stuff that over time, would also pay off in terms of ratings and revenue."

What Williams regrets most about the sale is that Craig Media didn't have the resources wait for the returns she believes will come to Toronto 1. "I don't think there's any doubt that more time for us to continue to grow would be a good thing.

"This is an extremely competitive game that we play here and I think my experience in this industry overall has been that it's a tough place and you've got to be able to hang in there and stay the course, believe in your philosophy and stick to your mandate and all those kids of things and frankly, I think we're on a good path," she said.

"I think sometimes when you're the new kid on the block, you've got to be willing to survive through everyone else's skepticism and everyone else's uncertainty about what it might mean to them - and everyone else's quick take on how the new kid didn't get it all perfect the first time, so therefore they aren't going to get it right ever."

That said, if given a chance, would she do anything differently? "I feel we made great decisions and we're building great programs and we have some really terrific people both behind and in front of the camera and I wouldn't change any of that," she said.

"We brought a very experienced team to the table here who had all done really great television in all the other places they'd been. Those people didn't suddenly start doing bad television when they walked in here. They're all doing good television here. It just takes time to build a new brand in a big market like this."

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