Just 2% of viewers watching diginets

Toronto - Only two per cent of Canadian television sets are tuning in to the dozens of new digital channels launched in September, even though they reach about 20 per cent of homes, according to data presented Monday.

``It`s a pretty small slice of TV viewing to be shared by 46 stations,'' said Bruce Neve, vice-president of Media Edge, the media-buying arm of ad agency Young & Rubicam Inc.

Unless digital TV`s penetration rate climbs significantly over the next few years, ``there will be some casualties,'' Neve said.

The sobering prognosis followed the release of the first comprehensive round of data tracking viewership of the new digital services, research that is key to attracting advertising dollars. The data were presented at a luncheon gathering of the Broadcast Research Council of Canada.

About 2.2 million, or 20 per cent, of Canadian homes receive digital TV by way of a set-top box or direct-to-home satellite TV dish.

The new services were launched Sept. 7 and a free preview period is scheduled to last until early January.

Initial results from the first seven weeks indicate digital television`s reach is very limited.

According to Nielsen Media Research (Canada), an estimated 100,000 Canadians are now watching a digital channel during any given minute during the broadcasting day.

The best-watched digital services focus on an eclectic mix of westerns, animals and sex.

Lonestar, an all-western channel launched by Winnipeg`s CanWest Global Communications Corp., attracted an estimated 20,700 viewers during the average prime-time minute.

Animal Planet, a CTV Inc. service, is a distant second with about 12,900 viewers.

Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc.'s Showcase Action channel is third with about 7,800 viewers, while Sex TV, a channel owned by CHUM Ltd., was a close fourth with 7,500 viewers.

Twelve services, meanwhile, attracted fewer than 1,000 prime-time viewers during the free preview period.

Viewership patterns vary greatly by demographic, said industry rating service BBM Bureau of Measurement. For example, male viewers` favourite channels are MenTV and Sex TV, while women watch Animal Planet and horror service Scream.

Viewership of all digital channels doubles on weekends, said Ron Bremner, BBM`s vice-president and general manager of television.

Digital viewership numbers pale in comparison to conventional analogue specialty channels. For example, eight digital sports channels are watched by a combined total of 13,800 viewers for at least one minute of prime time. In comparison, TSN, the most profitable specialty channel, is watched by about 203,000 viewers
for at least one prime-time minute.

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