Sun News Network celebrates first anniversary but ratings in the basement

Steve Mertl
·National Affairs Contributor

Hard to believe it's been a year since the Sun News Network launched to great fanfare and much hand-wringing by some who saw it as importing the Fox News journalistic culture north of the border.

The Toronto-based network, bolstered by its affiliate Sun newspapers, patted itself on the back on its first anniversary Wednesday. But one year on, Sun News hasn't created the seismic shift in the media landscape its conservative supporters hoped for or its critics on the left feared.

It's even spawned a comedy spoof TV series by satirist Ken Finkleman.

Ratings data obtained by The Canadian Press suggest Canadians aren't flocking in droves to Sun TV's "hard news and straight talk."

The news service reported that between last Aug. 31 and March 31 of this year, Sun News was last among "all day" English audiences figures, based on numbers it obtained from another TV network and confirmed by BBM Canada, the independent ratings agency.

CBC News Network drew 1.4 per cent of viewers, U.S. news network CNN took 0.9 per cent, CTV News Channel attracted 0.8 per cent and Sun News brought in 0.1 per cent, according to The Canadian Press.

Sun News declined to comment on the data.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, director of the University of Toronto's journalism program, suggested audiences initially drawn to the promise of a feisty, flashy alternative to mainstream news outlets have drifted away.

"I think the novelty is wearing off a little bit," he told The Canadian Press.

But Dvorkin added low ratings for the whole news-channel sector suggest audiences aren't attracted by the repetitive nature of news flow.

As for the upstart's dismal numbers, channels such as Sun News and Fox News always have a core audience of "older white males who are chronically pissed off," he said, but there just may not be that many of them in Canada.

"I guess we're just not that angry."

What attention Sun News has received often has been adverse. Krista Erickson, host of the network's Canada Live show, was slammed a badgering, arm-waving interview with Quebec dancer Margie Gillis over federal arts funding. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council slapped Erickson's wrist.

Then there was last fall's faked citizenship swearing-in ceremony set up at the Sun News studio during Citizenship Week, where federal bureaucrats were told by superiors to pose as new Canadians. The network was forced to apologize.

The year has not been without triumphs. Sun News scored a publicity and ratings coup by broadcasting the charity boxing match between Liberal MP Justin Trudeau and Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau.

Sun News got birthday wishes on its Facebook page, with fans calling the network "a Godsend," and "a breath of fresh air!"

But one poster, referring to the ratings data, noted that for every person watching Sun News, 14 are watching CBC News Network.

Montreal media blogger Steve Faguy concluded Sun News hasn't lived up to the hype and that its shoestring operation relies too much on a handful of in-studio talking heads and journalists drawn from Sun newspapers.

At the end of an exhaustive analysis of its flaws, Faguy said Canada is better off having Sun News.

"But I want it to live up to its potential," he wrote. "And to that it's going to have to grow up, fast."