(Editor’s Note; We hope you enjoyed our story and April Fools joke.)
APTN announced plans on Monday to monetize its newscast by adding bingo.
Hosts Melissa Ridgen and Dennis Ward, and a variety of special guests will call bingo numbers each night until there is a win, with the possibility of thousands of dollars in prizes to be given away each month.
“This is going to be a very new idea for us,” said Ridgen, who has never called at bingo before.
“We are always looking for new ways to engage and serve our audience, this is a whole new twist,” said Ward, who added he has prior experience calling Bingo locally in both Winnipeg and Thunder Bay.
“It’s just that I haven’t done it during a newscast before.”
The idea comes from the once popular Bingo and a Movie which ran on APTN in 2000-2001.
The idea is to generate a new income stream for the network, with the majority of dollars streaming specifically to news and current affairs.
The change comes as Canada’s news industry is in flux.
Advertising sales in the newspaper industry have steadily declined while the lion’s share of online revenue goes to companies like Google and Facebook, a scenario which has caused 260 print news outlets to close in the last decade. The federal budget released Mar. 19, provided $595 million in subsidies and tax credits (for subscribers to digital publications).
However cable subscriber fees, on which broadcasters like APTN rely, are also falling as customers cut their cable. None of the resources announced in the budget will go to broadcasters and APTN does not receive any government funding.
“We believe this exciting new spin on a blast from the past will help us grow our audience and bring in a hearty new income stream,” said Karyn Pugliese, executive director of news and current affairs, who is credited with the idea.
Pugliese said she was not concerned that the calling of bingo numbers would interrupt the flow or gravitas of news programming.
“It’s no different that when we go to weather or a commercial break, it’s just another feature,” she said.
“We’re kicking off the initiative just as youth wrap up the school year at university. We’re hoping to get fill the kids’ vacation time with an evening that combines board games and news: a truly second screen experience complete with customized Bingo boards,” said Jean La Rose, CEO of the network.
“We will encourage kids as young as 5 to play on their iPad to which they are already severely dependent.”
Viewers will be also encouraged to design their own bingo cards.
Prizes include autographed pictures of the hosts, a year’s supply of bannock and tea, as well as cash prizes.
It is not the first time APTN National News has made a change in programming to expand its audience and revenue stream.
Last year Pugliese championed he addition of a kitten to the desk as a “co-host” for feature stories.
At the time Pugliese said that move would help news reach a wider and more mainstream audience, which she called a “necessary step” as news agencies widely reported a slump in revenues. APTN went so far as to hold a national-wide casting call for the kitten co-host, eventually naming a Persian named Misty.
Misty never made it to air, however, as the kitten was scooped and offered better pay by a publicly funded broadcaster.