CBC Marketplace expands to a full season after drawing large audiences in the spring
For four decades, CBC's Marketplace TV show has been exposing consumer ripoffs—and it appears that demand for this type of programming is on the increase.
Yesterday, I ran into the two hosts, Erica Johnson and Tom Harrington, at a meet-and-greet with broadcasters and executives at the CBC building on Hamilton Street.
Johnson, who lives in Vancouver, quipped that it was the first time they had "jumped" a reporter, but they had a story to tell me.
Normally, the program runs a half season from January to April. However this year, viewers will be able to watch 22 episodes over a full season, beginning on September 21.
"I have to give credit to the CBC because Marketplace is a show that's quite expensive to do relative to other programming," Johnson explained. "Investigative [journalism] takes time. It costs money. It's very litigious....They're backing us a lot."
It stands to reason, given the program's popularity with audiences. In its Friday night spot at 8 p.m., it attracted an average of 1.1 million viewers per episode over the past season, according to Harrington, who is based in Toronto. About half the time, it topped the ratings of all shows on the air in Canada in its time slot.
"We were the fifth-highest rated show on the network this past season," he said. "So clearly, we've dialled into something. There's a real need for this kind of journalism. There's a lot of dissatisfaction in institutions out there, and we're out there asking those questions and holding people to account."
When asked for his favourite show of the season, Harrington replied that it involved an exposé of home repairman. Producers rigged an entire house with hidden cameras to see what would happen.
"We had a very unscrupulous garage-door installer who peed in a bucket in the garage," Harrington recalled. "And then we had a dishwasher repairmen who did the job really well, but was so anxious to relieve himself that he took a coffee cup in the kitchen and used that to take a wiz."
At that point, Johnson interjected that she remembered him using a "peecup".
Harrington, a former sports reporter, joked that he thought it was the Olympics because there was so much peeing in a cup in that episode.
Johnson mentioned that her favourite story involved the use of a hidden camera in Lower Mainland hospitals to examine the link between poor cleaning and the spread of diseases.
"In Canada, 8,000 people a year die from infections they acquire while they're in the hospital," she stated. "And poor cleaning is one of the reasons that's happening."
She sounded pleased when she said that the Marketplace episode is now being used as a teaching tool in local hospitals. "They've gone back and revised their housekeeping budgets," she noted.
I mentioned that hospital-cleaning services were privatized in B.C. under former premier Gordon Campbell. (The deputy minister who oversaw that was Penny Ballem, now Vancouver's city manager.)
"They're still privatized," Johnson conceded, "but they're trying to work within that model."
Marketplace's audience has grown dramatically since it was moved into the Friday night spot, where it faces less competition. Johnson admitted that this surprised her, because originally, she feared the show might have more trouble attracting viewers at that time of the week.
"It turns out a lot of people are too tired to go out on Friday night and they tune into good programming," Johnson explained.
The show has also benefited in recent years from greater promotion on CBC's national radio and television newscasts.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.