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Field Reports Q&A: Don Shafer, TorStar Media Group TV

1 Dec, 2002 By: Thomas Haire Response

Don Shafer co-founded Toronto Star TV (now TorStar Media Group TV) five years ago. He currently serves as vice president and general manager of the company, which operates a home shopping channel that reaches 1.4 million homes in the greater Toronto area, as well as serving as a DRTV production company Recently, Response was able to chat with Shafer about his work in the Canadian DRTV business.

Response: How did you get into the direct response industry?

Don Shafer: I've been in broadcasting for 35 years, starting in Pittsburgh, before moving to Canada 20 years ago. Five years ago, TorStar - a company that owns four daily newspapers in Canada as well as Harlequin Books - brought me on-board to help create Toronto Star TV to promote the company's local Toronto newspaper and develop a direct response TV enterprise.

We really grew into the DR space after not knowing much about it by selling airtime to DRTV clients. We really learned more as we grew the production facilities. We are now a home shopping channel and a production house. The channel is now 100-percent DR programming, and the work our production house does is about 70-percent DR related. Our job is to air other companies' infomercials and find new clients for DRTV production. We do commercial production for clients who run on the air, as well as production of corporate and industrial videos.

Response: Does any other Canadian company offer those services?

Shafer: We are the only 24-hour infomercial station that offers production as well. We reach 5 million people in the Toronto area, and plan on expanding that through video on the Internet and the implementation of a new Web strategy. The thing that gives us the most credibility to our clients is that we do the same things, production and promotion, for ourselves as we do for each client. The ads we've produced and run for the newspaper group have driven up circulation. As a result, production clients feel better coming to us because we know what's on the line for them. We also offer research analysis capability and a library of information on the Canadian market.

Response: Can you name some of your key clients?

Shafer: We just won a production award from the ERA for our Dr. Ho infomercial. That's huge for us, because three years ago, we couldn't have helped him much, other than to run something he'd already produced. Now, we can do it all, including using our contacts to help with the back end. Another big client for us is Canada Savings Bonds. For years, the government of Canada did nothing to promote this product. It's a big step forward - we're doing long-form, short-form and Web work for them.

Response: Do you see more room for growth for TorStar and DRTV in general?

Shafer: There's tremendous growth in DR. There are more Fortune 500 companies getting involved. When a 30- or 60-second spot can't deliver, long form is the perfect vehicle to move to. Those companies moving toward DR like the longer form because they can control the environment and buy a longer piece of media to get the message across. We can put a client's product into 1.4 million cable homes every day. With our production capabilities, we can now create more interesting DRTV for clients who haven't used the model before.

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