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Cable Leaves Canada With An Int’l Appetite

Sellers from outside North America have traditionally had a tough time hawking TV fare to Canadian broadcasters because the vast majority of foreign programming here comes directly from Hollywood. However, thanks to a raft of specialty services that recently came to Canuck cable, that finally could change.

The CTV Network and Can-West Global System, the country’s two main private webs, are dominated by popular U.S. sitcoms and dramas. National pubcaster CBC has only a small appetite for international programming, as it’s dedicated to showcasing homegrown productions.

But now the Canadian market is showing more hunger for product from Europe and elsewhere. Two pay-movie channels started last fall and eight more specialty services hit the airwaves more recently, nearly doubling the amount of Canadian cable channels available to viewers.

Most newcomers are committed to fairly high levels of Canadian content, but they’re also in the market for foreign fare, especially product from outside the Hollywood system.

Bravo!, a performing-arts outlet owned by Toronto-based CHUM, already has bought shows and docus from Italy, Germany, France, the U.K. and Belgium. Topper Paul Gratton figures the upstart channel’s sked is 40% local, 40% European and 20% American.

A program’s country of origin is not too important, says Gratton, “as long as it’s not too local and refers to something North Americans can relate to.”

Gratton is eyeing quality performing-arts programs, including classical concerts, plays, dance shows, and visual-arts docus. He’s also hot on feature films based on literary classics, artist biographies, and pix set in a creative-arts milieu.

All-fiction service Showcase Television was founded to boost Canadian drama and the station has pledged to maintain at least 60% Canuck content. But no more than 5% of its sked will be U.S.-produced programming, which leaves plenty of room for drama series, miniseries, made-for-TV movies and feature films from outside North America.

Showcase programming VP Audrey Cole is looking for dramatic series to fill a 10 p.m. slot dedicated to drama from around the world. She also has a nightly 11 p.m. feature film slot to fill.

“We’re looking for high-quality series, but also the series that have been the biggest hits in the countries they come from,” Cole says.

“I’m very keen on material that hasn’t been seen here before,” she adds. “There’s so much wonderful drama out there that never reaches this continent.”

The schedule on the Life Network, majority-owned by Atlantis Communications, is built around five daily themes: health and fitness, habitat (home and garden), food, explorations (including travel) and relationships.

Chief buyer Merv Stone wants lifestyle programs on those themes, especially shows that emphasize the practical side. “We try to make the programming something that people can use,” says Stone.

Winnipeg-based Women’s Television Network is shopping for dramas, sitcoms, telepix, docus and films with women as central characters. It also wants docus on social issues related to women.

Canal D, formerly called Arts & Divertissement, is a French-lingo docu service. At least 30% of its sked will be European programs in their original French versions or British shows dubbed into French.

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