More opportunity for local producers

MONTREAL This was the year Canada’s two main broadcast players, CTV and CanWest, both got bigger and stronger, setting the stage for more intense competition between the two webs and more opportunities for local producers.

Earlier this year, Canadian telecom giant BCE acquired CTV for $1.5 billion in a bid for Montreal-based BCE to become a major convergence player.

This summer, BCE, which has extremely deep pockets, unveiled a plan to pump in $155 million in spending on Canadian programming as part of its plans for CTV. The pricey commitment is designed to please federal regulator the Canadian Radio-TV & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which demands that any company taking over a Canuck broadcaster devote 10% of the purchase price to local programming.

Acquisitions cleared

Also this summer, the CRTC gave the greenlight to CTV rival CanWest to acquire eight stations owned by Western Intl. Communications (WIC) in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. Approval for the deal to split the assets of WIC between CanWest Global and Corus Entertainment effectively transformed CanWest into a truly national TV network, a longtime dream of CanWest founder Izzy Asper.

The changes at CTV and CanWest might not have much of an impact on Canada program purchases outside of North America since both networks buy almost all of their foreign fare from Hollywood.

But the growth of CTV and CanWest Global is unquestionably a good-news scenario for Canada’s production community.

“Any additional demand for programming is good for independent producers because financing is just so tough,” says Pascale Hebert, VP of Montreal-based Cite-Amerique Intl.

Cite-Amerique Intl., a newly created international sales arm of veteran Canadian producer Cite-Amerique, will be launching its global distribution initiative at Mipcom.

Canadian content

Cite-Amerique shows on offer include Newfoundland-set miniseries “Random Passage” and “Dice,” a dark miniseries directed by “Cracker” helmer Andy Wilson.

Mipcom will also be an important market for Fireworks Intl. given that it’s the first major mart since CanWest Entertainment — Fireworks’ parent company and part of the CanWest Global empire — acquired the assets of Endemol Intl. Distribution.

Greg Phillips, the London-based prexy of Fireworks Intl., admits that the indie biz remains tough, but notes that Fireworks thrives by keeping in close contact with its clients.

“If you have high-quality material and it’s well made, you can sell it,” says Phillips, whose slate includes sci-fi series “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda.” “Our clients want higher-budget, multiepisode adventure-action. We’re providing something they’re not taking care of themselves.”

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