Economic slump allows nets to talk down prices for foreign product

MONTREAL — Canadian broadcast execs are cautiously optimistic these days, a significant improvement from the downbeat mood at the networks in the Great White North last fall.

The tough economic twists and turns of 2001, coupled with a post-9/11 slump, hurt ad sales in a big way at the Canuck networks over the last year, but advertising has picked up.

The upward trend should continue in the months ahead.

“The industry as a whole is having a better year,” says Doug Hoover, senior VP of programming at the Global TV network. “But we’re all still experiencing share erosion.

“Canada launched 40 channels on the digital tier last year. Still, Canada has done a good job of controlling things, so they don’t get out of hand and collapse, like in other countries. But it’s not the heady days of double-digit growth.”

One of the positive benefits of the economic slump is that it has provided impetus for the nets to talk down prices for foreign product.

Hollywood remains the main source of non-Canadian fare for the top webs. But all the broadcasters have to finance and air homegrown programs.

There has been, however, a lot of talk about the decline in the quantity of English-Canadian drama being produced.

The dilemma for Canadian producers is that their shows have to compete with higher-budget U.S. fare like “The West Wing,” “24” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” says Susanne Boyce, CTV’s programming prexy.

“It’s all about finding the right idea and good story-telling,” she says. “It’s about developing something that’s original and mainstream.”

One trend in Canada is the popularity of A-list U.S. cable fare on the main broadcast outlets, with CTV scoring big with “The Sopranos” and “The Osbournes,” and Global snaring strong auds with “Band of Brothers.”

Canadian auds are becoming more sophisticated, says Phyllis Yaffe, CEO of Alliance Atlantis Broadcasting, which owns and operates 12 specialty channels.

“People are looking for quality,” she notes. “They want shows that don’t look and smell like stuff we’ve seen before.”

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