Canucks look south to sate reality appetite

Territory reports

MONTREAL — The biggest trend in Canuck TV over the past year was the continued force of American reality programming.

“Joe Millionaire” delivered record-breaking ratings for Chum-owned station City-TV in Toronto and its new sister City outlet in Vancouver, with the finale pulling in an astonishing 3.5 million viewers in the two cities.

Over at Global, “Survivor” has remained a blockbuster, and it is still Canada’s most-watched show. Homegrown reality series “Popstars” is Global’s top-rated Canadian production.

The fledgling CH network, owned by Global owners CanWest Global, is generating boffo numbers with “Fear Factor.”

Reality is also big at Global rival CTV, which is doing well with the second season of “American Idol.” CTV is rocking to strong numbers with “The Osbournes,” which made its fall bow on the Canuck web.

“The American reality stuff has really affected habit patterns in Canada,” says Chum president-CEO Jay Switzer.

“There’s less drama on the schedules. The problem with reality is that you’re in and out in six weeks. You’re not developing a meaningful relationship with your viewers. We’re happy to have six or seven weeks of ‘Joe Millionaire,’ but these shows are not as predictable as regular series, and they’re not as easy to sell to advertisers.”

Mirroring small-screen action south of the Canadian border, “CSI” is shaking up the ratings scene.

Global used to handily dominate the top 10 in the Great White North, and it still has plenty of hits. But CTV has muscled its way into the upper echelons of the ratings game thanks to “CSI” and “CSI: Miami,” which are, respectively, the second- and fourth-rated shows in Canada.

American shows have always dominated the prime-time skeds of the main webs and that continues to be the case.

The exception is pubcaster CBC, which is all Canadian in primetime. There is a growing sense that many Canadians disagree with Washington’s foreign policy, but those political sentiments have not dampened enthusiasm for American TV fare.

It has been a rocky couple of years for broadcasters here, with advertising down following 9/11 and during the tough economic times in 2002.

TV execs are anxiously watching the situation in Iraq. But most are optimistic that 2003 will be a solid year for ads.

“The Canadian economy is doing better than the U.S. economy,” says Global senior VP Doug Hoover. “Overall, conventional television is having a good year. There’s been a resurgence of interest in conventional TV thanks to the phenomenon of reality programming.”

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