Canuck buyers use confab to gather info on what's hot, what's not

MONTREAL — The Canadian broadcasters and program sellers don’t think of NATPE as being in the same league as the Mip marts or the L.A. Screenings in terms of either buying or selling. But they still make the trek to NATPE even if it’s only for window-shopping or meeting with key clients.

“NATPE is where we see all the new syndicated stuff,” says Ellen Baine, VP of programming at Chum, which owns City-TV and a slew of specialty channels. “As Canadians, we play a bit of a wait-and-see game. We wait to see if the shows get cleared in the U.S. Most of us don’t buy there unless you’re sure it’s going to be really big. For Chum’s specialty channels, NATPE is less important. Mip is much more important for the specialties and, for Chum’s conventional stations, the May (L.A.) Screenings is the most important time.”

For Alliance Atlantis, one of Canada’s top specialty-channel owners, NATPE is a place to get a sense of which way the wind’s blowing in the TV biz rather than a market to pick up programming.

“NATPE hasn’t been a top priority for us,” says Norm Bolen, executive VP of programming and operations at Alliance Atlantis. “We basically go down to gather as much intelligence as we can about what’s going on in the marketplace.”

The Alliance channels — including Showcase and the Life Network — are interested in acquiring drama and reality fare, and they have done well with U.S. cable series, including “Six Feet Under,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Rescue Me.”

“We want to make sure we’re aware of what’s going on in the new drama and new reality, particularly from the cable networks,” Bolen says. “We like to know what the next hits out of HBO and Showtime are. It helps us for the May Screenings.”

Corus Entertainment — which owns a number of specialty outlets, including the W Network, YTV and Movie Central — is at NATPE seeking Hollywood movies, kids fare and femme-focused shows for W.

“I like NATPE because of the timing of it,” says Joanna Webb, VP of programming at the W Network. “It’s the beginning of our buying cycle. We get to see the trends coming from the studios, but it’s more window-shopping. We buy a few months later.”

The Corus channels are limited in their appetite for U.S. fare because of Canadian-content restrictions imposed by federal broadcast regulator the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The W Network has a maximum of 22.5% U.S. content and YTV has a maximum of 26% U.S. fare. The Corus buyers are keen to snare U.S. shows that can air on both W and YTV. The company is also in the market for big-ticket Hollywood pics that can air on W and Movie Central, the western Canada-based pay movie service.

For W, Webb is looking for anything that has a strong appeal for women aged 25 to 54, notably romantic comedies.

Some Canadian sellers, such as Chum Television Intl., continue to ring up strong sales at NATPE. Chum is arriving as this year’s NATPE with a beefed-up slate that includes “John Malkovich: Flipping Uncle Kimono,” an original production of Chum’s Fashion Television; “Trend Watch,” five one-hours on the world of style from the editors of Vogue; and “Starville,” a production from Chum’s Star! Network visiting the hometowns of various stars.

“The last NATPE was a great market for us,” reflects Kevin Byles, VP and GM of Chum Television Intl. “We’re going to NATPE with a huge slate of product, including 18 new series and 17 specials.”

Much of the product is produced by Chum’s various specialty channels, but the Toronto-based seller is also adding more programming produced by independent producers. Still all the shows that Chum buys have to fit Chum’s hip, youthful brand. In other words, “no cooking or knitting shows,” Byles says.

One of the growth areas for Chum is entertainment programming.

“We’ve found that our clients have an insatiable appetite for celebrity content,” says Byles.

The sales team at Alliance Atlantis considered taking a pass on NATPE because Alliance’s top product, the “CSI” franchise, hardly needs an extra boost. The company is also less of a volume seller than it has been in the past. But the Alliance sellers finally decided to attend.

“With ‘CSI’ doing as well as it’s doing, we were wondering if we needed to go to NATPE,” asks Ted Riley, executive managing director at Alliance Atlantis. “The nature of the business has changed so much and so has the nature of our relation to the business. We’re not in that retail business that we used to be in, but where there’s a critical mass of important buyers, we should be there, though it could be soft sales-wise.”

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