Buying binges necessary

Territory report: Canada

MONTREAL — Canada has become a more aggressive buyer of foreign TV programming over the past year as several of the main broadcast companies have expanded their reach.

Toronto-based Chum, which used to be more of a niche player, now has a much larger pool of stations to feed, with City-TV outlets in Toronto and Vancouver, and four New Net stations, three of which are in southern Ontario. Chum also still has a major stable of specialty channels and has an application in front of federal regulator the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to start-up a terrestrial network in Alberta.

CanWest Global is also buying more now that the Winnipeg-based company has two complementary webs, the main Global Network and the newer, smaller CH weblet. Pure specialty players such as Alliance Atlantis Broadcasting and Corus Entertainment also have more of an appetite for acquisitions, thanks to new digital specialty channels.

“We’re certainly more aggressive in terms of acquisitions and the whole Canadian market is more aggressive,” says Stephen Tapp, executive VP of television at Chum. “It makes it more competitive for the good stuff.”

The current season is set for most of the Canuck webs, with the majority of the buying taking place as usual at the L.A. Screenings in May. Acquisitions execs will be looking for some international fare at Mipcom, but it is not a major buying market for Canadians.

Like the rest of North America, some of the hottest hits in Canada are reality shows. CTV has just scored record ratings with its first edition of “Canadian Idol,” CanWest Global continues to do well with “Survivor” and Chum’s City-TV garnered its highest-ever ratings last season for “Joe Millionaire.”

Things are also looking up financially as the advertising market has picked up significantly in 2003, after a sluggish 2002.

The specialty channels in the Great White North are mostly thriving, with the notable exception of the slew of digital channels launched in the fall of 2001. These channels reported a pre-tax loss of C$148 million ($108 million) in their first year, according to statistics released by the CRTC earlier this year.

One of the key problems facing the Canadian TV industry remains the lack of success for homegrown English-language programming. The shows are under-funded and hits are few and far-between.

“There’s a problem of funding,” says Phyllis Yaffe, CEO of Alliance Atlantis Broadcasting. “We do have a unique problem. We have to compete head-to-head with American TV. That’s enormously difficult. We need enough success stories to build momentum so that other people will get behind Canadian drama.”

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