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Canadian TV buyers feel frugal

Execs say they will be more prudent at L.A. Screenings

MONTREAL — Execs from the Canuck TV networks will be descending on Los Angeles in the next couple of days for the annual L.A. Screenings TV mart, which kicks off on Tuesday.

Unlike buyers who browse and make deals after the event, the Canadians do their buying on the spot — but they’re not planning the usual spending spree.

The programming bosses from CTV, Global and City-TV all say they are going to be much more prudent than usual during the 10-day event.

The feeling is that decline in demand will lead to a slight drop in prices that the Canadians will have to pay for Hollywood hits. The Canadians start screening new shows on Monday.

The frugality is due to several factors.

For a start, profits at all the Canuck webs have eroded over the past five years as the terrestrial TV biz goes into financial free-fall.

All three players also have fairly solid schedules in place without a huge number of departing Hollywood shows — although Global will have to live without longtime hit “24” and CTV is saying sayonara to perennial ratings winner “Lost.”

Another reason for the drop in Canadian demand is that CanWest used to buy for its main web, Global, and the smaller E! Network. But it let go of the E! channels last year and now buys only for Global.

Rogers Communications, which owns the City-TV stations, was buying much more aggressively last year because it was only its second year at the Screenings after acquiring the stations from CTVglobemedia.

But now City-TV has a sturdy sked in place, including “Biggest Loser,” “30 Rock” and “Cougartown.”

“Our objective is to build on that foundation,” said Malcolm Dunlop, executive VP of programming at Rogers Media Television. “So we won’t be buying as many hours as we bought last year.”

Since being taken over by Rogers, City-TV has moved from a mostly movie-based format to a sked built around series. One of its strengths has been comedy, with hits like “30 Rock” and “How I Met Your Mother.”

“In tough economic times, people like comedy,” said Dunlop.

The major shift in the broadcast biz in Canada this year is Calgary-based cabler Shaw Communications’ $2 billion purchase of the TV assets of financially troubled CanWest Global Communications.

Barb Williams, executive VP of content at CanWest Broadcasting, said the deal will not impact her buying plans at the Screenings since the deal has yet to receive regulatory approval.

Inspite of financial woes, Williams and her colleagues managed to score some of the hits of the past couple of seasons, notably “Glee” and “NCIS Los Angeles.” That’s why Global won’t be buying big this year.

“We’re going to L.A. with a very stable schedule with a lot of fresh hits, so we don’t need a whole lot,” said Williams. “We’ve had a very strong year here at Global.”

All the broadcast players in Canada are struggling with falling profits and their fight to get cable and satellite operators pay them a fee to carry their channels has yet to be resolved.

CTV prexy of content Susanne Boyce says this makes it more challenging to buy in L.A. but she notes that some things never change.

“What works best is telling a good story, whether it’s comedy, drama or reality,” said Boyce.

Unlike other buyers who go home and later make deals, the Canadian do their buying on the spot in L.A. and the deals are expected to be all wrapped by the end of next week.

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