Montreal — It was a new-look Canadian TV contingent that arrived in Los Angeles for the May Screenings and, thanks to a fresh crop of owners with deep pockets, the main networks were buying with renewed vigor.
But they’re also buying differently.
Following a couple of years of rapid-fire change in the TV biz in the Great White North, the three main webs — CTV, Global and the smaller City-TV — are now all owned by distributors.
CTV was taken over by Bell Canada, the country’s largest telco; Global, which used to be owned by the financially troubled CanWest, is now in the hands of Calgary-based Shaw Communications, one of the country’s top cable operators and Internet service providers; while City-TV, which has five stations, is the property of Rogers Communications, the leading cable operator and a major player in the cell phone sector.
They’re buying aggressively and they’re also more concerned with rights across numerous platforms, with a particular focus on portable devices.
“We acquired the rights so we can have four-screen offerings — TV, online, mobile and the tablet,” says Bell Media prexy Kevin Crull.
“The priority was to have a definition of rights that we viewed as standard when we buy any program or renew any program. We absolutely nailed it for everything we bought and everything we renewed.”
There were reports that CTV bought sparingly because it had only a small number of programming holes to fill, but Crull refutes this. Without going into financial details, he says CTV bought vigorously to ensure it remains the No. 1 network, doling out a little more cash compared with last year’s spending at the L.A. Screenings.
It nabbed NBC comedy “Whitney,” “The X-Factor,” “G.C.B.” (formerly “Good Christian Belles”) and ABC’s airline drama “Pan Am.”
“I think we walked away fulfilling more of our scheduling needs than we have done in years,” Crull says. “We filled more of today’s holes and tomorrow’s potential holes than we could’ve ever hoped.”
The third and smallest network, City-TV, surprised many by snapping up a large quantity of shows. It was the biggest Canadian buyer of Warner Bros. product, and it also landed a number of shows from Twentieth Century Fox, the latter a studio that used to send most of its product to Global. In addition, Rogers picked up “Revenge” and “Scandal” from Disney.
Global was tight-lipped regarding its L.A. buys.
Although City-TV was more forthcoming, the networks managed to keep secret the details of most of their buys for the first time ever.
It’s an indication of how much they want maximum bang for their promotional buck when they launch their schedules at their upfront presentations in Toronto this week.
And it’s yet another sign of the increased competition among CTV, Global and City-TV.
ACTRA, the main Canadian actors union, expressed disappointment that the networks were once again upping their spending on Hollywood programming.
The big three spent $846 million on U.S. programming in 2009, the most recent year for which stats are available, up more than $100 million from a year earlier. That equals 59% of all of the networks’ programming expenditures.