Canada’s Blue Ant Media and BBC Worldwide North America have signed a deal to launch premium factual channel BBC Earth in the territory. The commercial-free channel, scheduled to debut on Jan. 24, will give Canadians exclusive access to BBC Earth’s slate of natural world programming, including “The Hunt,” and the keenly anticipated “Planet Earth II,” narrated by David Attenborough.
The premiere of “Planet Earth II” will be broadcast on BBC Earth in Canada on Jan. 28, day-and-date with the U.S. premiere on BBC America. Blue Ant will release further programming information and scheduling details for the channel in early January. BBC Earth will be broadcast in Canada in HD and will replace Blue Ant’s existing radX channel.
Ann Sarnoff, president of BBC Worldwide North America, told Variety the company had a strong history of commercial partnerships with Blue Ant’s team, and in particular Michael MacMillan, Blue Ant’s co-founder and CEO, and a former chairman and CEO of Alliance Atlantis Communications. MacMillan launched the first-ever BBC channel in Canada, BBC Canada, in 2000.
She explained that MacMillan and Raja Khanna, Blue Ant’s CEO of television and digital, “had been interested in launching a channel with us, and we felt the BBC Earth brand would be a great thing to bring to the market in Canada because it is a genre that they’re very interested in and very good at, and we know and like them as partners, so it is a very natural fit.”
Khanna said that Blue Ant has other channels in the factual space. “We feel this is a perfect complement to those, because Canadians do have a great appetite for high-quality specialty programming,” he said.
Khanna added the BBC brand was “very strong” in Canada, and underscored the strong cultural connections between Canada and the U.K. — the face of the British monarch, Elizabeth II, even appears on some Canadian banknotes. “We are culturally caught between the two worlds of the influence of our southern border, but also our Commonwealth history, so Canada feels a great deal of affinity toward, not just the BBC, but the British editorial sentiment as well,” he said.
Sarnoff said: “We’ve always felt that we’ve had a disproportionate demand from Canadian consumers for our content.”
She said that the timing was perfect to launch the channel as they had “Planet Earth II” as its flagship. The show is enjoying a stellar run in the U.K., where it has regularly attracted more than 10 million viewers and around a 40% share. “It has such a brand credibility and legacy with ‘Planet Earth I,’ and it is doing even better than that, which is incredible.” The original show is the best performing natural history series in Canada on DVD to date, Sarnoff said. “We know our premier natural history landmark shows perform very well in Canada.”
Khanna added: “There is a lot of anticipation in Canada for this program, from everyone — my parents, my friends, all our co-workers — Canada is eager and hungry for this content. From a personal point, I just can’t wait as this content is of such fantastic quality.”