As Hollywood gets into gear with decreased pilots and staggered production, Canadian broadcasters that typically rely on U.S. programming acquisitions to anchor their fall schedules have also faced a shortage of new product. But a dearth of American shows is also leading to new opportunities.
The three private broadcasters — Bell Media, Rogers Sports & Media and Corus — presented virtual upfronts to advertisers this week, unveiling schedules that remained fairly similar year-on-year as executives banked on stability and returning series, with a few, coronavirus-era tweaks.
“It wasn’t really a seller’s market,” says Corus Entertainment’s SVP of broadcast networks, Daniel Eves. “There was less product available, but there was also less to show in terms of what a pilot would be. The combination of not knowing what the product would look like [along] with the timing in the market itself [meant] there wasn’t a leverage point on either side in terms of the sellers being able to charge more, or for us being able to point to an abundance of programming to pick from.”
Corus rounded out its Global TV fall schedule with the Queen Latifah-led drama “The Equalizer” while snatching “neXt” from Bell Media, which had previously commissioned the A.I. series for its midseason schedule in fall 2019. For its part, Bell, which declined to be interviewed for this story, kept with its other 2019 midseason acquisition, “Filthy Rich.” It rounded out the CTV schedule with “B Positive” and the incoming “Supermarket Sweep” reboot.
The network currently airs “Law & Order: SVU” but it did not invest in the upcoming Chris Meloni-starring spinoff; that landed at Rogers Sports & Media where it joins the three Dick Wolf “Chicago” series on Citytv. ABC’s incoming “Big Sky” was not picked up.
“Having a similar schedule year-over-year-is a good thing for both viewers and advertisers,” adds Hayden Mindell, Rogers Sports & Media’s VP of TV programming and content. Like many in the industry, the executive reveals a major part of his job focus has shifted to drawing up contingency plans in the wake of the pandemic.
Although Mindell says there is a plan in place until December, the schedule for Rogers Sports & Media-owned Citytv included a look forward with the midseason pickups of “Young Rock” starring Dwayne Johnson and “Mr. Mayor” starring Ted Danson. Mindell notes both acquisitions are in line with the company’s strategy of banking on big names and big franchises — especially, in current circumstances, without being able to see a finished product.
In the fall, those franchises extend to unscripted programming like “Dancing With the Stars,” “The Bachelorette” and “Hockey Night in Canada” following a $5.2 billion deal in 2013 to air NHL games. Waiting to hear how the NHL season unfolds is an ongoing part of those “endless contingency plans, which are constantly being updated with variations for all of the variables that could possibly occur,” says Mindell.
On the specialty side, Eves reveals Corus looked at other international markets, acquiring series like Sky One’s “Intelligence” and Sky Atlantic’s “Devils.” To fill content hours, they also bet big on streaming services; the company announced a deal to bring Peacock original productions to various channels across the Corus slate, while adding a slew of CBS All Access programming even though the streaming service is available in Canada.
“Some of the subscription services just don’t have a marketing platform that we have here at Corus,” Eves says. “This is going to bring those shows to a whole new audience.”
Across the board, all of the private broadcasters, which typically come under fire from critics this time of year for lean Canadian content on the main networks, also announced renewed commitments to Canadian programs like “Transplant,” “Jann,” “Nurses” and “Hudson & Rex.” As U.S. broadcasters look North to round out their own schedules, that has created new opportunities for all CanCon creators — a trend that’s paid off in particular for public broadcaster CBC, which has a Canadian-first, acquisition-second approach to its schedule.
According to Jennifer Dettman, executive director of unscripted content for CBC, that approach allows the network to have more control of the fall schedule. There’s “a backlog” of Canadian content that will bolster the schedule for the entire year, but it also puts the broadcaster in prime position for international buyers — especially in the wake of buzzy sales on shows like “Coroner” and “Fridge Wars,” which both sold into The CW. In the long run, Dettman speculates the shift could be good news for Canadian television in general.
“These partnerships help elevate budgets, which in turn help elevate production values,” Dettman says. “There are more opportunities for partnerships on shows that they haven’t seen before. There’s really great storytelling, and really great series that I’m hoping more people in the world will get to see now.”