As the WGA strike continues, Canadian broadcasters are conducting business as usual—at least in front of the cameras.
Bell Media and Corus Entertainment launched upfront presentations for advertisers and media buyers in Toronto last week, while Rogers Sports & Media opted for a virtual presentation. (Public broadcaster CBC skipped the traditional industry-facing event in favor of a series of meetings, but is planning a launch event in late fall.)
Over the week, company leaders laid out 2023-24 broadcast schedules anchored by American acquisition programming. They boasted Canadian originals and specialty content. Rogers announced the buzzy new “Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent.” Bell Media upped its original library to more than 1,000 hours and revealed the upcoming launch of ad tiers to its streaming service, Crave. And Corus confirmed 25 new and returning original titles.
The events were notably less focused on the traditional fall schedules than in previous years as the companies flew fewer talent in to promote acquisitions. That didn’t stop Canadian execs from snatching up content from American studios at the L.A. screenings last month, however, where there was still ample content to sample.
“There wasn’t a big difference this year in terms of availability,” Pat DiVittorio, Bell Media’s VP of programming, CTV and Speciality, tells Variety. “We saw some really good stuff; it just may not land on the schedule at the time that it would normally land on the schedule.”
She adds that in the instances where American networks failed to announce schedules, her teams guessed where shows may fall in the lineup in order to benefit from a CTV simulcast.
“Some networks may have announced schedules that we’re not sure will come to fruition,” she adds. “We’re using our relationships to build intel and try to decode what is going to happen. The challenge is figuring out what’s real and what’s not.”
As the writers strike continues, the window for traditional fall broadcast launches tightens. So as Canadian execs struck deals with studios this year, contingency plans were top of mind. Bell Media’s VP of content development and programming, Justin Stockman, reveals they know what many of those U.S. broadcasters’ plans are, even in cases where they haven’t been publicly announced.
The message? Canadians can expect a fall TV season full of original content.
“Everything we’re saying for fall will actually happen because it’s either unscripted, or the show already exists because it was pre-shot, or it’s Canadian content where we control what happens with it,” he says.
“We have a schedule and over the next couple of months that schedule could just get better because we can use those contingency plans to our advantage,” DiVittorio adds. “What we chose to do is to move forward with the schedule that’s real, that will go to air, that’s strike-proof.”
Hayden Mindell, Rogers Sports & Media’s senior VP of television, also maintains that Citytv’s fall schedule will consist of fresh programming each night during the primetime hours.
“It’s on everybody’s mind, but we have a contingency plan,” he says. “You have to plan to put together the best schedule you can — that’s the first focus. And then what disruptions occur is also a consideration. I can’t speak to the other networks, but if and when that occurs we’ll present a schedule that will be wholly original and in simulcast.”
Over at Corus Entertainment, executive VP of broadcast networks Troy Reeb reveals unscripted content is key when it comes to filling in whatever gaps the strike may cause in the fall. He notes the company has “stocked up” on dramas and comedies for the long-term season, and will simulcast where possible as they wait for progress in the dispute.
“We need to acknowledge the reality,” he says. “If we need to have unscripted for a period of time, then we will make sure those shows get their full runs and integrate them into however the scripted schedule comes to Global.”
He adds that this year in particular is an opportunity for homegrown series to gain traction, as international broadcasters look north to potentially bolster their own schedules. “There is the opportunity, certainly for Canadian content, to break through in a big way. Not just in Canada, but internationally.”
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