Battling Canadian Networks End Short Truce Over U.S. Primetime Shows

5:26 AM PST 12/16/2011 by Etan Vlessing
Cliff Lipson/CBS

Do they ever learn? Rogers Media and Bell Media started the week spending $1.32 billion to jointly run pro sport teams and end it battling over how to interpret Fall TV season ratings.

TORONTO - Well, that didn’t take long.

Arch-rival broadcasters Bell Media and Rogers Media started the week with their top executives and parent companies all smiles over a $1.32 billion deal to jointly own prized Canadian TV properties, including the Toronto Maple Leaf and Toronto Raptors pro sport teams.

“George, go figure," Rogers Communications CEO Nadir Mohamed told phone giant BCE CEO George Cope as they shared a stage in Toronto to announce they had joined forces to purchase a 75 percent stake in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, and its lucrative TV sports and digital assets.

Both Rogers and BCE own several TV stations that air the live games of the pro sport teams over which they had just purchased control.

So as incredulous business writers looked on, a back-slapping Cope and Mohamed made out as if they had just put down their weapons and walked away from their tanks to usher in a whole new way to do business in Canadian TV -- a collegiate style.

They did have us going there for a minute.

By Thursday, Rogers Media and Bell Media were at loggerheads again, this time over how their respective U.S. network series fared on their conventional TV stations during the Fall 2011 season.

Bell Media opened the skirmishing with a press release that brought out BBM Canada numbers to indicate its CTV network had four of Canada's top five most-watched shows at the end of the Fall 2011 TV season, including The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy and The Amazing Race.

After that, out came the knives.

Bell Media couldn’t resist reporting that its secondary CTV Two network had overtaken Rogers Media’s Citytv stations to become the fourth-ranked network in Canada.

“Nationally, CTV Two leads Citytv by 9%. CTV Two also leads Citytv in Vancouver by 7% with total viewers, A18-49 and A25-54,” the Bell Media Fall 2011 report card added.

That may not look like much of a thrust from Hollywood where blood feuds are common, but Rogers Media felt something of a glancing blow.

“We consider their comparisons a compliment, especially since Citytv is only in its second year of Hollywood prime-time programming,” Scott Moore, president of broadcasting at Rogers Media, said in his own statement issued late in the day.

The Fall TV season saw Rogers Media gain traction in Canadian primetime with rookie shows like Person of Interest, Terra Nova, New Girl and 2 Broke Girls, all of which received full-season orders.

Moore added that, despite CTV reaching into 98 percent of Canadian homes and Citytv reaching only 72 percent of domestic households, Citytv was gaining ground as “others are obviously looking over their shoulders.”

“The truth is, our year-over-year growth is far outpacing CTV's,” Moore concluded.

The Rogers Media exec also trumpeted the growth of his Sportsnet cable sports channel, which he insisted was taking market share away from top-ranked TSN, which BCE acquired when it bought the former CTVglobemedia and rebranded it as Bell Media earlier this year.

For its part, Bell Media didn’t rise to the bait and comment publicly on Moore’s commentary.

But the broadcaster privately insisted CTV and CTV Two were up 3 percent year-on-year in the key A25-54 and A18-49 demos, and Citytv stations were down 3 percent and 2 percent for the same demos.

Bell Media was also keen to point out that Rogers Media’s contention that Citytv reaches 78 percent of homes nationally, against 98 percent for CTV, account only for over-the-air transmitters.

The real battleground, Bell Media countered, were domestic cable and satellite TV services, which reach into virtually all Canadian homes, and give Citytv, CTV and CTV Two an equal playing field on which to do battle.

Of course, away from the fishbowl that is Canadian broadcasting, the public battle between Rogers Media and Bell Media over how to interpret primetime ratings really sheds light on how top broadcast executives operate behind the scenes.

As long as they collaborate on homegrown TV properties, they’re all right.

A year ago, Rogers and then CTVglobemedia teamed up to successfully bring Canadians the 2010 Winter Olympic Games from Vancouver.

That cooperation had Rogers’ Mohamed and BCE’s Cope convinced, at least in front of the TV cameras this week, that they can jointly own and operate pro sport teams.

But the minute they run the numbers on their U.S. shows – TV properties local audiences and advertisers most covet - they drop all the talk about brotherly love and are back at their battlestations.

Which is where Rogers Media and Bell Media were on Thursday.

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