Canadian b'casters going with the stream

More are offering popular U.S. shows online

TORONTO -- As the conventional TV advertising slump bites, Canadian broadcasters are seizing on a new revenue stream: acquiring digital rights of popular U.S. series for their broadband and entertainment portals.

Domestic broadcaster Astral Media said Monday that it reupped its supply deal with Disney-ABC-ESPN Television to include increased streaming of Disney Channel programming on its Family Channel Web site.

Astral said Family.ca will now stream Disney Channel series such as "Hannah Montana," "The Suite Life on Deck" and "Wizards of Waverly Place."

Joe Tedesco, vp and GM of Family Channel and Playhouse Disney at Astral, said he does not expect the new digital rights to be a major money-earner any time soon, but rather stoke his network's brand appeal online and send fans back to the linear offering.

"Our view is, by offering content online, it's all done in coordination with the promotion and activities of the linear and on-demand service. We see it as a way to enhance viewership," Tedesco said.

Licensing U.S. digital content is costly in terms of streaming costs and rights fees paid to the U.S. content suppliers. At the same time, Canadian broadcasters see the added expenditure as necessary to offset falling ad revenue from traditional media, and continue their migration to digital platforms.

"This is the growing part of our business," Paul Robertson, president of television at Corus Entertainment, said last week after his network renewed its supply deal for Nickelodeon series with MTV Networks International, with the new agreement to include representation of Nickelodeon digital assets north of the border.

The deal will see Corus' YTV and Treehouse Television channels, which have been buffeted by the advertising slump, secure the Canadian digital rights for pay-per-view, electronic sell-through and gaming to Nickelodeon series such as "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Dora the Explorer."

Corus also will start to sell advertising on Nickelodeon sites like Nick.com as they launch in Canada.

And domestic broadcaster CTV reports its online network, CTV.ca, last year more than doubled its traffic to 337 million video streams, compared with 162 million video streams in 2007.

The most-viewed series online are "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives," "ER," "Two and a Half Men" and the breakout hit "Mad Men."

CTV said the busiest month for CTV.ca was October, when interest among Canadians in the newly launched fall season peaked.

Stephan Argent, CTV's vp digital media, said offering popular content on CTV.ca and across his network's online platforms enables fans of U.S. series to watch and interact with the shows "on their own terms."
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