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Canadian Broadcasters to Play for Keeps at Los Angeles Screenings

The Big Bang Theory Love Spell Potential Episodic - H 2013
Monty Brinton/CBS
"The Big Bang Theory"

It's gloves off as arch-rival Global Television looks to unlock CTV's hold on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. with "The Big Bang Theory."

TORONTO – It’s always an open question whether Canadian broadcasters, arriving in Los Angeles this weekend for the L.A. Screenings, will be high rollers or tightwads as they do deals with their Hollywood suppliers.

But don’t look for Canadian ratings-leader CTV, long branded as the heavy for buying up product to take it away from arch-rival Global Television, to be any less competitive.

“Sometimes yes, we’ll play defense and take a show to keep it away” warned CTV president of programming and sports Phil King ahead of the Canadians’ annual Hollywood shopping expedition.

Competitive pressures on the Canadians, who do volume buying via output deals at the Screenings, may well peak when it comes to shopping for Thursday nights.

Barbara Williams, senior vp content at Global Television-parent Shaw Media, has a strong Thursday night with Fox’s Glee at 9 p.m. against Grey's Anatomy on CTV, and CBS’ Elementary at 10 p.m.

But Global has a 8 p.m. Thursday night hole since ABC canceled Last Resort and nothing has managed to fill the void.

“There’s an 8 o’clock issue for us potentially, as none of the other options have worked as well. There’s room to play around,” Williams said.

CTV doesn’t have a 8 p.m. hole as it has in The Big Bang Theory the highest rated show on Canadian TV.

But that's not stopping King from keeping an eye open for a rookie show in that time slot as CTV and Global fight a continuing war of attrition in Los Angeles.

“If the best show is at Thursday at 8 p.m., we’ll take a run at it. If it’s an okay show, we’ll leave it alone,” King said.

Unlike other foreign buyers who are mostly window-shoppers at the Screenings, the Canadians remain fiercely competitive because they know momentum can shift so quickly when your primetime schedule is a mish-mash of five U.S. networks, if you include The CW.

Malcolm Dunlop, executive vp of programming and operations at Rogers Media, which buys at the Screenings for the City network back home, knows how network fortunes can change on a dime.

Dunlop two years ago came away from the Screenings with two game changers, CBS’ Person of Interest and 2 Broke Girls, to get City back it the game against perennial players Global Television and CTV.

He'll be looking for a similar jackpot this coming week.

“We have a pretty solid schedule. This is more of a year to try to go down there and pick the best shows we can and come away with the best schedule we can,” Dunlop said of this year’s annual TV shopping spree.

The Canadians buy on the hop in Los Angeles as they typically simulcast, or air American prime time series in the same time slot as they hold on U.S. networks south of the border, to maximize audience and advertising revenues.

But precisely because their TV schedules hew close to the U.S. networks, a Canadian schedule minted in early June may well blow up in October as the Big Four broadcast networks make their first cancelations.

What’s more, the Canadians are under pressure from their studio suppliers to hit spending targets before flying back home to pitch domestic advertisers at their own Upfront presentations.

That, and the continuing importance of U.S. hits like the Survivor franchise on Global, Modern Family on City and American Idol on CTV to their primetime campaigns has the Canadians still paying progressively more each year as they bargain for rookie and returning shows with their traditional suppliers.

“We live up to our reputation for being reasonable and sensible,” Shaw Media’s Williams said as she gave the Canadians’ traditional pledge to be frugal before their buying frenzy at the Hollywood studios’ annual TV bazaar for international buyers gets underway.

“That said, we need to stay in the game. Reasonable and sensible gets uniquely defined each year by what’s going on in the marketplace,” she adds.

CTV’s King similarly insists his network won’t be shy about flexing its muscles in Los Angeles.

It helps King and his team can test new U.S. shows on the secondary CTV Two network before migrating breakout series to the main CTV network.

And CTV has in parent phone giant Bell Canada deep pockets to buy up rookie shows that have potential hit written all over them.

“They (Bell) let us invest in programming when it may change the picture for us. We’re not constrained there,” King said.

The Canadians should conclude the bulk of their deal-making by next Wednesday or Thursday before flying back to Toronto to unveil their fall schedules.