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Rogers looks to new U.S. series for Citytv

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TORONTO -- Rogers Communications expects to be a major buyer of rookie U.S. series at the Los Angeles Screenings now that it has bought five Citytv-branded TV stations, the Canadian cable and phone giant told broadcast regulators Wednesday.

Speaking at a public hearing called to consider its purchase of the Citytv stations from the rival CTV network, Rogers Media CEO Tony Viner said that airing more first-run U.S. network series in primetime will restore profitability to the free, over-the-air channels. "City will have to carefully pick its spots," Viner told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Until now, Rogers has been a fringe buyer at the Los Angeles Screenings, mostly for its Omni-branded multicultural TV stations.

A bigger Rogers appetite for U.S. network series will be welcome in Los Angeles as the recent Screenings saw only two major buyers of rookie American series: CTV and CanWest MediaWorks.

And, to the frustration of U.S. suppliers, both bought along studio lines: CanWest MediaWorks picked up product from CBS Paramount International TV, Sony Pictures Television International and 20th Century Fox Television Distribution, while rival CTV did its volume purchasing from Warner Bros. International TV and Disney/ABC International Television.

Rogers entering the fray at the next Los Angeles Screenings should enable more strategic selling by the U.S. studios, rather than selling entire slates.

At the same time, Rogers executives told the CRTC commissioners that it will not be able to amortize the cost of expensive new U.S. series over a wide network of TV stations, as Chum Television, the former owners of the CityTV stations, was able to do.

"It's going to be very difficult for us to manage the same synergies they (Chum) have been able to extract," Rogers Broadcasting Rael Merson said.