Canadian 2020 Upfront Axed Amid Pandemic

Jasper Savage/Hulu
'The Handmaid's Tale'

Top TV execs will opt for virtual roadshows for ad buyers over live parties to tout fall schedules hopefully filled with the next 'Modern Family' or 'The Masked Singer.'

Top Canadian TV execs won't be previewing their fall TV schedules to ad buyers next month with glitzy parties featuring A-list stars, canapés and cocktails.

Canada's live 2020 Upfront has been canceled due to concerns around the coronavirus pandemic. The Hollywood Reporter has learned Bell Media, the top-rated Canadian broadcaster, has followed rivals Rogers Media and Corus Entertainment in choosing to ditch traditional June parties in Toronto.

The Canadian networks, traditionally major package buyers of new U.S. studio shows at the Los Angeles Screenings, are expected to instead preview pilots for new series in the works at the major studios before making customized pitches over what they bought in Hollywood to local advertiser and agency partners.

The Canadians are planning this year for a virtual buy of new American series, via Zoom or the phone, as they forgo the traditional rotating screenings on studio lots in Los Angeles. That's no different than what they do in the off-season when the studios send screeners to view before talks on purchases get underway.

The question mark this year is just how much product the Hollywood studios will be shopping to international buyers. CBS on Wednesday announced it had renewed 15 scripted series, but the Canadians are waiting to see what NBC does Monday, when its series renewal and cancellations are expected.

"We're hearing maybe shows, but no schedule. So at this point it's still very much a wait-and-see approach, but we are prepared for whatever may fall in our laps, keeping all options open," one Canuck programmer told THR.

Canadian buyers insist more than the pandemic is at work as their fall primetime schedules are stuffed with series from the major studios, but increasingly include U.S. streaming originals like Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale and international series.

And Canadians sheltering in their homes during the pandemic has only accelerated the shift of viewers and advertisers online. "People are binge-watching, catching up or streaming — we just don't focus solely on programming linear TV schedules like in the past," one TV exec said on background as the Canadian nets get set for their annual Hollywood shopping expedition for new and returning American shows.

The Canadian upfronts also follow quickly after the U.S. upfronts in May as primetime schedules north of the American border, where possible, mirror those of the U.S. networks so they can simulcast hit American shows to boost ad revenue.

On that account, a deepening advertising recession and travel bans also worked against holding live upfront presentations this year. Also complicating just how wide the Canadians will open their wallets for new and returning U.S. shows are the major studios closing down or delaying production on pilot series destined for sale on global broadcast and streaming platforms.

Many of the U.S. pilots and new series will have been shot in Canada, so local network execs are only too aware of a possible supply shortage of new shows for their upcoming fall/winter campaigns as shoots for their own homegrown Canadian dramas and comedies also went dark in mid-March on local soundstages.