Canadian Bacon

Broadcasters in the Great White North are looking for U.S. programming at bargain prices

TORONTO -- They still covet those U.S. shows, but cash-strapped Canadian broadcasters hope the recession puts a damper on volume buying and prices at the L.A. Screenings.

Barbara Williams, executive vp content at Canwest Broadcasting, expects cost-cutting at the Canadians' studio program suppliers to feed through to pricing for new and existing series at the annual TV market.

"The pressure is on through the whole cycle, from production to sale," she says. "Are we hopeful the business will rationalize? We are. But we're not naive about the challenges."

The CRTC, Canada's TV watchdog, has threatened to cap American spending by Canadian broadcasters as they pack their bags for Los Angeles.

"The market will take care of that kind of American spending, because we're not getting the margins we need for it," CTVglobemedia CEO Ivan Fecan argued to the CRTC in late April as he urged the regulator to let the market sort out what the Canadians spend in Los Angeles. "We don't intend to engage in any bidding wars in this kind of environment."

Other factors that could trim series price tags this year include Canwest buying only for its Global Television network, and not its five E!-branded channels currently on the auction block.

The Canadians also anticipate a return to normalcy this year after 2008 when they bought rookie series mostly on scripts and story lines after the WGA strike.

The studio suppliers are already girding for the Canadians to be tightwads in hard times. "As a result of the economy, things being tighter, people will be a little more methodical and careful on how they spend their money. That will result in a little more of an orderly market," one U.S. program supplier says.

Of course, the heat of battle for new U.S. series every year tests the Canadians' traditional prudence. "It's kind of hard to say, you never know how the market will go. When you think there may not be huge demand, there's huge demand," says Malcolm Dunlop, Rogers Media's executive vp of programming, who will be buying for his Citytv-branded stations.