Canadian make-goods on horizon



TORONTO -- A prolonged U.S. writers strike could force Canadian broadcasters into issuing make-goods to advertisers if ratings for American primetime series suffer in repeats.

Disruption for Canadian advertisers from the three-week-old labor dispute has so far been restricted to late-night talkers that shifted into repeats soon after the U.S. writers took to the picket lines.

But Florence Ng, vp broadcast investments at Toronto-based media buyer Zenith Optimedia, said Tuesday that advertisers have drawn up contingency plans if the current labor standoff stretches into January, when U.S. networks are expected to have burned through fresh episodes of dramas and comedies.

And if the American networks run repeats, such over-the-air broadcasters as CTV, Global Television and E! Canada are expected to do the same.

Under that scenario, Ng said her agency will need to negotiate compensation from broadcasters for advertisers for lower ratings.

"What (U.S. shows) we buy is based on ratings estimates, and any change, be it from repeats or new shows, will impact on what we negotiate," Ng said.

She added that Zenith Optimedia and other media buyers will need to go back over the schedules of Canadian broadcasters and make new estimates based on key demos. "We will have to start all over. I wish there was a short cut," Ng said.

Renegotiations that lead to compensation for advertisers would be bad news for conventional Canadian broadcasters already saddled with make-goods because of underperforming rookie U.S. series in recent years.

Susanne Boyce, president of creative, content and channels at CTV, said her network's sales department will address the issue of advertiser compensation, if need be.

On the programming side, she is mapping evolving strike plans that include using U.S. and Canadian midseason shows and new series as possible replacement fare.

"We're not burying our heads. I'm just trying to make it a good experience for the viewer," Boyce said.

For example, Canadian ratings leader CTV is bringing the last nine episodes of HBO's "The Sopranos" off the shelf and scheduling a December run.

CTV also has picked up the "Dancing With the Stars" spinoff, "Dance Wars: Bruno vs. Carrie"; the new drama "Eli Stone," starring Jonny Lee Miller; the game show "Duel"; and Oprah Winfrey's primetime reality series "Oprah Winfrey's The Big Give."

Boyce said CTV will go with repeats where it makes sense, adding that such dramas as CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and ABC's "Lost" will retain viewership.

But other series might not fare as well in repeats, so Boyce will look to cherrypick fresh episodes of U.S. and Canadian shows on the shelf to retain viewers.

Other new U.S. series from CTV include Fox's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," an offshoot of the "Terminator" feature franchise.

Returning U.S. series CTV has planned for the first quarter include "American Idol," which Fox might extend to three nights, "Lost" and new cycles of Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" and ABC's "Dancing With the Stars."

CTV's midseason game plan also will include the Super Bowl after this year grabbing the rights to the marquee event from rival CanWest MediaWorks.

Rival broadcaster CanWest MediaWorks, which operates the Global Television and E! over-the-air networks here, has its own contingency plans for a long strike, including possible compensation to advertisers.

Brett Manlove, senior vp broadcast sales and marketing at CanWest, said the broadcaster continues to "monitor our clients' campaigns to ensure the best management of their objectives."

He added that as the Global Television and E! Canada primetime schedules evolve, the sales team will work with their programming colleagues "to offer the best solutions and opportunities as they arise."

CanWest also will look to tap a recent program supply agreement with the U.S.-based E! channel to provide Global Television and E! Canada with a stream of strike-proof programming.

Global Television also will have "Survivor" return in early 2008, which CBS might bring back sooner.

And Kathy Dore, president of television and radio at CanWest, told financial analysts this month that the broadcaster was in close contact with its Hollywood program suppliers as it planned for a possible long dispute.

"Generally ... there's a sense that the stockpile of current programming is enough to take most networks and most programs up through the end of the calendar year," she said. "Obviously the U.S. networks are all looking at contingency plans and beginning to produce more reality programming. Certainly, if the strike isn't settled relatively quickly, that will pick up."