Canadian Networks Ramp Up Hollywood Dealmaking to Fend Off Netflix

The Hollywood Sign - Getty - H 2016
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The pressure to find the next 'Survivor' or 'Modern Family' also is complicated this year by the U.S. networks doubling down on TV reboots, remakes and adaptations to join their schedules this season.

As if a soft ad market and Netflix Canada aren't big enough challenges, Canadian networks buying rookie and returning U.S. shows at the Los Angeles Screenings next week have a new wall to climb: Donald Trump's presidential run.

"We all need to acknowledge it. The U.S. election will be disruptive," Corus Entertainment executive vp and COO Barb Williams , told The Hollywood Reporter as she gets set to open her wallet wide next week for new U.S. dramas and comedies for her Global Television network back home.

The Canadians, on Friday starting their annual Hollywood shopping expedition with screenings of new pilots on studio lots, remember Trump's Saturday Night Live hosting gig in November 2015 giving that show its biggest ratings in years, and this week seeing networks hold new shows for mid-season, after the U.S. election is over.

Trump, likely to dominate the news cycle during the upcoming November sweeps, has the Canadians questioning how they can get the biggest bang for their acquisition dollars as they do deals with their Hollywood studio suppliers. "You have the World Series for Fox being a double pain in the butt with the election," said another frustrated Canadian broadcaster privately as the Toronto Blue Jays could return to the Major League Baseball playoffs this fall.

The Canadians are unique among foreign buyers in purchasing on the hop at the Screenings, as their primetime schedules virtually mirror those of the U.S. in being a mish-mash of the five network schedules, if you include The CW. The Canadians also typically simulcast or air American primetime series in the same time slot as they hold on U.S. networks south of the border, to maximize audience and advertising revenues.

So the pressure to find the next Survivor or Modern Family also is complicated this year by the U.S. networks doubling down on TV reboots, remakes and adaptations to join their schedules this season. "There are a lot of remakes. People want to recreate the great hits," Colette Watson, vp TV and broadcast operations at Rogers Media, which runs the City network, observed.

"We'll wait to see what the new stuff is, what the reboots are like, and choose what we think is right for our audience and our station," she added. The Canadians get the U.S. studios looking to familiar IP to help launch news shows in a crowded market, but are also asking where the original fresh series ideas are for returning hits like Quantico and Blindspot.

"You have two dozen titles that are basically remakes. I just wonder, what's going on ... are we running out of ideas?" said one Canadian veteran of the L.A. Screenings. The anxiety springs from Canadian buyers still relying on U.S. superhero, crime dramas and comedies to win primetime slots north of the border, not local shows like foreign broadcasters elsewhere.

The fast-changing Canadian broadcast landscape also has viewers and advertisers increasingly migrating to cable channels, the internet and Netflix Canada. To match that competition, the Canadians doing package buying at the Screenings also will look to restock the shelves at upstart video streaming services like Shomi and CraveTV.

"We're competing for our viewers' attention in primetime, not just against my traditional competitors, but against all other forms of entertainment, and other platforms," said Mike Cosentino, senior vp programming at CTV Networks and CraveTV. "For us, it's even more imperative to come back with a strong schedule and ... to be the home of the hits."

The Canadians should conclude the bulk of their dealmaking by next Wednesday or Thursday before flying back to Toronto to unveil their fall schedules to local advertisers in early June.