Canadian TV bulks up on U.S. fare

Spent $521.7 million on foreign, mostly American programs

TORONTO -- Canadian cable, pay TV and other niche services have survived the economic downturn by bulking up on U.S. programming fare.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the country's TV regulator, on Thursday reported domestic narrowcasters in 2009 spent $521.7 million on foreign, mostly American TV fare, up 36% from 2008 expenditures.

The biggest slice of spending for U.S. programming, or $320 million, went to drama fare, with the second biggest bet, or $50.1 million, being made on sports programming.

The spike was due in part to the launch of HBO Canada in late 2008 by co-owners Corus Entertainment and Astral Media, and rival broadcasters similarly acquiring popular U.S. series to offset falling advertising revenue with higher subscriber revenue.

On Canadian programming expenditures last year, the CRTC reported cable, pay TV and VOD services paid out $1.08 billion, virtually unchanged from 2008 levels.

The biggest cost was $302.6 million for domestic sports programming, and another $183.3 million poured into local dramas.

By contrast with Canadian over-the-air TV stations, which have been hammered by a TV advertising slump during the economic downturn, the CRTC reported that domestic cable, pay TV, pay-per-view and VOD services saw combined revenue jump 6% to $3.1 billion in 2009, against a year-earlier $2.92 billion.

The sector also posted pre-tax profits of $655.3 million in 2009, compared to a year-earlier $610.6 million in pre-tax earnings.