Canadian TV weathers strike



TORONTO -- Canadian broadcasters airing non-U.S. network fare are reporting increased viewers and subscribers during the ongoing Hollywood writers strike as popular U.S. dramas go into reruns.

John Cassaday, CEO of Corus Entertainment, which runs the Movie Central premium pay TV service, said Thursday that the writers/studio standoff has enabled his channel to sign up new subscribers with the promise of fresh U.S. cable series.

"We have a number of new (episodes) that were previously prepared that will be coming on stream in the second and third quarter," Cassaday told analysts during a conference call.

"It does provide an opportunity for those people that are perhaps somewhat frustrated with the lack of new drama content on the networks to move over to Movie Central," he added.

The pay TV service is debuting HBO's "The Wire" and "In Treatment" day-and-date with their U.S. release, to be followed in the spring with "Entourage" and "Big Love."

The rival Canadian Broadcasting Corp. is getting traction for its new homegrown series during the WGA strike.

The sitcom "Sophie" debuted Wednesday night with 630,000 total viewers, according to BBM Nielsen Media Research numbers.

Also Wednesday night, the midseason launch of "Little Mosque on the Prairie" drew 804,000 viewers, up from 750,000 viewers that tuned in to the second-season debut of the popular sitcom about quirky Muslims living in rural Saskatchewan.

The CBC had less success with another new midseason comedy, "jPod," which bowed Tuesday night with 472,000 viewers, according to BBM Nielsen Media Research.

At the same time, new action-adventure drama "The Border" bowed Monday night with 710,000 total viewers, impressive in a market where 1 million viewers amounts to a popular hit series.

"We're thrilled. The one hour drama genre is a very hard nut to crack in Canada and these numbers are a real indicator of success," Kirstine Layfield, CBC executive director of network programming, said of the reception for "The Border" (HR 1/10).

CanWest Global Communications Corp. expects to take a hit from the strike as it depends heavily on popular U.S. series to drive the primetime schedules on its two national TV networks here, Global Television and E! Canada.

At the same time, the longer the strike goes on, the more the Canadian broadcaster will save on programming costs, according to Kathy Dore, president of Canadian TV at CanWest Global.

"We've seen some slight cost savings, even in December. The longer the strike goes, the more cost savings we're likely to see. Of course, there's more risk to (advertising) revenue as well," Dore told analysts Thursday during a conference call.

She added that the real impact on the Canadian broadcaster from the strike may not be felt until 2009.

"The longer the strike goes, the real issue gets to be not so much this broadcast year, but how it impacts the next broadcast year," Dore argued.

"You get into delays in new series launching and the upfronts. Really, all you can say is the longer it (the strike) goes, the more risks there are to the bottom line," she added

To ease the impact of increased reruns of popular U.S. series on their schedule, CanWest Global and rival CTV are scheduling U.S. reality series and fresh midseason dramas to fill primetime holes.