Canadians hit spending record for U.S. shows

Broadcasters spent $846.3 mil on foreign series

TORONTO -- Despite shrinking ad dollars, loss-making private Canadian broadcasters continue to invest record dollars into U.S. network series for their primetime schedules.

Saddled with multiyear output deals with Hollywood studio suppliers, Canadian broadcasters spent a record $846.3 million, or 59% of their programming expenditures, on foreign, mostly American shows, in the year to Aug. 31, 2009, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission reported Thursday.

That represented a 9.2% jump on the $775.2 million spent in 2008.

The country's TV regulator also revealed private broadcasters spent less on homegrown programming last year -- $599.4 million in 2009, 3% down on a year-earlier $619 million invested in local TV shows.

The Canucks' unceasing appetite for U.S. network series came as private networks saw total revenue fall 7.9% last year, or $1.97 billion in 2009, against a year-earlier $2.14 billion.

Canadian broadcasters did receive a respite from recession-driven TV ad revenue losses due to higher primetime ratings after introducing the Portable People Meter and finding unmeasured viewers.

But the latest CRTC survey of Canadian conventional broadcasters also revealed they lost $116.4 million before interest and taxes in 2009, compared to a profit before interest and taxes of $8 million in 2008.

Canadian broadcasters stuffing their primetime slates with expensive U.S. series comes as they clamour for domestic cable and satellite TV providers to pay retransmission fees to make up for their continuing losses.

Primetime ratings king CTV even threatened to force domestic cable companies to yank popular U.S. programs they hold the Canadian rights to if it cannot successfully negotiate first-time carriage fees from content carriers.

Canada's retransmission fee brawl comes as domestic content carriers remain the sweet spot of the Canadian industry.

The CRTC reported total revenue for domestic cable operators climbed to $9.2 billion in 2009, against a year-earlier $8.2 billion, with their total profit before interest and taxes rising just over 10% to CAN$2.3 billion.