Canny Canadians look for deals in LA

Canadians to shop at the LA Screenings this weekend

TORONTO -- With the U.S. network fall and midseason lineups unveiled, Canadian broadcasters are set to buy rookie U.S. series at the Los Angeles Screenings this weekend.

And their studio suppliers could learn as early as Saturday whether a succession of years where they secured primetime series price hikes from the Canadians is set to end.

The word Friday is the Canadians' screenathon has so far been orderly, in contrast to 2008 when they zipped through Los Angeles owing to a lack of pilots to view soon after the WGA strike.

"We're glad to see a full slate this year, and the quantity and quality are great," said Don Gaudet, general manager of Sun TV in Toronto.

Canwest Global has front-end loaded its screenings at CBS Paramount International TV, Sony Pictures Television International and 20th Century Fox Television Distribution, with whom it has output deals.

And rival CTV will start its studio rounds at Warner Bros. International TV and Disney/ABC International Television, where it traditionally volume buys.

NBC Universal in recent years has tended to split its product between the two market leaders, but last year managed to sell a raft of series before the Screenings to Canwest Global due to the overhang of the WGA strike.

Rogers Media, which this year needs to program its newly-acquired citytv local stations as well as its OMNI-branded stations, will screen on its own, while a group of independent Canadian buyers, led by Sun TV, will tour the studios as a group.

The early buzz surrounds medical action-dramas like NBC's "Trauma" and WB's "Miami Trauma," which is executive produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and a renewed commitment to comedies on the part of the networks.

As usual, the studios will be looking to squeeze what they can from the Canadians and other international broadcasters to offset rising production costs for U.S. series.

That said, the pricing challenge this year is that the Canadians, like other international broadcasters, have been hit with the one-two punch of eroding audiences for U.S. network series and a TV ad revenue collapse during the recession.

So the studios were told this year by the Canadians to expect less for their programming packages, and to re-price product accordingly.

"The question will be are the studios willing to take the market price, and not hold out for what they want," said one Canadian buyer privately going into this week's informal TV bazaar.

Too much product chasing too few Canadian buyers is a far cry from the 1990s when a studio with six or eight shows had a half-dozen major Canadian buyers to park their series with.

The early attention the studios pay to the Canadians also comes as they are the only international broadcasters to not window-shop at the Screenings. Instead, they buy on the hop before they fly back to Toronto to sell their fall schedules to domestic advertisers in early June.

The Canadians also give their best primetime slots, promotion and attention to U.S. shows that they generally simulcast with their U.S. network telecasts.