CTV-Rogers deal for Canadian VOD market

Agreement covers 17 series

TORONTO -- It's a surprising growth sector in a downcast Canadian broadcast market: digital video-on-demand is resonating with footloose digital TV viewers here.

Canadian broadcaster CTV on Wednesday became the latest player to forge a new revenue stream by making new episodes of 17 series, including CBS' "The Amazing Race" and "Criminal Minds" and ABC's "Desperate Housewives," available on Rogers Communications' cable VOD service.

The move underlines how Canada's VOD market, launched a decade ago with mostly on-demand movies to reel in Canadians with catch-up viewing and reduce subscriber churn, has suddenly moved deep into domestic primetime schedules.

Rogers serves about 1.6 million of Canada's 4.5 million digital cable homes. The deal with CTV will see popular series like CBS Studios' "America's Top Model" and "The Beautiful Life," WB's "Fringe" and "The Mentalist" and the U.S. and Canadian versions of "So You Think You Can Dance" land on Rogers' VOD service after their initial airdates.

Also set for on-demand viewing via Rogers is CTV's daytime series "The Dr. Oz Show," from Harpo Productions and Sony Pictures Television, and its late night series "The Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show."

Most of the CTV series shifting to Rogers VOD are serialized, notes Mike Cosentino, senior vp of program scheduling at CTV Networks, underlining the ease and efficiency with which viewers can now "stay up to speed with their favorite programs," and allow CTV to retain viewers increasingly migrating to niche channels and the Internet.

The CTV deal brings the Rogers On Demand service to over 4,500 hours of programming. Rival broadcaster Canwest Global Communications struck a deal with Rogers last year to shift some of its popular U.S. series to VOD.

Kaan Yigit, president of Toronto-based consultancy Solutions Research Group, says VOD provides convenience to viewers and added exposure to broadcast rights-holders for their popular U.S. series.

But Yigit points to real value from one-demand platforms for cablecasters threatened with disintermediation in an increasingly digital age.

"Long-form viewing on the Internet is growing rapidly and this is before something like Hulu is in Canada and VOD is an important line of defense," he argued.

According to Solutions Research Group data, half of all Canadian digital cable subscribers used VOD at some time in the second quarter of 2009, or around 2.2 million homes.

Among Rogers digital subscribers, 51% used VOD in the same period, and 17% were weekly users.

Yigit said the movie selection and choice of prime time shows on Canadian VOD has been "relatively slim pickings" until now, compared to U.S. market VOD offerings.

But all that could change with CTV, Canada's prime time ratings leader, biting the bullet and shifting its prime time series to on-demand platforms beyond its network Web site.