Deal will set E! free in Canada

CanWest's CH renamed with Comcast net's content

E! Networks on Tuesday unveiled plans to morph its worldwide cable and satellite brand into a free, over-the-air TV network in Canada.

As part of a strategic alliance with Toronto-based CanWest MediaWorks, Los Angeles-based Comcast Entertainment Group will license library and new TV shows as well as E! Online content from the E! Entertainment Television and Style Network services to the Canadian broadcaster for use across a range of platforms, including online, mobile, VOD and satellite radio.

But the centerpiece of the agreement is the renaming of CH, CanWest MediaWorks' existing free, over-the-air TV network. Beginning Sept. 1, the conventional network will be known simply as E!

According to Kevin MacLellan, international president of the Comcast Entertainment Group, E! Networks' existing volume deal with Canadian broadcaster Chum Ltd. is set to expire in August, and E! had been exploring with alternative Canadian partners how to raise its profile here.

MacLellan settled on CanWest MediaWorks and its bold plan to place a national broadcast network firmly under the E! umbrella.

"Their big idea was taking a strong brand like E! — which is available on multiple platforms — and putting that on free, over-the-air TV stations and on multiple platforms to create a hybrid network," MacLellan said.

The result, MacLellan said, is that E! will be airing in 75% of the Canadian market as of Sept. 1.

Kathy Dore, president of Canadian Television at CanWest MediaWorks, said that existing and new E! programming will fill the rebranded network's daytime, late-night and weekend schedule, allowing simulcasts of such U.S. network series as "NCIS" and "Deal or No Deal" to continue airing in primetime.

The only exception will be local newscasts and information shows, which will revert to their historical CH call letters to ensure continuity with local audiences.

The newly branded E! network also will have Canadian-content requirements with which to comply. CanWest MediaWorks and the Comcast Entertainment Group have agreed to form a development fund to make E!-branded shows that can air in Canada and count as indigenous content while also airing on the U.S.-based E! channel or elsewhere internationally.

MacLellan said the advantage is that the Comcast Entertainment Group can make programming for less money in Canada while also accessing tax breaks and other lucrative government subsidies.

As part of its deal, CanWest MediaWorks also will air U.S.-originated E! programming on Global Television, its second national TV network, and on 13 specialty channels recently acquired from rival broadcaster Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc.