E! set free in Canada


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

According to Kevin MacLellan, international president of the Comcast Entertainment Group, E! Network's existing volume deal with rival 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.

In the end, 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, explained that existing and new E! programming will fill the rebranded network's daytime, late-night and weekend schedule, allowing simulcasts of U.S. network series like "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 to comply with. 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 in doing so.

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

The strategic alliance between CanWest MediaWorks and Comcast is the latest Americanization of the Canadian TV dial, and follows rival CTV reaching an agreement with MTV Networks International to rebrand its talktv cable channel MTV.

CTV also reached an agreement with the Viacom subsidiary to place MTV programming on its main CTV network and other media platforms.

Just as CTV is using MTV-branded content to drive its march onto new digital platforms, CanWest MediaWorks will employ E! Online-branded mobile, Internet-based, VOD and satellite radio content to speed up CH's penetration of the digital space.

"This innovative alliance affords us access to multimedia content to help drive success within our broadcast business," CanWest MediaWorks' Dore said.