High-Rolling Canadians Get Set to Shop at Los Angeles Screenings

Monty Brinton/CBS

Despite a soft ad market and splintering audiences at home, the Canucks will chase the next "Survivor" or "Modern Family" as they debut network series day-and-date with the U.S.

TORONTO -- Even as they face a flurry of U.S. series orders and renewals in Hollywood, plus a soft ad market and splintering audiences back home, Canadian broadcasters on Friday set out for the Los Angeles screenings in a buying mood.

"The conventional (free, over-the-air) business is not a hugely growing business anymore. That contains the expectation that way," Barb Williams, senior vp content at Shaw Media, told The Hollywood Reporter.

At the same time, Canadian conventional TV continues to draw the biggest audiences, so Williams and her buying team will be busy on their annual Hollywood shopping expedition to restock the shelf at Global Television with rookie and returning shows.

"We're not looking to overbuy or to spend in a huge way. We just want to confidently return the schedule to our viewers and our advertisers. And I think we can do that in a reasonable fashion," she insisted, echoing the Canadians' traditional pledge of frugality before their buying frenzy gets underway on studio lots.

The positive buzz around the Canadian high rollers extends to Rogers Media, which won't be buying for Saturday and Sunday nights on its City network after signing a CAN$5.2 billion (US$4.9 billion) supply deal with the National Hockey League for audience-grabbing hockey games on both nights.

But Rogers Media will open its wallet wide for new and returning U.S. shows for its weeknights schedule.

"We're going to continue to focus on really trying to get the best shows we can, between Monday and Fridays. That's always been the focus. That hasn't changed," Hayden Mindell, vp of TV at Rogers Media, said.

What has changed for Rogers and rival Canadian broadcasters is a broadcast landscape where viewers and advertisers increasingly migrate to cable channels, the Internet, and especially Netflix Canada.

"There's plenty of great shows on cable. And there continues to be competition from other tiers of television and other platforms. But nothing quite delivers like broadcast television," Mindell said.

The Canadians, including Bell Media and its CTV network, continue to be pushed to do volume buying via output deals with the U.S. studios, which maintains upward pressure on pricing in Los Angeles.

And the Canadians are still unique among foreign buyers in purchasing on the hop at the screenings, as their primetime schedules virtually mirror those of the U.S. in being a mish-mash of the five network schedules, if you include The CW.

The Canadians also typically simulcast or air American primetime series in the same time slot as they hold on U.S. networks south of the border, to maximize audience and advertising revenues.

At least they will continue simulcasting until the CRTC rules otherwise, after the country's TV watchdog recently floated a trial balloon that hinted at ending the protectionist measure.

That and the pressure to find the next U.S. network hit has the Canadians likely to be flexing their muscles at the screenings, yet again.

Shaw Media's Williams insists returning hits like Bones and Sleepy Hollow on Monday nights, the NCIS franchise on Tuesdays and Survivor on Wednesday nights has her team expecting to buy only a "handful" of shows at the screenings.

Global does, however, have a hole on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m., after Survivor.

"We have some opportunity to play something new," Williams said.

For Rogers Media, there's good news on Tuesday nights in Fox renewing New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

But City has a possible hole as it waits to see where Glee will land after the Fox musical drama moved from Global to City for its final sixth season.

"If Glee lands on Tuesdays at 8, it's to our good fortune," Mindell said.