Indie producers looking outside Canada

Money for Canadian factual programming is drying up

TORONTO -- Canadians are embracing reality TV. Cash-strapped Canadian broadcasters, especially, are embracing reality TV.

Now Canadian indie producers hope international broadcasters will embrace more of their factual series to get them through hard times.

"My focus is putting the team in place to give the Americans comfort to give us money," said Guy O'Sullivan, executive producer at Proper Television, whose Discovery Channel series "Canada's Worst Driver" in December became the first Canadian non-sports cable show to draw 1 million viewers before it received an order Wednesday for a sixth season.

Despite a down economy, former BBC and Mentorn producer-director O'Sullivan, who launched Toronto-based Proper TV in 2004, plans no back-seat driving in 2010. He's just hired a new creative director and in-house counsel to quicken dealmaking, and is looking to leverage an existing output deal with ITV Worldwide to expand his development and production slate.

"There's no reason for us not to be aggressive. We've made more hours than ever before," O'Sullivan said, as he projects 42 hours of factual fare for 2010, including the relationship show "Newly Wed, Nearly Dead?" and "Canada's Worst Handyman," against 41 hours produced in 2009 and 40 hours in 2008.

Toronto indie producer Peace Arch Entertainment is also looking for international sales of its catalog after Frantic Films this week acquired the international rights to around 150 hours of factual fare made by subsidiary The Eyes Television Production.

Peace Arch Television president Michael Taylor said the deal is a "win-win," with Frantic expanding its distribution library and The Eyes' seeing its shows sell internationally.

Tanya Kelen, an executive producer at Toronto-based Kelen Content, said Canadian indie producers are pursuing rest-of-the-world presale financing and program sales as money for factual fare dries up back home.

As Canadian broadcasters continue to bankroll local programming as a condition of license, cheaply produced lifestyle and reality shows remain high on their wish list.

But they're putting the squeeze on indie producers to bring down budgets, or stretching their broadcast inventory, to deal with a continuing TV ad slump.

And few Canadian players possess the international infrastructure to secure enough foreign coin to fully fund their development and production slates.

"If you're able to make factual for the (Canadian) specialty channels, there's enough going on, there's enough audience interest. But the budgets are going down sharply," Kelen said of the Canadian broadcast landscape.

Eager to sign up foreign partners, Canadian producers are involving international broadcasters at an increasingly early stage of development.

"The good news is Canada has an incredible reputation for producing great content, and broadcasters are more open to buying it," Kelen said.

Kelen Content and Ottawa-based producer JenCor Entertainment are set to produce the big-boy toy show "Power to Sea," which showcases the latest weaponry and technology on Canadian, U.S. and British naval ships, for the world market.