Trying a little friendly persuasion

Canada group decries b'casters' spending on U.S. shows

Canadian broadcasters on Monday came under fire for spending taxpayer dollars as they wheel and deal for U.S. network series this week at the Los Angeles Screenings.

The Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, which represents about 50,000 domestic TV viewers, said private networks are spending record amounts on new U.S. shows and using taxpayer subsidies meant for homegrown programming to do so.

"Private broadcasters enjoy a substantial amount of public funding every year that is intended to encourage more Canadian content," FCB spokesman Ian Morrison said. "It would seem that the unintended consequence is simply to deepen the pockets of private broadcasters for their annual trek to Hollywood, especially when you consider their dismal record of spending on Canadian drama shows."

Citing data from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the country's TV watchdog, the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting said that Canadian private broadcasters in 2006 spent CAN$479 million on foreign, mostly U.S. dramas, up 16% from 2005 expenditures, while spending on Canadian drama declined 15%, from CAN$84.1 million in 2005 to CAN$70.9 million last year.

Most of that money was spent at the annual Los Angeles Screenings, where top Canadian broadcasters like CTV, CanWest MediaWorks and Chum attempt to outduel each other for new and returning U.S. network series.

The criticism from the FCB came as the Canadians on Friday joined other foreign buyers in screening U.S. series for the 2007-08 TV season.

But unlike other international broadcasters who mostly browse at the annual programming bazaar and wait until fall to judge the ratings and possible longevity of new U.S. series, the Canadians will do deals with U.S. program suppliers in Los Angeles this week before flying back to Toronto to market and sell potential primetime hits to Canadian advertisers at their own upfront presentations in early June.

The Canadians' haste in Los Angeles comes as they generally air, or "simulcast," U.S. series in the same time slots they hold south of the border, replacing U.S. commercials with Canadian ones to drive revenues.

No surprises have so far emer-ged as the Canadians continue negotiations with U.S. suppliers to renew U.S. shows in their stable.

CTV, Canada's ratings leader, does its best numbers back home with hits like Fox's "American Idol" and CBS' "CSI" franchise, while rival CanWest MediaWorks gets its biggest bang with advertisers from Fox's "House" and NBC's "Heroes," among other series.

But the real deals will be made Wednesday when CTV, CanWest MediaWorks and other Canadian broadcasters ink deals for new U.S. series.

Heading into the Screenings, the CRTC made the Canadians' U.S. purchases even more valuable by easing restrictions on the number of commercials Canuck broadcasters can air per hour (HR 5/18).

The CRTC said Canadian networks will be able to air 14 minutes per hour this September, up to 15 minutes by fall 2008 and as many minutes per hour as the market will bear by 2009.