FX Canada: do we watch brands or shows?

Are all U.S. cable networks imported equally? I have a feature in today’s Toronto Star Entertainment section on the launch of FX Canada. The new digital service will bow Monday at 9 p.m. with American Horror Story–just in time for Halloween. The off-beat comedy Wilfred (starring Jason Gann, right), will be another FX Canada offering.
So far the station will just be available to Rogers Digital and East Link subscribers. (In Toronto: channel 318; hi-def channel 565). There will be a two month free window. Deals on other carriers across Canada are still being negotiated.
There’s a sidebar to the feature looking at how some other U.S. cable migrations have fared in Canada. For years we got the shows not the stations. Programs like The Sopranos, Sex and the City or Rescue Me trickled across the border as they were cherry picked by various Canadian broadcasters. Some episodes would air here three or six months after they premiered in the U.S., some the next night.
Some never caught on. FX’s The Shield was a bust in Canada, booted all over Global schedule. They finally gave up on it.
The cherry picking goes on and its causing some hiccups for FX Canada. The Pay TV service Super Channel currently has the latest episodes of current FX hits Justified and Sons of Anarchy and airs them day-and-date with the FX in the States. Those deals remain in place and that’s why you’ll only see the first two seasons of those shows on the new FX Canada.
The big winner in the U.S. cable brand airlift so far to me anyway seems to be Astral and Corus and their deal to offer HBO Canada on one of their East/West multiplexes. In speaking to HBO marketing V.P. Domenic Vivolo for the Star, he told me their research showed it wasn’t enough to have the shows. “Really what Canadians wanted was the brand.”
Vivolo’s previous gig was in marketing at SkyDome in Toronto. Torontonians didn’t just want a baseball team, they wanted the whole major league baseball experience, he reasons.
Still, maybe the whole brand is a bust. The jury’s still out on OWN.
To that end, how well Rogers replicates the FX “There is no Box” experience may be a key to this deal. How to boot a brand was demonstrated a few years ago by Global when E! programming was dumped into CHCH and other stations along with local news and other syndicated fare. The dogs breakfast was rejected by confused viewers (who probably already had their fill of all the celebrity rehab crap E! had to offer at the time. Bell is trying again with E!, this time as a diginet).

Some U.S.cable services will likely never land in Canada. Officials at CTV/Bell, partnered with ESPN in content deals for TSN–are just not motivated to bring ESPN 2 to Canada. The rabid fan base for U.S.college football—a big draw Stateside on “The Deuce”—is just not robust enough in Canada to justify the expense and marketing required to launch another specialty station.
One of the most popular U.S.cable services—Comcast-owned The USA Network—seems doomed just by virtue of its name. Canadians will likely continue to see USAshows such as shot-in-Toronto Covert Affairs on Canadian specialty stations like Showcase.  
Corus announced yesterday they have partnered with ABC/Disney on a new channel to launch in 2012: Disney Spark. This channel will be aimed at “Canada’s young adult millennial viewer.” I don’t know what that means either but these cats seem to know what they are doing.

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