Confirmed CBC cuts sets TV Day a-Twitter

TV titans Pelley, Crull, Stewart, Dion and Robertson. Photo: CityNews

So we were all sitting in the dark with a bunch of ad folk early Thursday morning when something crazy happened at the TV Day symposium in Toronto: news.
Not at the industry day itself, which was organized by the folks at the Television Bureau of Canada. That was more about speculation and futures and “eco systems of start ups.” The theme was “Social Media starts here” and several guest speakers, including Bluefin co-founder Deb Roy, pointed the way.
His research-based presentation was pretty cool, all about social guidance, impact, traction and the shift in ad thinking from impressions to expressions. Lots of nifty charts and graphs. Apparently all those tweets are getting a good sniff from advertisers.
All food for thought, but these things always remind me of that scene in A Hard Day’s Night when George wanders in to a marketing office and a prickly expert mistakes him for “an early clue to the new direction.”
No, the news arrived during the first session via the Internet–which shouldn’t have surprised Roy–although not via Facebook or Twitter but good old  fashioned email. CBC, which had given the bad news to producers the night before and had to get it out there, announced which shows they were going to kick off their schedule next season.
You didn’t need to be a seer to figure out which shows would remain. Mercer, Dragons’ Den, the horsey show, 22 Minutes, all back. Ron James made the cut, as did Republic of Doyle. January starts Arctic Air and Mr. D survived; Redemption, Inc., did not. Gone, as expected, were Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays and InSecurity, as well as The Debaters (which survives on CBC radio). The pick up of Murdoch Mysteries stands. Turns out I wasn’t too far off on the predictions I made the week before.
Being Erica and Little Mosque were already toast, but the shocker, to me anyway, was the omission of Battle of the Blades, one of the network’s biggest hits the past three seasons.
CBC executive vice president Kirstine Stewart, who could easily have used a frantic few weeks coping with budget cuts as an excuse to ditch the TV Day sessions, kept the date and joined the boys running the private networks at a “TV Leaders” session. They included Bell Media president Kevin Crull, Shaw Media Group Vice President Paul Robertson, Rogers Media president Keith Pelley, and TVA CEO Pierre Dion.
A guy who writes about cars moderated the panel and barely kept it on the road, forgetting to introduce Stewart and starting the session by welcoming the ad crowd out front to “Jurassic Park.” Sure, call these folks dinosaurs, see if they come back next year, Leno.
I mean, what did Bell spend to buy Astral, $2.3 billion? Like a few weeks ago? I’m thinking they still see value in television.

TV Day was held at the Carlu, an Art Deco
event room inside a building the Eatons were
never able to finish 

The point of the morning sessions, the message from expert after expert, was that TV still drives this bus. Brit David Brennan, founder of Media Native, spoke about “Telly-porting” and saw television as the engine behind the emerging digital supermedium. Content, of course, is everything. As Dion said, “You need a big show to drive it on multi-platforms.”
There was a mike, and the TV boys looked at me like a hitch hiker with pets when I walked up to it. That’s because I brought up the ugly matter of Canadian content. Dion opened the door by crowing about how TVA created, owned and controlled the content across all these platforms thanks to Quebec’s ever rabid allegiance to its french language originals. (Think of it: TVA’s Star Academie draws 2.4 million viewers–just in Quebec!). Couldn’t the English language private networks find a lesson in that, I innocently asked?
That’s when Pelley wrapped himself all up in Canada’s Got Talent. There was nothing to even remotely suggest these guys aren’t as psyched as ever to fly down to Hollywood in a few weeks and drop millions on the next Pan Am or Playboy Club.
Surely this model doesn’t work any more, I suggested after the session to Crull. No, it is still the way things work, he insisted, allowing that the returns are diminished for imports but no more than they are for Canadian productions.
Crull did point out that CTV stuck with Flashpoint after CBS started to waver. The key to these co-pros, he said, was design them to be sustainable in Canada first, suggesting the upcoming Toronto-based drama Saving Hope–an NBC co-production–has been built on that model.
Crull’s pet peeve–tellingly–is more about control than content. He’s all for getting U.S. affiliates off our TV menus, suggesting their availability in Canada was a holdover from the ’50s. He pointed out that a surprising 40% of what’s seen on Canadian private network screens is not in simulcast, translating into loss of potential ad revenue for domestic broadcasters.
In a world where digital signals from the States can be picked up off of antennas that can attach to the side of your iPad, Canadian network chiefs still seem bent on driving out WKBW. TV Day might have been better branded “Digital Media starts and ends with us.”
As for the actual theme, “Social Media starts here,” Canadian private network leaders seem quite content that the conversation remain loudest about who was kicked off The Voice last night, or had the funniest line on The Big Bang Theory. Hey, I should probably tweet that.
NEXT POST: Stewart puts a brave spin on a shaken schedule.

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