Every spring, broadcasters hearts and minds turn to, not love, but pilots. One by one, they take off south of the border and TV execs fall in love with them all over again. U.S. programmers decide which ones make their schedules. Then Canadian programmers fly south, spend $700 million-plus, and bring as many as they can carry back home.
Will it happen again this spring? All eyes will be on CTV and Global. They’ve been telling the CRTC that they are broke, broke, broke. So they better not be getting ready to spend, spend, spend.
It is getting close to the spending season. ABC today announced renewals for much of its prime time schedule. Everyone knew Grey’s Anatomy, Dancing With The Stars, Lost and Desperate Housewives were coming back. On the bubble show Private Practice also made the cut, as did Ugly Betty.
No word yet on the fate of Samantha Who and several midseason shows, including Castle and Better Off Ted.
The other networks should be making similar announcements soon. NBC will announce their full fall schedule May 5 in New York. Fox (May 18), ABC (May 19) CBS (May 20) and The CW (May 21) follow.
Immediately after that, Canadian network programmers will scoop up the imports for next season. It would be a tad unseemly to wave too much cash around this year, what with CTV CEO Ivan Fecan’s plea before the CRTC Thursday suggesting the business model is broke and that they need carriage fee money just to survive. “Please give us new revenue sources or reduce the(Canadian news content) obligations or some mix of both. Otherwise, we don’t believe there is a business there in the future,” he told the Heritage committee Thursday in Ottawa. Things are so bad, said Fecan, CTV tried to sell off some of its local TV stations–some for as little as a dollar–but there were no takers.
There is no question that a sharp downturn in ad revenue has rocked the broadcast industry. Still, it will be very interesting to see whether CTV and Global can resist the temptation to spend big on American content next month as it has in past show buying sprees. As, Peter Bissonnette, president of cable giant Shaw, pointed out Thursday, “Broadcasters made business decisions to spend more than $700 million annually on American programming and, in one case [Canwest], amass a $4-billion debt from the purchase of non-Canadian TV stations and publishing properties…They should be held accountable for these decisions.”
Otherwise, the CRTC should just ask Shaw and Rogers to give the carriage fee money directly to Warner Bros. Television, Disney, Fox Television and Paramount, since, if the pattern for the past decade-plus holds, that is where CTV and Global will take it. Why not cut out the middle man.
As for what other U.S. shows might be back next year, check out this link to the story I wrote today for The Canadian Press, which gives a network-by-network run down. An excerpt:
Shows on the bubble at NBC include Chuck, Medium and My Name is Earl. Heroes is down but probably not out thanks to favourable demographics.
A show like Chuck might also be saved due to the downturn in the economy. There is a definite swing toward lighter, more escapist fare next season. Grim shows like Without a Trace may be deemed too scary for scary times. The hero of Chuck (played by Zachary Levi) is easy to root for, a nerd working at a big box store who is a secret spy hero.
A visit to the set of Chuck on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif., also provides clues to how it stays on the air despite low ratings. The main set is a replica of a big box retail outlet filled with plasma screens, Guitar Hero games and other consumer electronics. The embedded marketing opportunities are endless, something all networks are seeking as viewers grow more resistant to traditional advertising.
A fan effort to save the show is gaining traction on Twitter, where viewers are urged to go to Subway – a sandwich shop featured on a recent episode – and buy a footlong before the Monday finale in an effort to save the show. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.