We’ve all been there, shoppers: the spring lines come out, everything looks spiffy and cool, but there’s just one problem: no money. Put the credit card back in the wallet. Wait till next year.
That may be the view from Canada as American networks get set to host their 2009-10 season launches (Fox on May 18, ABC May 19, CBS May 20 and The CW May 21). This is the time of year Canadian network programming executives usually free up their line of credit accounts for binge buying in L.A. In recent years, CTV, Global and Rogers-owned City-TV execs have dumped over $700 million into the laps of content sellers from Sony, Warners, Disney, Fox, Paramount and Universal. If Hollywood was a Buffalo outlet mall, it would be sold out to the bare walls each May while heaving vans with Ontario license plates lurched out of the parking lot toward Canada Customs.
The year, with the network bosses crying poor before the CRTC, the binge buying might seem a tad unseemly, not to mention impossible. Global in particular might have trouble explaining to all those banks that keep extending the deadline on their debt interest payment how and why they just shelled out hundreds of thousands of American dollars per episode for the latest Knight Rider lemon or 90210 non starter.
The issue of overpaying to import American fare is making headlines in the U.K. In an article titled “BBC should stop buying expensive U.S. shows like Mad Men or The Wire,” the Telegraph’s Urmee Khan reports that the BBC paid approximately CAN$800,000 per episode for the second season of Heroes in 2007. In an argument familiar to CBC watchers, that was money that could have been spent on domestic programming. The article goes on to say that Britian’s private networks will not get into any bidding wars for U.S. shows this spring:
Because of pressure on budgets, Mr Duncan said Channel 4 would not be able to afford a major new American drama this year and the broadcaster will not be sending a representative later this month to the LA Screenings, the annual event where foreign television executives get their first look at the new season of US programmes. “We are not in a position to go out and buy a major show for Channel 4,” Mr Duncan said. Luke Johnson, Channel 4 chairman, also appearing before the committee, defended previously paying £1m for each episode of Desperate Housewives. He said it was right at the time but they were paying “substantially less” for the hit show now. Desperate Housewives and other American imports cost Channel 4 £118.5 million last year.
Mr Duncan also told MPs that an agreement about a partnership deal with BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, was “weeks away”.
Last week, Channel 4 said that it would be cutting its programming budget by at least £60 million in the next year as it battled to cope with rapidly falling revenues.
CTV and Global say they are both broke, so this would seem to be a spring to lick wounds and leave the wallets at home. And even if, say, one of them still had a few bucks stashed in the attic, you can bet the folks at the CRTC are watching those cross border shopping expeditions very closely this spring.