“Is regular network TV programming dead? These four Canadian broadcast execs say no, it’s evolving.”

That’s the headline to a feature I wrote appearing in Saturday’s Toronto Star. Read the full story here if you’re a subscriber or, better yet, buy a copy.

People have been writing the network TV obit for years. Tina Fey once joked at an awards show that, “It’s a great time to be in broadcast television, isn’t it? It’s like being in vaudeville in the ’60s.”

She made that joke 13 years ago — back when Netflix was a big red vending machine that stood outside your local Blockbuster video store.

I have been wondering for awhile what it might take for broadcast network TV to launch a series through the clutter of “Peak TV” competition. The example that triggered my curosity was CBC’s Pretty Hard Cases, which opened to good reviews and plenty of promotion but, after two episodes, was being sampled on Wednesday nights by less than 200,000 viewers across Canada in overnights and around 300,000 in Live+7 totals.

Bad enough that it was up against Leafs games and The Masked Singer among the broadcast competition. How do you compete, however, if everybody like me is also writing about WandaVision? Where is the way in if, during a year where millions are in lockdown in front of their screens, 100 million are subscribing to Disney+ and 200 million are invested in Netflix?


I went to the following for answers:

  • Barbara Williams, Executive Vice-President, CBC
  • Troy Reeb, Executive Vice-President, Broadcast Networks at Corus Entertainment
  • Justin Stockman, Vice-President, English Content Development & Programming at Bell Media
  • Julie Adam, Senior Vice-President, News & Entertainment, Rogers Sports & Media

Among many other questions, each was asked:

  • Are you still mainly in competition with CBC, CTV, Global and Citytv or are you just as focused on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ AppleTV+ and Paramount+?
  • Is launching a new series harder than ever now because viewers have so many other options?
  • Do you see a core group of viewers who are just fine with the commercial break model or are they an endangered species?

These are questions broadcasters have been asking themselves for a decade. How they respond relates to where their respective media companies see their strengths, but all gave basically one answer, backed with plenty of evidence:

Through COVID and increased competition, broadcast television in Canada isn’t dead, it is reincarnating.

While nobody has all the answers, and talking with advertisers would be a big Part Two to this story, these Canadian broadcast executives clearly are not waving any white flags yet. Read the full story in Saturday’s Toronto Star.


  1. Good piece.

    A couple of things you didn’t address, that I would be interested in hearing about.

    1) Streaming generally still employs fewer content restrictions (language/nudity etc etc.)
    How does that play into where viewers go; and will broadcast loosen restrictions further.

    2) Streaming has shown continued appetite for U.S. content but has also shown greater willingness to sample global content. Will the Canadian broadcasters take more chances on English or subtitled-content from non North-American sources? Even if those sources draw less, the content is likely a good deal cheaper.

    3) While online often features Ads, they tend to be shorter (15 seconds); and they tend to be fewer (commercial interruptions rarely exceed 1 minute total). Has consideration been given to a model of fewer ads (which might hold viewers better) and a higher per ad rate accordingly?

    4) Canadian content experienced the most high-profile sales to U.S. networks, probably ever, certainly in a generation this year. Two pickups by NBC, A couple by Fox, more by CW.

    A lot of that content was overtly Canadian, and some has performed reasonably well in the U.S.

    Could that result/should that result in a shift to greater original production in Canada which could be a profit-centre based on international sales?

  2. Bill Brioux Reply

    These are all really good points James.
    Certainly this is a subject that evolves daily and could be approached from several angles. I’d like to dive back into it with leaders in the advertising field.
    I doubt the content restrictions will change much. The broadcast execs point that people’s expectations as to advertising depends on the platform would also extend to content restrictions. Same with the broadening of foreign language content on broadcast.
    As for your last point, many Canadian productions are already partnering with US distributors ahead of their Canadian premieres. Transplant had a US distribution deal with NBC Universal right from the get go with CTV. Look for those kind of two country option deals to be the norm as broadcasters look to cut corners on both sides of the border.

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