Bell Media Upfront Presentation: Paul Rabliauskas, Robb Wells, Karine Vanessa, Jasmeet Raina and Boman Martinez-Reid. Courtesy of Bell Media

First of all, this is how you do a broadcast network upfront headline in 2024:

“Star-Studded New Series, Returning Hits, and Live Events to Anchor CTV’s 2024/25 Schedule”

Notice the words “buzzworthy” or “overflowing” do not appear anywhere. Kudos to CTV’s PR team for breaking with tradition and toning down the mega-hype.

Despite challenging times in the broadcast business, Bell still rolls out the red carpet for ad buyers and a dwindling number of TV beat writers. This can’t be an easy decision in a time of cutbacks and layoffs, but it seems a calculated risk. Nobody else does it this big anymore in Canada, and for the ad buyers in the room, the “medium” — a packed theatre show — is a big part of the message, even when it comes to promoting media.

CTV, of course, has a strong message to sell: this is the 23rd consecutive year that they have emerged as the most-watched network in Canada in prime time. Justin Stockman, VP of Content development and programming, told his audience that CTV also still ranks first in other dayparts and categories.

These boasts are now up to the ad buyers research departments to parse. Numbers are harder to track and still somewhat fuzzy in terms of digital breakdowns. That being said, for years audience tallies have been “estimates.” There is little doubt, however that for a long time CTV has been Canada’s most dominant broadcaster, generally packing hits into the Top-10 and -20 lists. Things have changed in recent years, but importing a blue chip such as the annual Super Bowl broadcast — the biggest draw of the year by far in Canada and the US — does help the network pull away in the overall numbers race, as well as in ad revenue.


So a classy show is a smart sell. If you are a young ad buyer, you get to put on nice clothes, mingle with colleagues and get your photo taken with Justin Hartley from Traders, the star of the No. 1 show on broadcast television last season in Canada and the U.S.

Justin Hartley (left) with bearded scribe. Photo by Alex Urosevic courtesy of Bell Media

I interviewed Hartley prior to Thursdays upfront. A real gentleman, from Chicago originally, whose star has risen through a steady career starting in soaps and progressing through everything from Smallville and Revenge to This is Us. Tracker, which premiered this past mid-season, was an instant hit. Shot in Vancouver, a city Hartley knows well from both Smallville and the short-lived series Emily Owens, M.D. This was his first time in Toronto. The night before, while he’s a Dodgers fan, Hartley was thrilled to see the Blue Jays beat Baltimore at the (uh oh) Rogers Centre.

Airlifting American stars north to mingle with ad buyers has been a sales ploy Bell and other Canadian networks have worked in the past. There has been less of that postpandemic, and more video shoutouts. Gone are the days half the cast of The Sopranos would be in the house. Thursday saw Conan O’Brien not in person but on the big screen promoting Conan O’Brien Must Go — and then being “thrilled” to throw back to Stockman.

Stockman later got off his own funny line, thanking “Other Justin” Hartley for the actor’s stage shtick.

Jon Montgomery arrives at Bell Media Upfront red carpet. Courtesy of Bell Media

Good to see Bell wave the flag a bit harder this year by emphasizing the Canadian stars. There was a video shout out from Will Arnett, one of the Canadians (including Cobie Smulders) who can be heard in the upcoming animated comedy Super Team Canada. Karine Vanasse, who looked stuning in orange earlier at the media interviews and shone in white later on stage, was there to promote the next season of The Traitors Canada. Rob Wells from Trailer Park Boys cleaned up to hype The Trades.

Crave will also welcome new shows featuring other Canadian A-listers, including Catherine O’Hara and Mark McKinney. The Kids in the Hall player is in something called Mark McKinney Needs a Hobby, and why not, but for season two he needs to get in touch with me and my 16mm film collection.

Crave, incidentally, is entering its 10th season. The HBO-packed, all-Canadian streaming service, we were told, ranks just behind the “Big Three” — presumably Netflix, Disney+ and Prime Video — for total subscriptions in Canada.

Bell also had to hype their sports department. James Duthie and others took the stage to announce that the CFL will land back on the main CTV schedule this season with a full slate of Saturday afternoon games. A “summer of soccer” lies ahead on TSN and RDS. There was excitement over the WNBA coming to Canada.

Upfront season, however, is generally TSN’s blackout period opposite the Stanley Cup playoffs on Rogers. In a month or so, CBC will deliver the summer of the Olympic games. The NFL season can’t come soon enough for TSN, which also sees ratings soar annually with the World Junior Hockey Championships.

The upfront drifted on as Omar Sachedina and Sandi Rinaldo took the stage to wave the news flag. I guess the furor has died down after the whole Lisa LaFlamme firing, but there was no standing ovation. We were told that CTV News Channel reaches one million Canadians a day. When reach starts getting referenced, you start wondering if things are really as bad as all that.

And on it went. We heard about CTV’s imports for fall. The new shows follow the pattern of familiar themes and faces that is the norm now on network: Doctor Odyssey stars Joshua Jackson and Don Johnson. There’s a Baywatch-y series shot in Hawaii called Rescue: Hi-Surf with executive producer John Wells as an unlikely surf daddy. CTV of course has the follow up to Young Sheldon, George & Mandy’s First Marriage. This seems like one spinoff too many from Chuck Lorre but never underestimate even watered down Big Bang.

Wendi McLendon-Covey arrives at Bell Media Upfront red carpet. Courtesy of Bell Media

Wendy McLendon-Covey, who was at Thursday’s Bell upfront, brings all three names to St. Denis Medical, a hospital-based comedy. Corus announced Wednesday that they will be rerunning McLendon-Covey’s old show, The Goldbergs, weeknights opposite Jeopardy!. Other new imports include The Summit and High Potential but, honestly, even those titles sound boring. Reba McEntire comes back in another comedy called Happy’s Place.

Every year something surprising becomes a hit so CTV seems to have loaded up just in case. Don’t forget, they had to replace a lot of cancelled imports, including The Good Doctor, Young Sheldon, Bob Hearts Abishola, Magnum PI, Station 19 and, after a few last episodes in the fall, Blue Bloods.

Bell therefore spent more time pitching “sell” than shows. The Ad sales team took up much of the stage oxygen Thursday with blather about new tools for determining audience measure. We heard that “clients are hungry for a holistic video solution.”


Definitions from Oxford Languages: /hōˈlistik/; adjective.

  1. characterized by the belief that the parts of something are interconnected and can be explained only by reference to the whole. For example: the reason that ad costs so much now is that it will pop up later when the same meh show is rerun on TikTok, YouTube or

The word “Omni” also got used quite a bit. I glazed over, started thinking about the Dodge Omni, not a great car, or Channel 41, and those shows aimed at more multicultural viewers. I’m sure, however, that the word unlocks some secret excitement for the young ad buyers.

Bell Media Upfront Presentation: Stewart Johnston. Courtesy of Bell Media

Bell’s VP of Sales Perry Macdonald caused some panic in the room by telling ad buyers he will be “fully preparing you for a cookie-less future.” Some in the crowd made a run for the foyer in hopes of scarfing down any remaining chocolate chip goodies or those cavity-inducing, hard icing gems with logos printed on them. Might a booze ban be next?

Macdonald also was involved in an unfortunate special effects video involving a dragon. This tied in to the theme of this year’s Bell Upfront, a “House Bell Media” thing. Crave will show the upcoming Game of Thrones spinoff, which Bell execs who may have forgotten the horrible, horrible GoT finale seem to think may re-capture some of the ratings glory of the original.

Bell’s live upfront eventually clocked in at a butt-numbing one hour and forty minutes. I have to confess I didn’t stay for the live show this year as the prospect of getting back onto the Gardiner in rush hour Toronto traffic made that Game of Thrones dragon look like Barney the dinosaur. Instead, I watched (well, mainly listened to) the entire presentation on my phone all the way back to Orangeville.

The most impressive take away from the Bell upfront for me was that this worked in a moving SAAB all the way back, and on a Rogers data plan at that. There’s a potential ad that deserves a holistic treatment!

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