Saturday, December 02, 2006

Simulcasts - Dec. 2, 2006



Please adjust your set

There's something terribly wrong with the simulcast picture in Canada. Maybe it’s just time to cut the ties that bind us.

By Eric Kohanik

During last month’s municipal elections in Ontario, some major Canadian broadcasters turned their election coverage into webcasts on the Internet.

They did this instead of daring to interrupt American ratings-sweeps programming for something as trivial as focusing on those who will actually shape the future of the communities in Canada’s largest TV market.

This came just as an interesting story ran in The Hollywood Reporter. It singled out the woes of CTV in particular, with Canadian correspondent Etan Vlessing pointing to the fact that, although Fox had cancelled Justice, the courtroom drama starring Victor Garber was actually faring well for CTV in Canada, reeling in about a million viewers a week.

A similar scenario befell CTV with Smith, a dark crime drama that cast Ray Liotta as the leader of a group of thieves. Although it did well in Canada, low ratings in the United States prompted CBS to whack the show.

It’s not unusual for American shows to be more popular in Canada. That was certainly the case for The West Wing. It has also been true for such reality series as Survivor and Rock Star.

It was the cancellation of Justice, though, that highlighted a lingering problem here.

“Fox’s cancellation,” Vlessing’s story pointed out, “underlines just how much Canadian broadcasters are at the mercy of the U.S. primetime schedule on which they depend for ratings and advertising revenue.”

Therein lies the rub. Canadian channels buy U.S. shows from the same studios that sell them to American networks. But, because American outlets pay more, they get to call the shots on whether a show survives.

Canadian networks are merely along for the ride. Rather than aggressively developing strong Canadian dramas and comedies – regardless of cost – as a crucial investment in their own future, most Canadian channels still rely on buying American shows and then sitting back to watch advertising dollars roll in. They just love to hang on for that ride.

More frequently, the ride is getting bumpy. When shows end up scheduled at the same time on different U.S. networks, Canadian channels have to juggle. So, we end up with scheduling decisions like The Office being shelved by Global, or The O.C. and Grey’s Anatomy showing up at odd times on CTV.

Usually, Canadian networks strive to air U.S. shows at the same time as American networks. In such cases, cable regulations allow an American channel’s signal to be deleted and substituted with the Canadian signal.

It’s a shoddy game that artificially inflates audience numbers for Canadian broadcasters. Bigger audiences mean more advertising bucks, of course. It’s easy money – too easy.

Maybe it’s time to do away with those simulcast regulations. As Ontario’s municipal-election coverage showed, there’s something definitely wrong with that whole picture.

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