A dare to Canadian broadcasters: Walk the talk

Lately I’ve been thrilled to see senior executives at the major Canadian broadcasters publicly declaring their desire to support Canadian content. I’d be slightly more thrilled if they gave some basic support to their Canadian content.

Barbara Williams, Senior Vice President of Content at Shaw Media, is co-chair of the working group that so piqued my interest with their ideas about celebrating the success stories in Canadian on-screen content. A recent example is that Shaw successfully cancelled Bomb Girls for low ratings that dropped after Global pulled it off the air and changed timeslots mid-season to make way for an American import.

Kevin Crull, President of Bell Media, says he wants to duplicate the star system of Quebec in English Canada, and acquiring Astral apparently will help him do that. The Montreal Gazette explains: “Crull didn’t give any details of Bell’s plans, though he did tell members of the academy that Bell’s strategy of putting Canadian TV shows in popular prime-time spots, keeping them there and heavily promoting them are keys to their success.”

Ah yes, regular timeslots and promotion — two of the most basic ways to build an audience. Which include, for instance, not programming Motive, your only Canadian scripted series on CTV, on Sunday nights so that you have to move it when ratings sag amid the killer competition.

To give Bell credit, they wisely launched Orphan Black after Doctor Who on Saturdays, where there was a well-primed audience free from most other TV-related distractions. If I were feeling magnanimous I wouldn’t point out that BBC America chose that timeslot and Space followed suit.

Crull’s colleague Scott Henderson, Vice-President of Communications at Bell Media, was a panellist at this week’s Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television’s event Getting Canadians To Watch Canadians. “How do you get Canadians to watch Canadian television?” the blurb reads, promising that executives from the major networks would “share what they are doing to capture and increase this audience.”

Let me share what they’re doing. The same week that Henderson spoke about this topic, his two homegrown scripted shows — Motive and Orphan Black — had nothing on their homepages to indicate that a new episode would air that week. No promo, no episode description, no information even that the episode would be new. The episode descriptions in the usual programming highlight media releases were AWOL too.

The CTV media releases — generally sent out bimonthly with descriptions of new episodes — were missing the May 2 Motive airing. One release listed shows until April 30 while the next began with May 3.

In the coming apocalypse, Space is clearly betting on zombies over clones. Their programming highlights media release has been condensed, eliminating Orphan Black episode descriptions, but if you want to know the details of Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies, or their zombie mini-series import In The Flesh, you’re in luck.

The episode descriptions are now only located on the walled media site, but that change was not communicated and relies on the media actively seeking the information. If their shows were in witness protection Bell couldn’t do a much better job of protecting them from prying eyes.

Both Motive and Orphan Black launched well, the former garnering over a million viewers and the latter breaking original series premiere ratings for Space. I have genuine respect for Bell for their initial promotion and for giving Motive the post-Super Bowl premiere.

But both shows have declined from their premiere ratings. Orphan Black has already been renewed and I’m confident it will continue to go strong. While it loses its Doctor Who lead-in soon, besides the engaged fans there’s at least the BBC America promotion seeping over the border.

Motive shows more troubling signs of softness that can be strengthened with consistency and promotion. It had recovered from the natural viewer erosion after the (wise) timeslot shift, but its ratings still fluctuate down to Bomb Girls levels now after reruns.

I don’t expect Bell to pull a Shaw and cancel Motive, but they have no other original series to promote right now. They should be aggressively promoting what they have.

Or at the very least, broadcasters should stop telling us about their successes and their valiant efforts to get reluctant Canadians to watch Canadian TV until they demonstrate a true desire to succeed with their Canadian shows.


11 thoughts on “A dare to Canadian broadcasters: Walk the talk”

  1. I’ve seen a ton of promotion on American sites for Orphan Black. Its garnering quite a fair bit of buzz. I would love to have seen Bomb Girls get a better chance. Perhaps Bomb Girls could have been moved to a specialty channel like Slice or Showcase if Global didn’t have room for it.

  2. It’s also been said -off the record- that Global has been messing around
    with the actual ‘BOMB GIRLS’ rating figures and that they purportedly didn’t
    count in PVRs to make the numbers look smaller. I’d be reasonable then if
    someone would call on the network and pressure the guys to tell the truth.

    It’s funny that the ones who actually believe in this Canadian product are
    not the ones producing it, but people from all over the world (including
    their Canadian audience, whose wishes to continue watching ‘BOMB GIRLS’
    on TV are not being respected).

    1. When did Global ever report the numbers? They’re not the ones measuring ratings – BBM Canada does that. If Global was worried about getting higher ratings and had wanted to continue with the show they wouldn’t have bumped the show so the point is fairly moot anyway, but they don’t need to fudge numbers to justify a cancellation. There’s no magic number at which a show is guaranteed renewal.

  3. I wish Global would come clean on why they boycott the Canadian TV shows they’re supposed to support, in the first place. Nothing worst than a Canadian network not trusting their own!

  4. Orphan Black is one of the best shows on TV. I don’t think anything can keep it down. Especially if TM gets the Emmy nomination she richly deserves.

    1. Don’t even hold your breath waiting for a scifi show to get an Emmy nom. The Emmies look down on scifi. As for Global’s lack of support to Bomb Girls, I’ve seen it a thousand times before and it annoys the hell out of me when a network seems to set out to prevent their own show from succeeding via things like putting a show on a long hiatus, moving it around the schedule so viewers can’t find it, giving very little promotion, putting it in a death slot and canceling it when of course it gets slaughtered in the ratings or sticking it on a weekend nIght where there’s less of the preferred demo watching tv. Some examples I can think of at the top of my head are Freaks and Geeks, Dark Angel, Last Resort, Jericho, Firefly, Buffy, Roswell, Fringe, Nikita, etc.

  5. I will forever hate Bell for cancelling The LA Complex. I remember quite clearly that they did not have any commercials to promote the season 2 finale. Nothing on the MuchMusic Facebook page as well. The CW at aired some commercials and even uploaded the clip on their Youtube channel.

    Maybe they didn’t care and probably had their mind set on cancelling the show well before the final episode? What a shame.

  6. “A recent example [of canadian success] is that Shaw successfully cancelled Bomb Girls for low ratings that dropped after Global pulled it off the air and changed timeslots mid-season to make way for an American import.”

    “If their shows were in witness protection Bell couldn’t do a much better job of protecting them from prying eyes.”

    Love these lines, as an avid television watcher I have often been frustrated trying to figure out which episode of a series is airing when. Now I know why — they don’t tell me! I hope this discussion causes some change in the industry where the broadcasters work harder to provide basic promotion of episodes to viewers.

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