Industry Update – CTV/Bell Media 2013 Upfront


CTV/Bell Media’s “Amazing” 2013 upfront was held at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, in Toronto, Ontario. It was the third straight year the upfronts were held there. The press conferences were, as always, held at Bell Media’s home offices at 299 Queen Street West.

CTV expanded the number of press conferences this year, from six to seven. The Canadian originals – The Amazing Race Canada and Satisfaction – came first. CTV’s press conferences are largely a showcase for new imported programs. This year featured ABC’s The Goldbergs, CBS’ Intelligence (this one’s about a microchip-enhanced operative — it looks silly), CBS’ Hostages, and syndicated talk show Bethenny. Fox’s The Following rounded out the bill, as the “returning favourite.”

Bell Media’s upfront presentation was fairly straightforward. It was the longest of the Big Three upfronts, at ninety-plus minutes. For its length, it didn’t have much to say beyond the standard talking points. I assume this was by design. Bell Media formally welcomed Astral Media into its family in 2012, barring “little things” like CRTC regulations…that were actually acted upon. For 2013, Bell showcased what they actually owned.

Bell Media dialed back the hubris, compared to last year. The only hint of the Bell-Astral deal was the announced Bravo GO multi-screen initiative. Mostly, Bell showcased supporting players from its American imports, as well as stars from its Canadian shows.

The clips for Canadian shows were blended with the clips for American shows, so CTV wasn’t shoving its original content into a cultural ghetto. CTV took pride of place in Bell Media’s hierarchy, with CTV Two announcing The Big Bang Theory…in syndicated weekday rerun form. Anger Management and Hot in Cleveland — six nights a week of Hot in Cleveland were also patched into CTV Two, as well as six nights a week of Mike & Molly. It’s obvious CTV Two is the home of shows CTV doesn’t want to lose to CHCH.

Cirque du Soleil topped and tailed the upfront presentation. Castmembers from Saving Hope, The Listener, Orphan Black, The Amazing Race Canada and Motive were on hand for pictures during the afterparty.

There’s a commercial element to this, of course. Bell Media runs a joint venture with Cirque du Soleil. Bell wants The Amazing Race Canada to be a hit for CTV. Motive, The Listener and Saving Hope are hits for CTV. Orphan Black does well on SPACE, and on BBC America.

One thing that bothered me about the 2013 CTV/Bell Media upfront: I was told I couldn’t take pictures of the presentation, the afterparty, or the tweets (including one of mine) that cycled during the upfronts. Come the afterparty, the tweet cycle included pictures of both events. Many of the pictures were of a giant birdcage, with Cirque du Soleil performers inside.

Bell Media showcased afterparty tweets — a few from accredited press members – as part of the afterparty. I’m not criticizing Bell Media; I just found the miscommunication strange. Bell Media announced a relationship with Twitter Canada as part of the upfront. Ad buyers were no doubt going to tweet about the cage, and Jon Montgomery handing CTV Programming and Sports executive Phil King a beer pitcher.

As for The Social, I didn’t find its sales pitch that strong. It came across to me as The View, with social media elements. That’s a thin premise to hang a talk show on. Perhaps The Social will make more sense once it airs. If the chemistry between the four hosts aren’t there, Twitter AMPLIFY content won’t make up the difference.

I didn’t mind the CTV/Bell Media 2013 upfront. Bell Media is still slow to embrace video-on-demand, but it has a better overall grasp of how to handle its Canadian content. Whether it follows through on a statement to make more Canadian content remains to be seen.