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#Canadian Media Giants Play Musical Chairs With Popular U.S. Brands Amid Streaming Competition

Looking beyond the glitz of Canadian broadcasters rolling out their latest new and returning U.S. series at their recent upfront presentations in Toronto, you’d have seen local networks putting their best foot forward in pitches to local media buyers and agencies.

But below the surface, the Canadians are paddling furiously to keep pace in a rapidly-changing TV industry where increased cord-cutting and a continuing linear TV ad recession has local players chasing viewers online with pricey American series to keep pace with Netflix.

Ahead of the Banff World Media Festival this week, Warner Bros. Discovery did deals to move popular lifestyle and entertainment brands like HGTV, Food Network, Cooking Channel, Magnolia Network and OWN from Corus Entertainment to rival Rogers Media and Sports. Canadians Drew and Jonathan Scott of Property Brothers fame on HGTV are mainstays of the lifestyle and entertainment channel popular across North America.

Corus will retain the kids channels Adult Swim and Cartoon Network in Canada. And WBD switched other entertainment brands like Discovery, Motor Trend, Science, Animal Planet and I.D. from longtime homes at Bell Media to Rogers. Multi-year deals signed by Rogers – which has no streaming platform of its own– with NBCUniversal and WBD will see the channel pick-ups land on NBCUniversal’s Bravo channel to launch in Canada later this year.

The realignment of top American channels north of the border aims to allow local broadcasters to continue following TV viewers online, and targeting where possible Canadians increasingly favoring catch-up viewing on streaming platforms.

Execs at Rogers Media and Sports were not available for comment on their deal-making, but network president Colette Watson in a statement said: “We’re evolving our business to reflect where consumers are going, bringing the best mix of U.S. and Canadian content to audiences in the way they want to watch it. This investment also advances our position as a strong Canadian broadcaster that can compete with foreign streamers.”

Elsewhere at Bell Media, which operates the CTV linear TV network and its Crave streaming platform, the acquisition of new and returning American shows at the recent LA Screenings was as crucial as ever. “Anywhere where we could get Crave rights for series we were buying for CTV, we did. So you’ll see this year we picked up more Crave rights than we have in previous years,” Justin Stockman, vp of content development & programming at Bell Media, told The Hollywood Reporter.

That’s a sea-change from decades past where the shopping strategies of Canadian private broadcasters at the LA Screenings was, where possible, mirroring the primetime grids of cross-border U.S. networks to become media powers via costly supply deals with the major studios.

But the rise of Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video as dominant streaming players north of the border has drastically reduced ad revenues for Canadian TV networks as marketing dollars shift from traditional TV to online video platforms. In addition, legacy Canadian networks face a greater impact from economic disruption as they lack the scale of the major studios and U.S. networks as they battle for survival and supremacy in the evolving streaming era.

That has Canadian broadcasters in a pivot from serving cable customers to increasingly online TV viewers and subscribers to survive the withering effects of cord-cutting and cord-nevers and a chronically soft linear TV ad market. “They (American streamers) have caused a disruption in the ad market, just as they did in the subscription television market and that creates new competitive challenges for us,” Troy Reeb, executive vp of networks and content at Corus Entertainment, told THR.

Against rival Bell Media and its Crave streaming platform, Corus has its Stack TV offering and is a partner for Pluto TV north of the border to fend off new competition from Netflix, Prime Video and other U.S. players introducing ad-tiers that cut into ad revenue that used to go to the Canadians.

“The old world of 57 channels of nothing has now come to the world of 5700 shows available on a (streaming) menu, but still nothing to choose,” Reeb said of the value proposition to Canadian media buyers of his Global Television linear TV network being able to air a U.S. series in the same time slot as the U.S. primetime schedule, and then allowing catch-up viewing on Stack TV.

“The bigger our streaming ambitions have gotten with Stack TV, the more we have seen people watching TV in the old school way,” Reeb added as Canadian comes first to the linear TV network when a show first debuts, before going online for catch up viewing.

But following Canadians online, especially for those seeking catch-up viewing, is costly in terms of securing and renewing digital rights from major studio suppliers increasingly going global with their streaming platforms.

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