NATPE’s Canada connection

Dec 31, 2001  •  Post A Comment

One only has to look at the numbers to understand the importance of Canada in the National Association of Television Program Executives program market. Last year NATPE played host to some 934 Canadians-or nearly a quarter of the show’s foreign visitors.
The organizers of the show haven’t made any predictions about how many Canadians will turn up in 2002, but whether this year’s show will draw as many attendees from north of the border is questionable in the minds of some distributors who specifically target that market.
“It doesn’t seem like many Canadians are coming,” said Kaye Warren, who is head of content sales for the Australian broadcast network ABC and who has a particular interest in monitoring the movements of buyers.
There is some indication that the ranks of Canadian sellers at NATPE may be slightly thinned as well. One top executive at a boutique Canadian distribution company who requested anonymity explained that his firm opted against taking exhibition space this year not because of any fear of terrorist attacks but because of an anticipated decline in the number of American buyers.
“We thought it would be better to use the budget for NATPE to go on sales trips, to do personal meetings with buyers,” he said.
Regardless of those who choose to stay home, it’s clear the Canadian and U.S. television production communities have many ties that can only deepen at NATPE. Both buyers and sellers from one of Canada’s most prolific programming companies, CHUM Television, will definitely be present and accounted for. CHUM has a total of 17 specialty, or niche, channels and eight broadcast channels.
“We usually come to NATPE with a pretty open mind,” said Ellen Baine, who’s leading the CHUM buying team and is director of programming for four channels: Citytv, Fashion Television Channel, Sextv and the show-biz-oriented Star! “Mostly we just go to see what’s happening, but we’re also looking for edgier kinds of things. So we look at what HBO and Showtime are producing or what the studios are producing for them.”
To see how the American and Canadian TV communities are joined at the hip, one only has to consider the product library of Alliance Atlantis Communications. It includes the “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” series, which not only has garnered big ratings for CBS but also secured a second-window deal with the TNN network in the United States that is worth some $1.6 million per episode to the company. There’s little wonder that Ted Riley, president of Alliance Atlantis’ television distribution unit, expects that program-as well as the upcoming miniseries, “The Salem Witch Trials,” starring Kirstie Alley, Alan Bates and Rebecca De Mornay-will garner much interest from buyers around the world at the show.
The close ties between the countries are also in evidence at another one of Canada’s major studios, Montreal-based CineGroupe, which counts among its offerings “Sagwa-The Chinese Siamese Cat,” an animated series that was produced in collaboration with the Children’s Television Workshop and is one of the most popular programs on PBS stations in the United States, according to Marie-Claude Beauchamp, CineGroupe’s executive VP of development and production. Among the upcoming productions the company will sneak preview at NATPE is “Galidor: Defenders of the Outer Dimension,” which has a mix of live-action and computer-generated images. “Everything is integrated into one or the other world,” said Jacques Pettigrew, president and CEO of the company.
Integration of Canada and the United States is very much on the mind of Kevin Beggs, who produced “Baywatch” in another lifetime and now is executive VP of series television for Canada’s Lions Gate Television. “The way I approach [the business] is we have one North American market,” he said. “I don’t think the economics of an only-made-in-Canada or only-made-in-the-U.S. show makes sense. They have to go hand in hand.”
That’s the case for Lions Gate’s series “No Boundaries,” an adventure-reality show inspired by the Scandinavian Broadcasting Systems series “71 Degrees North,” and which found a home as a midseason replacement on The WB as well as on Canada’s Globo TV network.
One of the most well-known reasons for American producers and networks to look north of the border for production synergies is the relatively low cost of producing there. But Kevin Byles, VP and general manager of CHUM Television International, , sees other advantages as well. The former senior VP Warner Bros. International Television said, “When buyers come to deal with us, we’re like a breath of fresh air,” in comparison with the major U.S. distributors. He explained that the 35 programs he’s distributing at NATPE are easy to translate and don’t have the restrictions on editing or royalty and clearance issues that are often part and parcel of American shows.
Like other Canadian distributors, he has set his sights on the entire world, not just the United States. “We continue to chip away at the U.S. and Europe. But we see big growth from the Middle East, Asia and Latin America,” Mr. Byles said.