Talking TV with the BRC

The Broadcast Research Council's annual mid-season programming review brings all four nets together for a lighthearted look at what's new.

Broadcast professionals and media executives gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto yesterday afternoon for an intimate and informal look at the TV networks’ new winter fare.

All four main networks were represented in a panel that included CBC Television interim general manager Christine Wilson, CTV’s SVP of programming Mike Cosentino, Rogers’ EVP of programming Malcolm Dunlop and Shaw Media’s VP of content acquisitions and global scheduling Phil Piazza.

The panel was presented by BRC president and Starcom executive Todd Paterson and moderated by Christopher Loudon, director of content development at Capital C in Toronto.

With a joking apology for his tech skills – ‘it’s kind of like Jerry Lewis doing NASA’ – Loudon kicked off the proceedings by introducing the panel and booting up his personal Mac for the nets’ PowerPoint presentations (promising that if they got boring, he’d show us the client documents on his laptop instead).

Christine Wilson walked the crowd through CBC’s winter schedule – ‘I have this fantasy that before people do their schedules, they go ‘What does CBC have in that timeslot?” – highlighting Village on a Diet (featuring, in this writer’s opinion, a quite poignant clip), its ‘Live Right Now‘ campaign, new spy comedy Insecurity and mini-series Pillars of the Earth.

Rogers’ Malcolm Dunlop took the mic next, opening with a comment that Dragons’ Den was one of this 20-year-old son’s favourite shows – taking a friendly jab at Wilson with the quip that he had thus filled his CBC-compliment-of-the-year quota. Clips of Harry’s Law, Body of Proof, Perfect Couples and The Cape followed, and the secret reason (besides its success in the 18-to-49 demo) for the continued dedicated to the Canadian-made Murdoch Mysteries – ‘it’s my wife’s favourite show.’

Mike Cosentino stepped to the lectern next, outlining CTV’s new showsCriminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour, The Marilyn Denis Show and Mr. Sunshine – and reinforced the net’s dedication to growing its new and old franchises alike, such as the refreshed American Idol (premiering Jan. 19), Flashpoint and Hot in Cleveland.

And up last was Shaw Media’s Phil Piazza, who said that the soon-to-debut The Chicago Code (Feb. 7) was his team’s favourite pilot at the May upfronts and that the net had high hopes for the series this winter. It premieres Feb. 7. Global’s other big new drama, Off The Map, premiered Wednesday night, to as-yet unknown ratings.

The presentation wrapped with a panel discussion, led by Loudon, in which each network exec had a chance to respond to questions such as ‘Does mid-season still matter [given the new TV landscape]?’ (panel: ‘Yes’) and how the networks balance reality and scripted programming, which prompted Dunlop to call event-based reality TV ‘PVR-proof.’

‘The more PVRs and VOD become a reality with consumers, the more important American Idol will be,’ he said. ‘People need to be home to watch American Idol. They have no interest in watching it later.’

Loudon also teased the panel with the always popular conversation topics, ’3D TV: gimmick or a genuine trend?’ (panel: ‘gimmick’), and how the iPad is changing the game (or not).

The iPad, most agreed, may have a jazzy look, but quality content is quality content, and as Cosentino said, if people don’t like it on a 42-inch screen, they won’t like it on a 10-inch screen either. Piazza noted that it increases the tension over where consumers get their content in a borderless online world, while Dunlop noted that he sees the greatest opportunities for iPad programming in mobile-friendly content, such as Citytv’s Breakfast Television, which commuters can catch on transit while going to work.

He noted that advertising will be the driver between success and failure on cross-platform broadcasting, saying that moving to a package model in the future – in which a brand would buy across all screens – would ‘help everyone.’ He allowed, however, that this would require a new approach.

The two-hour review closed with cocktails, networking, and, as usual, a spate of BlackBerry checking.