CBC fall sked aims to connect with more Canadians

The pubcaster's lineup includes no big scripted surprises, but branches out to new factual series that strive to hit national audiences at home.

“Welcome to your modern public broadcaster.”

That was how Neil McEneaney, CBC interim EVP English Services introduced the pubcaster’s fall launch to upfront attendees Wednesday morning.

In an upfront presentation that was a departure from last year’s – standing room only, no celebs parading the stage, no Stanley Cup (though a holographic Stanley Cup was present), and the Canada Lives Here exhibit at the centre of the presentation – the focus was on the content and on making it connect to more Canadians by hitting them at home.

The strategy to connect with more Canadians means the pubcaster is striving to build an even bigger viewership for its primetime schedule around its major event sports programming, which this year includes the Bridgestone Winter Classic, Stanley Cup hockey, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and World Cup Soccer.

On the revenue side, those big draw events also present an opportunity for greater ad integration and cross-promotion says Alan Dark, general manager of the CBC Revenue Group.

“When you’re reaching 10 million-plus viewers a night around these epic Canadian live event shows, it makes for great fodder to promote shows that people may have not seen,” he says.

The majority of the scripted renewals are no surprise. First announced in April, there’s a slew of returning shows, including its audience winners like Dragons’ Den, Republic of Doyle, Heartland, Arctic Air and Mr. D. There’s also new seasons of cop procedural Cracked and Murdoch Mysteries, the mini-series The Best Laid Plans based on Terry Fallis’ novel, MOW Still Life and new NBC cop drama Crossing Lines.

What’s also new is Recipe to Riches on the CBC schedule, which will launch in the winter mid-season. Recipe to Riches previously aired on Shaw Media’s Food Network.

The competition series, produced by Toronto-based Temple Street Productions, sees home cooks compete to have their recipes become a PC product in Loblaw stores across the country, and to win a cash prize.

Temple Street, once its existing contract with Shaw Media was up, approached the CBC about bringing the show to the public broadcaster, says Julie Bristow, executive director, studio and unscripted programming CBC Television. The plan is to expand it from a niche program into a primetime network production. That means the basic DNA of the show will remain the same, she says, but it will also put more emphasis on the business and marketing of food and the food industry.

Bristow adds that the show will bring Canadians into the “dream fulfillment” space in the vein of Dragons’ Den.

It’s not lost on the CBC that the integration with Loblaw is a major opportunity for eyeballs.

“At the end of the day, Loblaw has 14 million Canadians going through their stores every week, and the opportunity for somebody to go through a competition for their recipe to be in the PC brand is just huge,” says Bristow.

Dark says there will be digital assets, multi-platform executions and second screen apps, all of which have opportunities for sponsorship and integrations built around them.

“Promotionally, we’ll support it and we’ll blow it up to a point where it’s bigger not only from an audience perspective, but for the marketer who’s putting a fair bit of money in the show,” says Dark. “The fact that you can launch products instantaneously tied to a television show, that’s cutting edge stuff,” he adds.

The pubcaster is also bringing back Battle of the Blades for a fourth season. The series was previously put on hiatus following cuts to the pubcaster’s budget last April. The fourth season of Battle of the Blades will air only once a week, versus the twice-weekly broadcast window it had previously.

Battle of the Blades pairs hockey players and professional figure skaters in a figure skating competition, something Bristow says will “tease forward” to the Olympics.

Again, on the revenue side, Dark says the series presents a big opportunity for the CBC in terms of the show’s branded integrations, and that the plan is to have “something quite robust” wrapped around it. He adds that many of Battle‘s previous partners have approached the pubcaster to be a part of the show, conversations that are starting now and will continue over the next six to eight weeks.

Dark says that everything the CBC does from a digital perspective moving forward will try to tie in a marketer or advertiser. He notes the multi-year Hockey Night in Canada Coach’s Corner and Budweiser deal as an example of one of its successful sponsorship partnerships this year.

“It’s a two-way communication for a marketer to have with the consumer in a very lean-back format that you really can’t have in traditional broadcast,” he explains.

“If you build in these engagement mechanisms, there’s a tighter association with the content in the show, and people get more involved with the programming,” he adds.

He says the CBC will continue to look for partnerships that show relevance and authenticity for audiences, adding that the Loblaw integration in Recipe to Riches is another example of a partnership that makes sense for the pubcaster.

In terms of the Winter Olympics, Dark says the digital work around Sochi will be “massive.” He says that 10 deals are done with marketing and advertising partners – with Visa and Coca-Cola previously announced – and that the CBC will have eight more deals to announce in the next few weeks.

Dark acknowledges that the NHL lockout squeezed the CBC, in that not having hockey, a prime audience driver, meant that it was more difficult to promote its new shows.

Of this year’s fall schedule, he says he thinks the lineup of marquee sports events, particularly the Olympics and the World Cup, will bring unprecedented audience numbers to the CBC, which will also feed into promoting the shows on the primetime lineup.

“The network is going to go through the biggest audience drive it’s ever seen,” says Dark. “The numbers that we have seen in the past [for soccer] have been  impressive, but to have it in Brazil in a timezone that makes sense for us, we’ll see numbers that this country has never seen around the sport.”

“It’s a real opportunity for us to push our other content that will find new audiences that have never turned to us before for their drama and comedy shows, and I think we’ll find a whole new generation of user that we’ve not been able to support, because we haven’t necessarily had the right promotional shows to do it,” he adds.

Photo: Canada Lives Here exhibit at the CBC

From Playback Daily