Upfronts 2017: Inside Bell Media’s feel-good schedule

Execs from the media co weigh in on how This is Us set the tone for programming 2017/18.
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When Mike Cosentino and his team headed down to the L.A. Screenings in mid-May, the strategy was clear: return with heartwarming, feel-good programming.

“I think we’re pivoting away from the military-themed shows featuring gunpowder, is how I’d put it,” Bell Media’s SVP, content and programming told Media in Canada at an executive breakfast ahead of the media co’s Upfront presentation. “They weren’t on the to-do list this year – I think we have enough of that in the six o’clock news.”

Among the most buzzed about shows landed by the network for the upcoming broadcast season are Big Bang Theory spinoff Young Sheldon, medical drama The Good Doctor, as well as the religious-themed The Gospel of Kevin.

In particular, said Cosentino, NBC series This is Us typified the content Bell Media was looking to stock up on at the L.A. Screenings. “We took a note from This is Us last year and what that show did for viewers, for us, for ratings, the buzz and we said let’s get more of that.”

A separate part of the strategy is the Canadian commissioning side, for which the media co is looking to build a more distinctive brand with the launch of its Bell Media Studios banner. Officially unveiled on Wednesday, the new banner is “creating an identity for our independent and in-house production arms,” said Cosentino, with the hope of distinguishing Bell Media and its original content from the myriad brands in the international marketplace.

“More than ever we’re taking our programs around the world and Bell Media Studios feels a bit more contemporary than: ‘our in-house production team produced this,’” he said, adding the Studios brand name is more representative of how the company wants to present itself on the world stage.

Operationally, though, the Bell Media Studios brand will not see Bell Media alter its approach to domestic production.

In total, Bell Media will spend nearly $900 million across all of its Canadian programming over the past 12 months, according to president Randy Lennox, who highlighted mystery-thriller Cardinal as the stand-out Canadian series of the year. The Sienna Films and eOne series has now been sold to more than 100 territories internationally, said Lennox, including Hulu in the U.S. and U.K. pubcaster BBC.

Exactly when the series will return has not been confirmed, though Cosentino said the second season is likely to bow in midseason (though could potentially be brought forward to fall).

Also on the Canadian side, Lennox announced the launch of short-form video app Snackable TV, which was first announced at last year’s presentation. The app became available for the first time on iTunes on Wednesday and will launch as a full ad-based offering later in the year (no date was specified for the full launch). The free app features short-form video segments on news, sports, lifestyle and entertainment and is anchored by an exclusive deal with Comedy Central to use content from the comedy channel.


Pictured: Randy Lennox, president of Bell Media, presenting the new schedule at the media co’s upfront in Toronto.