Citytv gunning for number two nationally: Pelley

Rogers Media topper says comedies will anchor Citytv's fall lineup as Rogers continues the network's national growth plan.

Citytv is betting big on comedy this fall, a strategy that Rogers Media president Keith Pelley says reinforces the Rogers-owned network’s market strengths, and, coupled with an expanding distribution strategy, primes the station to reach for the number two spot nationally.

“We decided that we are going to be a conventional TV presence,” he says. “We believe that we can be a real player in the national game, and I don’t think we have been able to say we could be there until right now. Our goal is to make significant strides, make sure the distribution is in place. We will continue to steal share from CTV and Global.”

Pelley, who spoke to journalists during a Tuesday morning unveiling of Rogers’ fall TV plans, says Rogers Media’s recent acquisitions of SCN in Saskatchewan and the Jim Pattison Group stations on the west coast are helping to close the gap, and make the mediaco a national player. He adds that a plan is in place to put a foothold in Atlantic Canada, but isn’t ready to disclose exact details just yet.

The network is up to 18 comedies this year, adding nine new comedies to its lineup later this year, something the Rogers Media execs agree has been working for Citytv.

“We went into L.A. probably the most relaxed because we had the most returning shows, when you have great stables like 2 Broke Girls and Person of Interest,” says Pelley. “We were shown 22 different comedies from the studios, and now we have 18 comedies in the schedule… Comedies are something that work on a VOD perspective as well, which is why it has become a focus for us.”

The fall schedule is populated with two-hour comedy blocks on both Monday and Tuesday nights, with new comedies anchored by returning hits.

Monday nights see How I Met Your Mother leading in to new show Partners, a Warner Brothers CBS comedy, to be followed by 2 Broke Girls.

“[Partners] is a huge priority for CBS, and CBS comedies frankly usually work, so we’re really happy about Partners; that was a big priority for us,” says Mitch Dent, executive VP, sales and television, Rogers Media.

Rogers EVP for television programming and operations Malcolm Dunlop says moving 2 Broke Girls to 9 p.m. on Monday is a change in the Citytv lineup that he thinks will strengthen the week’s comedy blocks (All times Eastern).

“What I like is, from a programming perspective, that show’s going to be there for a long time, and it just gets you consistency on that night,” he says.

Tuesday’s 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. lineup is a two-hour simulcast with Fox that will include returning hit New Girl at 9 p.m. sandwiched by new shows Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project.

Homegrown shows

Still on the comedy front, the network has also commissioned two original, homegrown shows – Package Deal and Seed – for mid-season premiere, hiring on ex-Corus exec Claire Freeland last year as director of development and production in a move to bolster both scripted programming and Canadian offerings.

“We thought with the quality that we received and also with how strong we are with comedy, that doing two original comedies was the best way to do this,” says Dunlop.

Package Deal, a 13-ep half-hour multi-cam comedy is created by Andrew Orenstein (3rd Rock from the Sun) and produced by Vancouver-based Thunderbird Films.

Seed, from Vancouver-based Force Four Entertainment, the prodco also behind The Bachelor Canada, is a single-cam half-hour series created by Joseph Raso.

Rogers is also banking on late-weekend nights to be a big ratings winner, with Dunlop adding that “Sunday night is really reinvigorated.” It was an opportunity created in part by the fact that Revenge, which is simulcast on ABC, has been moved to 9 p.m, paving the way for new drama 666 Park Avenue at 10 p.m.

“I’d say the biggest strength of our schedule is that Sunday night right now is rocks solid,” says Pelley.

On the non-scripted side, The Bachelor Canada was handed a premiere timeslot at 9:30, with Modern Family as a lead-in, which Dunlop says boosts the show’s chance for success in the lineup.

Rogers will also ramp up its social media and multi-platform strategy this fall, namely with the announcement that New Girl and The Middle will be broadcast across all platforms – live stream, iPad, mobile and online web player as part of one CPM buy.

“Conventional TV starts the social media conversation, and we’re actively developing co-viewing apps. Our [web] player numbers on our shows have tripled in a year,” says Dent, adding that Citytv shows Canada’s Got Talent and The Bachelor have been successfully engaging viewers via social media and cross-platform content offerings.

On the specialty side, Pelley says F/X Canada and OLN – which is premiering new shows The Liquidator and Get Stuffed – will be the primary focus in terms of promotion.

He says that F/X Canada, with shows like Wilfred, Sons of Anarchy and American Horror Story returning, has “unbelievable potential,” adding, “You will see significant promotion coming up next year for F/X Canada.”

“OLN has the same focus as F/X Canada; you will see a refreshing of the channel. Bio and G4 will both go through the evaluation stages for rebranding in 2015. You can only do so many things, and we know those two need some solid programming and they are going through the evaluation stage right now.”

Playback caught up with Dunlop and Pelley to ask what their programming edge is over the other networks this fall.

With files from Val Maloney, video by Val Maloney

View the complete schedule here