Factual spotlight: Shaw Media, original lifestyle content


As part of Playback sister publication realscreen’s annual Global Pitch Guide, released each fall, Playback over several days has featured a series of profiles with leading Canadian factual commissioners; they have included intel on what they’re looking for now, how to pitch, and what they pay.

NB: yesterday’s installment featured Christine Shipton, Shaw Media’s VP of original content.


Emily Morgan, senior director of original lifestyle content

FOOD NETWORK CANADA: Food Network Canada commissions about 140 hours of original Canadian programming per year with a focus on big, primetime reality and competition shows such as recent hits Top Chef Canada, which is going into its third season, and Recipe To Riches, as well as host-driven fare such as You Gotta Eat Here.

Commissioners are generally looking for ongoing series rather than one-offs, and character-driven rather than instructional programs.

“We accept pitches in all forms but characters/hosts are very important, so even a short demo tape is very helpful,” says Morgan. “Most orders are for 14 or 26 episodes. Because we do a lot of 30-minute shows, we try to commission with a delivery schedule that is very tight and will allow us to air two episodes back-to-back on a weekly basis. We are very open to coproduction.”

GLOBAL: For factual content for the company’s broadcast network, Christine Shipton, Shaw’s VP of original content, and her team commission docs from indie prodcos for the one-off documentary strand ‘Close Up.’ They look for films that fit the strand’s tagline: “Hidden worlds, personal obsessions and things that drive us.”

“They’re unusual worlds that are right in our community,” describes Shipton. On the entertainment side, Global’s team looks for shows with a national appeal – either shows that take viewers across the country or characters that all Canadians will connect with. “It can’t be too place-specific,” she advises.

HGTV CANADA: Highly formatted, repeatable shows tend to work well on HGTV Canada, which skews about 60% female. The network commissions about 200 hours of original programming per year with an emphasis on home-centric shows, real estate and renovation.

Most orders are 14- to 26-episode, half-hour series, and the network regularly enters into copros with its U.S. Scripps-owned counterpart and broadcasters in the U.K.

Recent hits include Massive Moves, House of Bryan and Income Property. “We are looking to expand the range of shows beyond what is traditionally associated with home and garden,” says Morgan, pointing to recently green-lit series House Hazards, which humorously explores how things can go awry in the average person’s home.

Host-driven shows such as Holmes Makes it Right starring reno-man-to-the-rescue Mike Holmes continue to do well on HGTV Canada. “We are all in the business of making shows to draw the biggest audiences possible and we don’t want to exclude great ideas that might not immediately fit,” she adds. “We’re also trying to challenge producers to think beyond what has been seen as lifestyle programming in the past.”

SLICE NETWORK: Relationship-focused series and unique family situations are big with Slice viewers. Top programs include My Teenage Wedding and Real Housewives of Vancouver, which was recently renewed for a second season.

The network will also jump into the high-concept format space when Big Brother Canada debuts in 2013. Recent commissions include bridal show Keasha’s Perfect Dress and The Mistress, a series hosted by infidelity expert Sarah Symonds.

Shipton says Slice is looking to broaden its programming so that it’s not so female-skewing. She cites Teen Weddings as a fitting example, more about family dynamics than nuptials, and the upcoming Big Brother Canada, which is “one of the broadest concepts you can do.”

Slice commissions about 100 hours of original Canadian programs every year. Most orders are for 14 to 26 half-hour episodes.