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 attendees to its unfront Wednesday morning in Toronto.

In a 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, anchored to major event sports programming, which this year includes the Bridgestone Winter Classic, Stanley Cup hockey, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2014 World Cup of Soccer.

On the revenue side, these events offer up greater ad -integration opportunities, says Alan Dark, general manager of the CBC Revenue Group, who added that the CBC will heavily promote its other primetime programming during these events.

Meanwhile, the majority of the scripted renewals announced Wednesday are no surprise. As 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, 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, 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 of studio and unscripted programming. The plan now 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 the CBC will also put more emphasis on the business and marketing of food and the food industry.

Bristow adds the show will bring more 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, multiplatform 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.

Switch Blades

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 in April 2012. The fourth season of Battle of the Blades will air only once a week on Sundays at 8 p.m., 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 from the show’s branded integrations, and that the plan is to have “something quite robust” wrapped around it.

Four Rooms, described as Antiques Roadshow meets Dragons’ Den, is a FremantleMedia format, the original of which airs on the U.K.’s Channel Four.

To be produced in-house, Bristow says the audience draw for this is two-fold. There’s the drama from the game show-type format, as Canadian collectors meet four dealers and try to sell their art, artifacts and memorabilia. The catch is that the collectors have to decide whether to take an offer, or move on to the next dealer, which takes an existing offer off the table for good. And there’s the story-telling, as collectors learn about their wares, which Bristow says makes the show relevant for the CBC.

“It’s going to be a continual exploration of the narrative of the country. The things that get brought in will be the subject of conversation about what it means to be Canadian,” she says.

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

Of this 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,” he predicted.