Upfronts ’17: Inside Bell’s feel-good sked

Bell Media Upfront
Execs from the company weigh in on building the new Bell Media Studios brand and how This is Us set the tone for programming 2017/18.

Heading into the 2017/2018 season, Bell Media’s programming goals were clear: distinguish its original content and move away from military-focused Hollywood fare.

On the Canadian commissioning side, Mike Cosentino Bell Media’s SVP, content and programming told Playback Daily at an executive breakfast ahead of the media co’s Upfront presentation that 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 originals 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 next 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.

For its content from south of the border Cosentino said his team headed down to the L.A. Screenings in mid May with a clear focus: 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,” he said. “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 and 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.”