Title: Quebec television bucks the trend

Sub-title: Television viewer numbers in Quebec are doing just fine.

 

While the writers strike may have hit North American television, in Quebec it barely merits mention. Unlike English Canada, which relies extensively on U.S. content, Quebec producers develop most of their top shows in-province. As a result, networks there are far less exposed to the U.S. writers strike.

 

“Frankly the effects have been minimal,” says Carol Cummings, director of television services at Media Experts. “Even in segments where you’d think Quebec networks would be hit such as the U.S. shows that they buy for translation and among English language viewers, the effects have been close to negligible.”

 

The Quebec season so far has been a case of Snow White and a few dwarfs.  TVA (with 25 shows in the top 30) has the starring role and Radio-Canada, Télévision Quatre Saisons (TQS) and Télé-Québec form the supporting cast.

 

TVA’s vice-president (programming) France Lauzière, who is now in her second year in the job, seems to be fitting in well. One of her first moves was to acquire the Quebec rights for the hit series Deal or no Deal, a move that has proved to be a big success. TVA’s adaptation of the series, Le Banquier, which stars perennial local favourite Julie Snyder, landed in the top spot among all show this fall.

 

That said, according to Lauzière, the network’s success comes despite tough challenges besetting the industry. “Average viewship has increased in the province (from 29.9 to 31.3 hours per week). But general broadcasters are facing strong competition for advertising dollars from the specialty channels, the Internet and other advertising sources,” says Lauzière.

 

Richard Portelance, general manager (sales and marketing) at Radio-Canada agrees. “We did well in the fall and put out a number of great new shows. But our success has to be measured against the industry’s overall challenges,” said Portelance. “The specialty channels, which benefit from revenue sources (such as cable and satellite) that we do not have access to, have been hitting us particularly hard.”

 

One casualty of the increased surge by specialty programmers has been long-time industry player Télévision Quatre Saisons, which slipped into bankruptcy protection earlier this year. According to Cummings, the move gave breathing room for the other existing players. “Quatre Saisons’s financial struggles reflected themselves on-screen, where they had few new shows than might have been expected,” says Cummings.

 

One bright side for Quebec programmers is the English Quebec market, which continues to generate good viewer numbers, in part due to new shows sourced from HBO, such as Dexter and Mad Men.  Furthermore, unlike Canadian programmers, which try to run their U.S. content in the same season that it airs in south of the border, Quebec purchases of U.S. shows, tend to be a year or two behind to account for translation time. For example, Dr. House, which has been a big hit for TVA, is in its fourth season in the rest of Canada, but its French version is just in its second season.

 

According to Cummings, that leaves Quebec broadcasters largely immune to the U.S. writers strike. “Of course, if the walkout last more than a year or two that would be a completely different story,” she says.

 

 

Sidebar: Shows of note:

 

(1)   Le Banquier (TVA). This Quebec adaptation of the hit series Deal or no Deal features innovations such as a female star (Julie Snyder) and a contingent of male models, to accompany the female briefcase-opening honies.

(2)   Virginie (R-C). This long-running soap opera, which airs four times a week will be losing star Chantal Fontaine who plays the title role at the end of the season. However the producers bravely plan to continue on without her.

(3)   Les Boys (R-C). The hit movie starring Rémy Girard and Marc Messier moved to television last fall and vaulted immediately into the to ten.

 

 

Peter Diekmeyer (peter@peterdiekmeyer.com) is a Montreal-based freelance business writer.

 

 

 

 

(which slipped into bankruptcy protection earlier this year)

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