Updates on Canadian availability of "American Horror Stories", "Anne Boleyn", and more.
[Update (May 23): Due to the Victoria Day holiday weekend, the next edition of our newsletter will now be on Tuesday, May 25.]
Welcome to the May 17, 2021 edition of This Week in WCIW, the weekly newsletter from Where Can I Watch – covering the latest news on where TV shows and movies will be available in Canada.
More change, less clarity
Occasionally we've looked at the Canadian media landscape and thought, "what if Bell and Corus traded some of their assets around, and made one-to-one deals with the big international players so the situation for Canadians was much less complicated?" Or even just, "why aren't these companies working more quickly to make their new content available here?"
More recently, though, we've realized that it'd be a fool's errand for Canadian media companies to try to make wholesale changes to fully align with international partners, or to otherwise chase every move made in the U.S. or elsewhere. Sometimes, barely before the ink is dry on one deal, some other thing pops up to put everything in flux again.
A prime example of that hit the news over the weekend. Bloomberg reported on Sunday, and the companies in question have this morning confirmed, that AT&T is planning to spin off WarnerMedia – which AT&T closed its purchase of barely three years ago (after an inital announcement in late 2016) – and merge it with Discovery Inc., which seems to be largely controlled by former cable magnate John Malone.
The announced transaction will give AT&T shareholders 71% of the combined company, but the spinoff structure means that AT&T itself will have no ongoing ownership in the merged company if and when the deal is completed, currently scheduled for mid-2022. (In other words, you can probably now safely ignore our past comments about the similarities in AT&T's and BCE's approaches to media.)
So what does this deal mean for Canada?
First, the deal will take some time to actually be finalized as noted above, and during that time, there is typically a standstill in place preventing other major developments at one company without the agreement of the other. So it's less likely (but not impossible) that there'll be any new developments about, say, Discovery+ programming in Canada while this merger is in process.
Second, if/when the deal actually goes through, it may not change the Canadian situation all that much initially. Bell Media and Corus Entertainment already have long-term relationships with both companies, and as far as we know, the deals they have will remain in place under their existing terms. Bell clearly has the stronger ties to Warner, but we'd argue the relations are about equivalent for Discovery, with Bell controlling the flagship Discovery brand but Corus controlling the rights to HGTV and Food Network (and occasionally selling broadcast rights to shows like Island of Bryan back to HGTV U.S.).
Third, while it seems like a few options are being considered including bundling, there's a strong possibility that Discovery+ and HBO Max will eventually merge. If so, and if there doesn't end up being a separate deal for Discovery+ programming, the merger would seem to at least open the door to some of what's now considered Discovery+ content being added to HBO Max's deals with Crave. Or it could end up with the combined company taking a more hardball approach and waiting out its existing deals.
In short: these things almost always end up being more complex than they first seem.
- A few programming announcements for the upcoming U.S. TV season have started to trickle out. We may do a fuller analysis next week of how the Canadian networks may handle them, but there are a few items of note we've picked out.
The first is that SEAL Team and Clarice are reportedly likely to move from CBS to Paramount+ next season, at least stateside. Both shows air on Global in Canada, so Corus should continue to have the rights to both shows as long as it wants them, but it may well consider moving them to Showcase next season instead of leaving them on Global.
Meanwhile, NBC has announced its fall schedule, and The CW has announced it will start programming Saturday nights for the first time (though what it will air regularly is TBA), in exchange for giving its current hour of daytime network programming (most recently filled by Jerry Springer reruns) back to affiliates.
- HBO Max has announced that Friends: The Reunion, the unscripted reunion special for the 1990s sitcom, will debut on that service on Thursday, May 27. Bell Media is so far playing coy about that special airing on Crave, but we don't really know why it wouldn't be airing there, considering that it's a Warner Bros.-produced HBO Max show and that the series itself is available on Crave. (Unless Bell is planning to air it on another channel like CTV instead?)
- Showcase has updated its website with information about new series and seasons it'll be carrying "soon", including the second seasons of Intelligence (originated by Sky UK and available in the U.S. on Peacock) and No Activity (Paramount+), and new series Code 404 (Sky / Peacock), Frayed (Sky / HBO Max), and We are Lady Parts (commissioned by Channel 4 from NBCU's Working Title; also to be available on Peacock).
- Super Channel has announced it's picked up the unscripted docu-drama series Bulloch Family Ranch from Canadian producers Peace Point Entertainment. The series has already aired two seasons in the U.S. on UPtv, but has not previously aired in Canada to our knowledge.
- And now for a couple of sports items. (Non-fans: don't worry, we probably won't to do this often.)
The first-round broadcast schedule for the Stanley Cup Playoffs has been announced (and indeed is already underway). Unusually (at least for the past few years), Rogers will be airing some conflicting games on the Canadian FX and FXX channels. Even so, it promises that "every game" will be available through the Sportsnet Now service, which hopefully means that cable subscribers will not have to add FX or FXX for a few days just to watch those specific games.
- Since 2012, Canadian broadcast rights to Spain's top soccer league La Liga – featuring the likes of, most prominently, Barcelona and Real Madrid – have been controlled by Qatar-based BeIN Sports, which bought them bundled with the American rights and essentially kept them off the (legal) air here for more than a year until it was able to reach an arrangement it was happy with. However, earlier this week, it agreed to be bought out of the last three seasons of its current four-year deal.
The next day, La Liga then announced an eight-year deal with ESPN, again covering both U.S. and Canadian rights. Naturally, TSN and RDS – which ESPN has a minority ownership interest in – will be involved, delivering "comprehensive coverage of LaLiga matches, highlights, and news to Canadian viewers through multiple platforms, including live streaming on TSN.ca, RDS.ca, and the TSN and RDS apps."
Comments towards the end of a follow-up conference call suggest that TSN is still working through the details on its end, and will announce more about how games will be divided between TV and streaming in the coming weeks.
Recent updates on WCIW
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