This fall, Toronto-based Insight Productions’ new figure skating competition series with a twist lured a large audience to CBC while also drawing interest from territories around the world. Realscreen spoke with president and CEO of Insight, John Brunton, about Battle of the Blades, the second season renewal from CBC and its potential around the world.
In an article in the Canadian current affairs weekly magazine Maclean’s, writer Scott Feschuk neatly summarized the main reason Canadians were flocking to watch Blades. ‘It combines two things Canada loves most: hockey and the risk of serious head wounds.’
Insight’s John Brunton agrees that the love of hockey and anything to do with ice skates in Canada is a huge part of what made this series a hit for his company and the CBC. ‘You’re not a town in Canada unless you’ve got a hockey rink or a skating rink,’ he says.
The series features professional female figure skaters who are teamed up with ex-National Hockey League players in a competition similar to Dancing on Ice, except in this case everyone is a professional skater to start with. The figure skaters and coaches attempt, throughout the season, to bring the hockey players up to a level close to the pro figure skaters and pull off ice dances that impress the judges.
The series has not only drawn big audiences for the CBC, which as of Wednesday has just renewed the series for a second season in 2010, but is also drawing attention from other territories where skating and hockey are part of the culture. ‘We’ve been flooded by format distributors, by producers, [and] by television stations in all the same countries that will be competing in the hockey tournament in the Olympics,’ says Brunton. He lists off territories such as Russia, Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the United States and also areas where figure skating is growing in popularity such as South Korea, Japan and China. ‘We had one broadcaster from Scandinavia call us five times [on Tuesday],’ he says. The first series concluded on Monday with over 1.7 million viewers watching Olympic gold medalist Jamie Sale and former Edmonton Oiler Craig Simpson take the prize.
‘We’ve done Canadian Idol and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, Deal or No Deal Canada and Project Runway [Canada], so we’ve been on the other end of format deals,’ says Brunton. ‘Now it’s a lot of fun to be on this side of that equation with people wanting to buy our formats.’