HGTV in the US has changed the way it selects programs in a way that will please Canadian producers. The Knoxville-based channel is still focused on home and garden transformation shows, but its execs want to work with more Canadian companies to make them. HGTV content strategy chief Michael Dingley says Canadian lifestyle shows have always been ‘stylish and nice’ (read: tame), but feels producers north of the border have made huge improvements over the last five years. ‘There are amazing production techniques and quality that are coming out of Canada now that are not only on par with what we see from the US lifestyle production companies, but some are beyond that,’ says Dingley. ‘They give a lot of others a run for their money.’
In fact, in the last two or three years, Dingley says some of the US channel’s most successful shows, including Property Virgins, are from Canadian prodcos. As you guessed by its name, Property Virgins, produced by Toronto’s Cineflix Productions, follows first-time homebuyers. Originally shot entirely in Canada, the show now also features American homebuyers as part of a co-venture between the HGTV in the US, Cineflix and HGTV Canada.
Making the distinction between a co-venture and a copro, Dingley says: ‘A coproduction means a lot more in the sense of rights and editorial control. With a co-venture, HGTV Canada is driving the bus in editorial, so if [HGTV in the US] has any comments or concerns, we go to HGTV Canada and they take them to the production company.’ This system eliminates the craziness that can happen when a prodco has to listen to two voices or managers.
Dingley also stresses that his team respects all of the necessary Canadian content and personnel requirements on Property Virgins so that the show qualifies for the appropriate tax credits. ‘It’s a win-win for the production company, HGTV Canada and us,’ he says. The same goes for Buy Me, another example of a successful co-venture between the HGTVs on both sides of the border and, in this case, Montreal prodco Whalley-Abbey Media.
One last heads-up for producers: while Dingley and his team talk with HGTV Canada every week ‘because we want to get in early and help with additional dollars or co-ventures,’ they also license shows directly from Canadian indies, so it’s wise to book a meeting directly with the US HGTV. As Mary Ellen Iwata, HGTV’s VP of program and talent development, says, ‘The reason I go places like the Realscreen Summit and Banff is to find those hidden gems.’ The fact that such a big US force is doing so gives hope to Canadians looking to crack the US market.