Shaw’s Williams on bringing “Brother” to Canada

Shaw Media's senior VP of content Barbara Williams (pictured) discusses the risk and reward of bringing international formats to Canadian viewers, after the network last week set a February 27 premiere date for Big Brother Canada.
December 17, 2012

With Canadian broadcaster Shaw Media having last week set a February 27 premiere date on Slice for Big Brother Canada, the company’s senior VP of content Barbara Williams (pictured) here discusses the risk and reward of bringing international formats to Canadian viewers.

After airing the American version of Big Brother for more than a decade, Shaw Media will next year launch the first Canadian version of the pioneering reality format on its female-skewing channel Slice.

The broadcaster airs the U.S. show on Global and earlier this year began airing the uncensored live feed from the American house – entitled Big Brother: After Dark – on Slice. As such, the move to commission a local version of the format marks a logical progression for the franchise, according to Shaw Media’s senior VP of content Barbara Williams.

“We have big expectations,” she says. “It’s a huge show and it’s been an enormously important show to the Global schedule for 13 years now.”

Toronto casting call for Big Brother Canada

The Canadian version, which Toronto-based Insight Productions held casting calls for in September and October (pictured, left), is “a huge production,” Williams adds.

“It’s three times a week over 10 weeks – that’s a 30-hour commitment. You rarely, with any show, make a 30-hour commitment out of the gate, so Big Brother absolutely comes with a significant investment.

“But I think the time’s right – Slice has really established itself as a kind of network that can carry this big a format.”

Big Brother Canada‘s arrival bucks a broadcaster trend, coming at a time when many Canadian networks are betting against local versions of expensive overseas formats.

This year has seen cancellations for So You Think You Can Dance Canada and Canada’s Got Talent, with Citytv halting the latter due to the “economic climate,” rather than ratings.

“Cost is absolutely a factor in all of our original commissioning,” offers Williams. “It’s cheaper to buy a U.S. drama or decorating show than to make a Canadian one.

“When choosing to exploit someone else’s format, as opposed to making your own, what you’re playing with there is maybe a little more cost – as you have to invest in the purchase of the format – but you’re also investing in something that’s a little more tried and true. It’s likely already worked in your market and has often already worked around the world. So you’re managing down your risk a little bit, although you have to pay a little bit more to get that.”

A key factor, she adds, is in whether having a local version adds enough value to the overall viewer proposition. “There’s a subtlety here that’s key,” she explains, noting how the domestic audience is already very familiar with the brand.

She also points out that the formats business can work in the opposite direction, with programs such as Insight Production’s Canada Sings (picked up for international exploitation by Endemol after airing on Global) and Temple Street‘s Recipe to Riches (which had its international format rights acquired by FremantleMedia) having notable export potential.

The challenge for network content chiefs, she offers, is managing the balance between what you create yourself with what already exists for acquisition on the market, to put together a successful schedule.


This story originally appeared in the Winter 2012 edition of Playback magazine.

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