The specialty hot list

Strategy's guide to Fall TV on the upper realm of the dial

‘Hot’ tends to be a transitory state in popular culture. It is as fleeting as it is elusive, subject to the whims of tastemakers and a fickle public. It sees heroes – not to mention Heroes – reduced to zeros quicker than you can say ‘Is that your final answer?’

With that in mind, we asked media buyers across the country to tell us what’s hot in specialty tv right now. We asked them to evaluate the channels on everything from ratings performance against a particular demo to buzzworthy new shows and innovative ad formats. Here are their observations…

Top picks for WOMEN


(Corus Entertainment)

AMA: 56,000 (2+), 21,000 (W25-54), 19,000 (W18-49), 8,000 (W18-34)

Averaging more than 10 million viewers a month, W Network delivers lifestyle shows, as well as popular series and Hollywood hit movies. It targets women 25 to 54 with programming that reflects a desire to relax, laugh and learn.


Media buyers rave about W’s close relationship with advertisers, leading to groundbreaking initiatives such as the award-winning ‘Dove Sleepover for Self-Esteem.’ These integrated programs enable advertisers to connect with W Network viewers in new ways. ‘W has done a phenomenal job in that area,’ says Florence Ng, VP of broadcast investments for ZenithOptimedia.

Terry Chang, VP investment director for MediaVest Worldwide, says, ‘They’re now in the business of storytelling,’ citing a new program for Kraft Canada’s Oreo brand to find the next ‘Oreo Lick Race Family.’ The program features online videos created by Corus, augmented by 15-second spots appearing on W and sister channels YTV and CMT. ‘It could have been a simple contest,’ says Chang, ‘but they elevated it and brought it to life.’

New for fall

Eat Yourself Sexy

Based on W Network’s popular U.K. series You Are What You Eat hosted by Gillian McKeith, here she helps Canadians sort their eating habits with humour and a no-nonsense approach.

Big Voice

Vocal coach extraordinaire Elaine Overholt takes everyday women from the shower to the stage. Each episode sees Overholt and her team of choreographers, stylists and fitness trainers help a woman realize her dream of performing, whether at a wedding or her favourite venue.



AMA: 47,800 (2+), 27,000 (A25-54)

Reaching more than seven million households, Showcase is the home for breakout cable dramas, big-ticket movies and popular network series. Its viewers are well educated, with an average household income between $75,000 and $100,000.


Showcase ranks in the top 10 specialty channels among adults 25 to 54, and saw ratings among women 25 to 54 increase by a whopping 31% this year.

A major brand overhaul for Showcase and sister channels Showcase Action (which will be known simply as Action) and Showcase Diva debuts Aug. 31. The relaunch includes a new logo and revamped on-air elements. ‘It’s always been a premiere brand…but we saw a time and opportunity to refresh,’ said Barbara Williams, Canwest Broadcasting’s EVP of content, at the broadcaster’s fall preview.

‘Showcase is starting to get an HBO feel to it,’ adds MediaVest’s Chang, who praises the addition of shows like Damages. ‘They’re really cleaning up their act and investing in quality shows.’

New for fall

The Foundation

This five-part Showcase original series follows the inner workings of a dysfunctional but well-funded charity and its less than scrupulous executive director, played by Mike Wilmot (It’s All Gone Pete Tong).

Crash & Burn

A young claims adjustor for a cutthroat corporation is the protagonist in this 13-parter set in Hamilton. The series follows his dealings with insurance scams and the criminal underworld while trying to escape his past. Canwest is currently shopping product integration in this series to automotive companies.



AMA: 44,000 (2+), 24,400 (A25-54), 13,200 (W25-54)

Food Network reaches more than 5.8 million households and caters to adults 25 to 54, skewing 54% female. Viewers are well educated, with an average household income of more than $80,000. Most are young couples with children (approximately 27% with kids under 12) and lead convenience-oriented lifestyles.


Food Network’s AMA places it among the top 10 specialty channels for adults 25 to 54, and seventh against women 25 to 54. It also grew 6% against adults 25 to 54 and 11% against adults 18 to 49 last season. Susan Dioszeghy, SVP, western region media director for M2 Universal in Calgary, says the channel is also attracting male viewers who are watching with their significant others.

Among its newest ad formats are faux ‘viewer advisories’ that appear after commercial blocks.

New for fall


Hosted by Ted Allen (Food Detectives), this 13-ep reality series challenges four up-and-coming chefs to turn everyday ingredients into a three-course meal. After each course, a contestant gets ‘chopped’ until there’s one left standing. A rotating panel of culinary elites will decide whose dish is best, awarding $10,000 to the winner.

Top Chef Masters

Making its Canadian premiere this fall, this show pits 24 world-renowned chefs against each other in the hugely popular Top Chef format. The ultimate Top Chef Master will receive $100,000 toward the charity of their choice.

The Supersizers Go

Comedian Sue Perkins and restaurant critic Giles Coren explore eating habits from the past 500 years. Clad in period costume, the pair will eat their way through typical menus from seven different eras – a culinary extravaganza that includes leaping-frog pie and sheep’s head.



AMA: 56,100 (2+), 29,000 (A25-54), 19,300 (W25-54)

From decor to renos, HGTV is home-related TV. Catering to adults 25 to 54, skewing 67% female, viewers are loyal, with adults watching 92.2 minutes per week. They’re also well educated, have an average household income of more than $80,000, and live in either urban or suburban areas. The HGTV audience enjoys entertaining at home and typically watches three-plus hours of TV a day.


HGTV is currently the second-ranked channel among women 25 to 54, with viewership in this segment increasing 9% over winter/spring 2008. Along with Food Network, buyers consider HGTV a leader in product integration.

‘[Canwest's] integration team is very strong,’ says Ng. ‘They come up with good stuff time and time again.’ Chang adds that HGTV is one of the leaders in ‘competition’ shows, a hot genre right now. ‘They are one of the highest audience ranking cable shows, [and] Canwest has jumped on this with Food and HGTV,’ he says.

New for fall

Holmes Inspection

Canada’s favourite handyman, Mike Holmes, is back with an all-new

hour-long series in which he helps victims of home inspections gone wrong. In each of the 26 episodes, Holmes will uncover what went wrong and, with the help of his construction team, make it right.

Realtor vs. Realtor

This 13-episode show takes a couple searching for a new home and introduces them to two completely different real estate agents who compete to find them a perfect house. The show promises aggressiveness and cutthroat strategies, as well as resourcefulness to win over clients.



AMA: 21,300(2+), 9,600 (W18-49), 13,800 (A18-49), 12,800 (A25-54)

Adults 18 to 49 comprise more than 70% of Slice’s audience, and the net also has a strong female skew (75%). Its sweet spot is the 30-something woman balancing family, work and a social life. Thirty one per cent of Slice’s viewing audience has children under 12, while 39% have a household income of $80,000 or more.


In spring 2009, Slice achieved an 18% increase in average minute audience for adults 25 to 54 and a 20% increase against women 25 to 54 versus the previous year. It is currently the fifth ranked network against women 18 to 34, and in the top 10 analogue specialty channels for women 18 to 49.

New for fall

The Real Housewives of New Jersey

Following successful stints in Orange County, Atlanta and New York, the Real Housewives series arrives in New Jersey. For the first time, the show focuses on more than just friends, as two sisters introduce a new level of familial drama.

X-Weighted: Families

The fourth season of the popular weight loss show will focus on an epidemic sweeping through Canada: fat families. The 13-part, one-hour series will follow a cross-section of Canadian families, with each ep following a different family in its struggle to effect positive change in their lives.

Top picks for YOUTH


(Corus Entertainment)

AMA: 64,000 (2+), 28,000 (P2-11)

YTV is seen in over 10 million homes and connects with 2.2 million kids per month. Its targeted programming includes after-school block The Zone, Saturday morning cartoon block Crunch, Sunday movie block Zapx and the weeknight comedy block. Its primary audience is kids 6 to 11, while families (adults 18 to 49 with kids 2 to 11) are its secondary audience.


Buyers laud its extensive audience knowledge, courtesy of proprietary market research including the annual YTV Observer (previously known as the YTV Tween Report), an in-house trend team, and web polls and surveys. According to MediaVest’s Chang, youth-oriented channels typically fall into two camps: those catering to ‘mommy’s kids,’ and those attempting to woo older audiences with edgier programming. ‘YTV is doing a great job on the wholesome level, and also trying to edge it up a little bit,’ he says.

New for fall

Penguins of Madagascar

Produced by DreamWorks Animation in association with Nickelodeon, this CGI series follows four penguins as they maintain order in their habitat, New York’s Central Park Zoo.

That’s So Weird!

Friends stumble upon a third-rate network called So Weird TV, where

the programming – from Depressi High and Really Smallville to the other ultimate fighting league, Ultimate Food Fighting – is even weirder than the name. The sketch comedy show will feature guest appearances by actors, athletes and musicians.


(Astral Media/Corus Entertainment)

AMA: 33,300 (P2-11), 18,400 (A18-49)

Where cartoons live. Available in more than 7.7 million Canadian homes, Teletoon offers animated entertainment for kids, youth and adults. Its programming is also available online at, as well as on-demand and through mobile TV and iTunes.


A premiere destination for brands seeking young males, boys comprise 67% of its total 2 to 11 audience. ‘They’re very strong against both boys and the youth demo,’ says Ng. Its broadcast offering is complemented by, which offers customized promotions and branded web games. The site received about 1.5 million visits in the most recent measured month. Chang describes Teletoon as a channel to ‘watch out for,’ as it ventures further into program integration.

‘They have assembled a really strong integration team and they’re trying to push ideas into the marketplace,’ he says.

New for fall

Majority Rules

A tween-targeted dramedy combining live-action and animation follows the complications that ensue when a teen girl is elected mayor of her hometown. The show follows her attempts to balance friends, family, high school, relationships and politics.

The Super Hero Squad Show

Building on the strong performance of superheroes on Teletoon, The Super Hero Squad Show features famous Marvel characters such as Captain America, Hulk, Wolverine and Iron Man as they protect Super Hero City from VillainVille’s infamous criminals.


(Astral Media)

AMA: 95,600 (2+), 42,500 (8-14), 25,000 (12-17),

Family Channel reaches 5.8 million homes across Canada, with the hard-to-reach tween demo (8 to 14) comprising its primary audience. It is also a leader among teens 12 to 17.


Family offers advertising partners an integrated approach that engages kids interactively and with grassroots campaigns. Buyers praise its range of ad opportunities, which encompass online (banner ads, video pre-roll), event sponsorship and interactive content (SMS, games, contests, mini-sites) and retail licensing and merchandising.

New for fall

Aaron Stone

This Disney Channel original series follows the adventures of the reigning world champion of popular online game ‘Hero Rising,’ when a reclusive billionaire reveals that the game is actually a test for real secret agents.


This series follows the trials of a 15-year-old played by Jacob Kraemer (Degrassi: The Next Generation), whose abilities lead him to become a high school lawyer in ‘Teen Court.’ His cases involve litigation against school uniforms, allegations of science fair sabotage and a breakup.



AMA: 12,200 (P2+)

The channel is available in more than 6.3 million homes, and the MTV Canada experience also includes the website It has a commitment to 71% Cancon in prime time, and its primary audience is 12 to 34.


According to Chang, MTV boasts not only a full slate of ‘amazing’ reality programming, but is also adept at using U.S. shows as a springboard for quality Canadian content – best exemplified by The Hills and its Canadian cousin The Hills After Show. ‘They have done a great job of leveraging the U.S. assets and taking them to the next level,’ he says.

New for fall

The Buried Life

Four Canadian friends travel the world in an attempt to complete a list of ’100 things to do before you die’ in this reality series. They include trying to kiss actress Rachel McAdams and getting into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Over the Bolts

Commissioned by Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium and produced by MTV’s in-house team, this 10-episode, half-hour series follows members of the Canadian national snowboard team as they compete for a spot on the Olympic team.

Disaster Date

People set up their closest friends on terrible blind dates just to watch them squirm. Those strong enough to make it through earn cash prizes.



AMA: 22,100 (P2+)

Broadcasting since 1984 and available in more than 8.2 million Canadian households, MuchMusic is a leading destination for teens and young adults and its 12- to 34-year-old audience are avid consumers and early adopters. Its associated web property,, delivers music videos and user-generated content.


M2′s Dioszeghy describes MuchMusic as a ‘definite no-brainer’ for reaching youth, however, she cautions: ‘I think you can fail miserably if you put the wrong creative message in that environment.’

‘They’re quite different from the Much we used to know,’ says MediaVest’s Chang. ‘They’ve really changed the whole format and are running a lot of reality shows.’

New for fall

Making His Band

This eight-episode, one-hour show features Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs on tour with aspiring musicians and singers.


Another show featuring Sean Combs, this 11-episode reality series sees the musical impresario hand-pick aspiring solo artists to compete to become the next big thing. Contestants will be judged on how well they handle photo shoots, deal with the paparazzi and perform on stage.

Top picks for MEN


(Rogers Media)

AMA: 64,500 (2+), 21,000 (M18-49), 31,000 (A25-54)

Rogers Sportsnet offers four HD and analogue services: Sportsnet East, Sportsnet Ontario, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Pacific. It televises nearly 200 NHL regular season games (more than any other Canadian broadcaster), and more than 100 Toronto Blue Jays games. It also broadcasts 250 regular-season MLB games, plus the playoffs. Additional sports coverage includes Sunday NFL games and English Premier League soccer. Its primary audience is men 18 to 49.


Sportsnet’s ability to reach elusive male viewers has been enhanced by improvements to, which is now WAP-enabled for devices like the iPhone and Blackberry. The broadcaster is also utilizing social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to expand its target audience. ZenithOptimedia’s Ng also praises ad formats like the ‘squeeze-back,’ which allow ads to run without interrupting live programming.

New for fall


Thursday nights just got better, thanks to a new three-year agreement with the National Football League. Sportsnet is the exclusive Canadian rights holder of the NFL Network’s eight-game schedule, which features six Thursday night broadcasts – including the Buffalo Bills hosting the New York Jets at the Rogers Centre in Toronto – one Saturday night telecast, and a Friday night broadcast on Christmas.



AMA: 116,400 (P2+)

TSN is Canada’s first and biggest sports channel, featuring live sports, commentary, news and highlights. Its primary audience is educated, affluent, passionate male sports fans 25 to 54.


Dioszeghy says TSN has done a superb job of branding itself as a ‘go-to’ destination for male sports fans, while complements the broadcast entity with video highlights, real-time updates, analysis, discussion boards and fantasy leagues. Chang says TSN is in ‘a league of its own’ with top-flight programming (including a growing roster of NHL games). ‘They were the ESPN of Canada, now they’re ESPN in overdrive,’ he says. The sports channel is also introducing programs to mark its 25th anniversary this year. One of these is the Kraft Celebration Tour, which will see the network’s flagship news program, Sportscentre, broadcast from 10 Canadian communities between Aug. 22 and 31. One municipality will win $250,000 for a ‘community refresh.’

New for fall

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games

TSN will deliver more than 300 hours of live coverage from the Vancouver Games in HD. More than 25 TSN personalities will be involved in the broadcast, with Sportscentre’s Darren Dutchyshen hosting prime-time coverage and Dave Randorf hosting daytime coverage.


TSN will televise at least 70 regular season games featuring at least one Canadian team throughout the 2009-10 season, followed by live coverage of the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The schedule includes exclusivity for Wednesday Night Hockey and Canadian coverage of the NHL Entry Draft and the NHL Draft Lottery Special.



AMA: 47,300 (P2+)

Available in more than 6.7 million Canadian homes, Space is the home of sci-fi, speculation and fantasy. Viewers are primarily 25 to 54, with a post-secondary education and a fondness for home entertainment equipment. They are particularly likely to purchase DVDs, CDs and videogames, as well as use features on mobile devices.


Chang says Space is a channel media buyers should keep an eye on, particularly as sci-fi moves beyond its stereotype as a domain for geeks and social misfits – a transformation underscored by the recent rebranding of the U.S. Sci-Fi Channel as SyFy. ‘Sci-fi is no longer just for the geeky guy,’ says Chang. ‘It’s you, it’s me.’

New for fall


Created by members of the team behind Stargate SG-1, Sanctuary takes place in a world different from ours, but still familiar. Monsters move silently throughout this realm, while one woman searches them out.

Stargate Universe

Based on the popular Stargate franchise and starring Robert Carlyle and Lou Diamond Phillips, this show follows a team of explorers who must fend for themselves after discovering their starship is unable to return to Earth.

Top picks for BOOMER



AMA: 45,800 (P2+)

A TV destination for people who love the arts, whether in the form of classic opera, documentary or cutting-edge film. Bravo is available in more than 6.7 million Canada homes and caters to adults 25 to 54, with a female skew. Future finances and health are among their primary concerns.

New for fall

Great Canadian Bio-Series

An eight-part series of in-depth features on some of Canada’s greatest talents, including Glenn Gould, Ian Tyson and Gordon Pinsent.

Photo Xplorers

This six-episode series follows a band of guerrilla photographers as they slip behind the barricades to capture haunting images of abandoned buildings, describing the locations, the building itself and problems they find.

White Collar

After years of pursuit, an FBI agent played by Tim DeKay (Tell Me You Love Me) finally catches an elusive con artist (Chuck‘s Matthew Bomer), only to see him escape from prison. Upon recapture, the criminal proposes a deal: in exchange for his freedom, he’ll work with the FBI to catch other criminals.



AMA: 79,800 (2+), 40,200 (A25-54) 14,700 (W25-54)

Available in seven million Canadian homes, History specializes in dramas, movies, living history series and docs about the people and events that have shaped our world.


The second-ranked specialty against adults 25 to 54 (its audience in this demo grew 53% last season), History is now growing its audience in other key demos. Blockbuster films, series such as Ice Road Truckers and miniseries like HBO’s Rome have helped attract female viewers (who found the channel themselves, not as a result of co-viewing). It is now the number four channel for women 25 to 54, with AMA growth of 66% last season. ‘History Television has successfully made history sexy,’ says Chang. ‘The old History was about World War I and World War II, but they’ve really gone beyond that to provide an interesting, fascinating and exciting offering.’

New for fall

Expedition Africa

In an attempt to recapture the spirit of journalist Henry Morton Stanley’s perilous 1871 journey to find Dr. David Livingstone, this show from reality wunderkind Mark Burnett follows four modern-day explorers as they venture into the wild Tanzanian interior.

Generation Kill

Based on the book of the same name by Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright, this seven-part HBO series from the creators of The Wire follows a group of marines through the first 40 days of the Iraq War.

Life After People: The Series

Combining special effects and interviews with top experts in the fields of engineering, botany, biology, geology and archeology, this 10-part, one-hour series contemplates life on Earth without humans. The show depicts how major metropolises would look without human intervention.



AMA: 72,300 (P2+)

Ranked first among English-language specialty channels for overall quality of programming for eight consecutive years by Roper Reports Canada, Discovery offers in-depth scientific programming, from animals to the animalistic side of humanity, from the sea to space, and the latest in innovation.


M2′s Dioszeghy says Discovery is making significant inroads with older males. ‘It can pull some interesting numbers against males in the older demographic,’ she says. Chang calls Discovery (along with fellow CTVglobemedia properties TSN and RDS) one of the ‘anomalies’ of the specialty world, with some of its shows attracting audiences similar to those found on conventional TV.

New for fall

Junk Raiders

With just $5,000 at their disposal, a team of ‘freecyclers,’ builders and designers must turn an old factory space into a functioning, trendy loft in just one month. Their primary building materials? Other people’s garbage.

Top picks for FRENCH


(Astral Media)

AMA: 32,200 (P2+), 8,700 (T12-17)

With more than 2.5 million subscribers, VRAK.TV is Quebec’s top spot for teen and tween viewing of cartoons, sitcoms and original productions.


‘It’s by far the number one channel against [the teen] demo,’ says Carol-Ann Kairns, associate GM for Montreal media agency BCP. ‘They really do cater to them.’ In addition to its top teen standing (with an 18% share), VRAK is also the top-ranked net in daytime against girls 12 to 17 (with a 22% share), and is watched an average of 23 hours per week.

New for fall

VRAK la vie

This 13-part series chronicles the everyday life of four high school students, whether it’s in class or at the mall. When school is out, they move online to, where fans can continue to follow their busy lives.Kairns is especially keen on the series. ‘I think it’s going to be very successful,’ she says.

Les sorciers de Waverly Place

In this comedy series, three apprentice wizards are instructed in the magic arts by their father, while mom teaches them everything else. Only one will grow up to become a wizard, so rivalry ensues.



AMA: 78,900 (P2+)

Carried in more than 2.5 million homes, RDS is the go-to for Quebec sports fans. The sole broadcaster of Montreal Canadiens games, it also carries a full slate of tennis, CFL and PGA action.


RDS is ‘extremely dominant’ in Quebec says ZenithOptimedia’s Ng, ‘more dominant than TSN is in English Canada.’ Chang says the sports specialty is in ‘a league of its own,’ generating audiences comparable to conventional stations. ‘If you’re a man and you like sports, you either go to an English broadcaster or RDS,’ says Kairns.

New for fall

Besides carrying all 82 Montreal Canadiens games and 30 other NHL games, RDS will also air the 2009 Grey Cup game, the World Junior Hockey Championships and more than 350 hours of the Vancouver Olympics.


(Astral Media)

AMA: 39,100 (P2+), 11,600 (F25-54)

Available in nearly 2.2 million homes, Canal Vie is the French-language equivalent to the former Life (now Slice) channel. It caters to women 25 to 54, with programs serving up health, psychology, cooking and decorating.


While French specialties have traditionally built their skeds around imported programs, Canal Vie is introducing five new homegrown shows this fall. ‘Programming is very important in Quebec, says BCP’s Kairns. ‘You produce programming, you get the audiences.’ Kairns expects this tactic to speed up the emerging trend of daytime viewing shifting from conventional to specialty. Canal Vie is also among the nine Astral stations offering network breaks, where clients’ ads run simultaneously across all of the company’s specialty channels. ‘Individually they’re very small, but when you pool them together their share is important,’ says Kairns.

New for fall

Cuisinez comme Louis

Each half-hour episode in this 26-ep series sees chef Louis-François Marcotte welcome a VIP into his restaurant, Le Local. He then cooks tableside for his guest, who is also invited to help prepare the meal.

Le mariage des meubles

An 11-episode series starring decorator Lorna Gordon as she assists viewers who are moving in with a spouse or roommate. Each 30-minute episode features Gordon helping to bring two separate dining room, kitchen, office or bedroom sets into a single home.

Chéri, choisis!

One couple. One room. Two designers. In this new decorating show, each member of a couple takes turns finishing a room in their house according to the tastes of an appointed designer. After seeing the two treatments, the couple must decide which one they like the most.

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The Fall TV fixer-upper

Canadian upfronts

New York upfronts

Cross-country checkup

Handicapping the shows

The grid