It all flows from hockey.
Rogers Communications Inc. has reshaped its prime-time television lineup to dovetail with the huge new stable of hockey programming it secured in a $5.2-billion deal last fall.
A new lineup on the City channels features a shortened prime-time window from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Those shows will be framed by strips of comedies and cross-promoted during hours of new hockey coverage, which has taken over the Saturday and Sunday night slots and includes a revamped Hockey Night in Canada.
But Rogers is also making a strong push into the evolving world of on-demand and mobile television viewing. On Tuesday, the company announced Sportsnet NOW, a service allowing Sportsnet subscribers to stream all the network’s channels live and free of extra charges on smartphones, tablets and laptops. And it is promising a greater focus on its specialty FX Canada channel, which aims to compete with networks like HBO and AMC to satisfy on-demand and binge-watching of sophisticated, edgy programs.
“This is where content is moving,” Rogers Media president Keith Pelley told reporters.
The new streaming service will be anchored by coverage of more than 400 hockey games over the next year, and gives Sportsnet subscribers from any cable or satellite carrier access to a range of sports such as baseball, football and curling on several screens and even over wireless networks.
But it also gives City a chance to catch up in prime-time ratings, where it has lagged behind some of its competitors. New dramas will be promoted to many more eyeballs during hockey broadcasts, which take over Saturday and Sunday evenings, meaning the network needs less U.S. programming in its schedule. And filling two prime-time hours on weeknights, instead of three hours, allowed it to be more aggressive in choosing quality shows to pursue.
“The purpose of our acquisitions is to broaden the appeal of the network,” said Hayden Mindell, vice president of television programming and content for Rogers Media. “The schedule’s now focused, right? Winning between 8 and 10 (p.m.) Monday to Friday, being number one Sunday night with hockey.”
City’s prime-time lineup features four new titles, bookended by dependable comedies Modern Family at 7 p.m. and 2 Broke Girls and Two and a Half Men at 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. The network also gets in on the hockey action with a pair of weekly games – Hockey Night in Canada on Saturdays and Hometown Hockey on Sunday nights, both at 7 p.m. – made possible by the mammoth 12-year NHL rights deal Rogers inked last fall.
The first of two new hour-long dramas premiering will be Scorpion, a CBS-produced series from a writer behind Prison Break. It traces the exploits of a bright, awkward team of high-tech U.S. Homeland Security experts. Then later this season comes Backstrom, which follows a self-destructive but talented detective in a Portland special crimes unit, dreamed up by the creator of Bones.
The lone new comedy will be Black-ish, a racially-driven series from the mind of Larry Wilmore, formerly the “Senior Black Correspondent” on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Lead character Dre Johnson’s dream life exposes his model family to the charge that they’ve assimilated too well with their upscale suburban neighbourhood.
Other new programs include the reality show Utopia, where 15 contestants have a year to try to build a new society from scratch. A press release asks, presumably rhetorically, whether this might lead to “ultimate happiness” or “complete chaos”?
The Grammy Awards are also returning to City, as are a host of other shows including The Bachelor, Parks and Recreation and Scandal.
FX Canada, which has been home to shows such as American Horror Story and The Americans, promised two new offerings: viral outbreak and vampirism in The Strain, from Oscar-nominated director Guillermo del Toro, and Tyrant, which follows an average American family drawn into a Middle Eastern intrigue.
Rogers also firmed up its play-by-play roster for the coming season hockey broadcasts. Veteran fan favourite Bob Cole will make the jump from CBC to stay on Hockey Night in Canada, but Jim Hughson will be the lead announcer. New hires Dave Randorf and Paul Romanuk have also signed on.