TV networks face steep competition for viewers as they launch new shows

TORONTO – Don’t adjust your set: some of the TV shows slated to premiere this fall and winter may seem like reruns, but they’re actually new.

When the big U.S. networks recently revealed their new crop of shows, they included reboots of past hits including Fox’s “The X-Files,” NBC’s “Coach” and “Heroes Reborn,” and others that draw inspiration from feature films including “Rush Hour,” “Uncle Buck” and “Minority Report.”

Many of those titles will likely be included in Canadian TV lineups set to be announced this week and next, when homegrown broadcasters will lay out plans to keep viewers tuned in amid a growing array of streaming rivals.

With more competition than ever, it’s no surprise that a lot of TV’s newest additions seem more familiar than fresh, says Brad Adgate, an analyst at New York advertising agency Horizon Media.

The conventional channels are scrambling to win over straying viewers, who are increasingly devoting time to buzzy premium-cable shows, the backlog of content on their PVRs, and on-demand streaming options including Netflix, CraveTV and Shomi.

“You could call it desperation,” Adgate says of the preponderance of familiar fare, which also includes the spinoffs “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” and “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.”

“Or you could call it looking for a hit.”

He cites a New York Times article that counted a staggering 352 original scripted shows that aired last year in the U.S. on broadcast, cable and streaming services.

Standing out is a challenge, especially with critical buzz seemingly focused everywhere but network TV: Amazon’s “Transparent” (available in Canada on Shomi), “High Maintenance” on Vimeo on Demand (which was picked up by HBO) and Netflix’s “Daredevil” are examples of streamed shows that have cut into conventional TV numbers.

“The competition is not cable anymore, it’s streaming video,” says Adgate.

As CBC prepares to trot out its fall and winter shows Thursday, programming boss Sally Catto admits the public broadcaster is feeling the pinch of “an extremely competitive landscape.”

“More than ever you’ve got to be really distinctive and strategic in terms of getting the word out,” she says.

For the CBC, that means banking on familiar faces like Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara in their returning comedy “Schitt’s Creek” and Bruce McCulloch in the sitcom “Young Drunk Punk,” a partnership with Rogers.

“It is certainly easier and faster for projects to garner broader audiences and get that kind of attention when there’s recognizable talent involved,” says Catto.

“If we’re going to work on something with talent that’s unknown our expectations are different. We know it’s going to take more time to get that audience.”

Over at Bell Media, the focus for youth-focused Much is on snaring burgeoning talent to help generate material — and hopefully audiences — for both the TV channel and its website.

Bell Media’s specialty channel vice-president Justin Stockman says partnerships with popular YouTubers including comedian Jus Reign, beauty vlogger Melissa Merk and comedic troupe 4YallEntertainment are part of a strategy to keep youngsters tuned in.

“We wanted some (online personalities) that are already well-known, that had a built-in fanbase. That’s obviously good for us,” says Stockman.

If it works, similar experiments could unfold for other channels, including Space, Comedy, E! or TSN. And if it really works, these fledgling online pioneers could one day become CTV showrunners or marquee stars, says Stockman.

If traditional TV viewing is to survive in the long-term, securing young audiences is key.

“It’s definitely declining at a faster rate than it is for other age groups but it’s not like its dropped to zero,” Stockman says, insisting Much viewership is nevertheless stable and profitable.

“Clearly that’s a warning shot for us. We shouldn’t just be like, ‘Everything’s fine.'”

Conventional television is far from dead, adds CTV programming vice-president Mike Cosentino, who describes his network as “surging.”

New pickups for CTV include the fall conspiracy drama “Quantico” and Shonda Rhimes’s midseason thriller “The Catch.” Getting the word out about these shows is not a problem, says Cosentino, pointing to the market leader’s broad media platform to cross-promote content, including the newly launched streaming service CraveTV.

Catto credits CBC deals with Netflix with boosting TV viewership for “Heartland” and “Schitt’s Creek.” She’s hoping to drive more audiences, especially younger ones, to the network through online video.

“We’ve really got to expand our audience and digital is really the best way to do that,” says Catto, citing experiments with posting shows online within an hour of the TV broadcast, and in the case of “Ascension,” a full week before the premiere.

But the best way to secure viewers hasn’t changed: You need a good show.

“They have to be good and viewers have to go out of their way to find them,” says Adgate.