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FX Canada heralds Rogers push for viewers

TORONTO - There was a time when TV fan Joe Conforzi could barely name a show he watched on Citytv.

TORONTO - There was a time when TV fan Joe Conforzi could barely name a show he watched on Citytv.

Now he gushes that it's his favourite channel, stacked with can't-miss sitcoms "Community," "Modern Family" and "Parks and Recreation," along with new smashes "2 Broke Girls" and "New Girl."

"They didn't have the big-name titles that they have now," says the 29-year-old Conforzi, noting he used to prefer CTV. "That's kind of what brought me over."

Conforzi, who is also a senior TV ad buyer with UM Canada, describes Citytv's lineup as broader and more diverse than what he recalls in years past. He says he's even been drawn to Citytv's sister station OMNI since it added "30 Rock" reruns to its mix of ethnic programming.

It's that kind of enthusiasm that parent company Rogers Media was banking on when it retooled its stable earlier this year and embarked on an aggressive expansion campaign that brings FX Canada to the screen Monday.

Broadcasting boss Scott Moore says the new specialty digital channel — which features buzz shows "American Horror Story," "Wilfred," "Terriers" and "Sons of Anarchy" — is just the latest step in an ambitious plan to take over a larger chunk of the dial and a bigger slice of viewership.

"We're looking at one or two launches in the next year and maybe one or two after that," says Moore, who oversees channels including Citytv, Sportsnet, OLN, G4 and OMNI.

"We're very interested in expanding our television portfolio and I think we always want to do it smartly as opposed to just scattergun. We're more and more convinced as we spend some time with our content groups that it's going to be content that has the ability to cut through clutter."

It's a relatively conservative approach compared to the guns-a-blazing tactic Rogers Media president Keith Pelley admits he employed when first took over the reins a little over a year ago.

The notoriously gregarious media boss — who joined Rogers after serving as executive vice-president of strategic planning at CTVglobemedia Inc. and overseeing broadcast consortium coverage of the Vancouver Olympics — notes that he initially applied for 11 different broadcasting licences and planned to add as many as four new channels a year.

"And then we sat back after three or four months and said, 'What's going to win the day ... as we move forward in a very integrated world?' " Pelley told ad buyers in a recent presentation to promote FX Canada at a downtown movie theatre.

"And what we determined very quickly was: We're not going to launch a number of channels. What we're going to launch is channels with world-class premium content."

The competitive spirit has extended across the company's diverse portfolio — before the introduction of FX Canada there was a hefty investment in Citytv's fall schedule that brought hot titles including "Terra Nova" and "Person of Interest," the introduction of Toronto's CityNews Channel, the relaunch of Sportsnet, the rebranding of Setanta to Sportsnet World, the renaming of Rogers sports radio stations in Toronto and Calgary and introduction of Sportsnet magazine.

Of course, the industry shakeup didn't end there.

Market-leader Bell Media, which owns CTV, also ramped up competition with the introduction of French-language sports channel RDS2, the regional hockey channel TSN Jets, and TSN Radio stations in Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg earlier this year.

More notably, it invested heavily in its flagging A-Channel stations and rebranded them CTV Two. The channels were then loaded with slick U.S. titles that in years past might have been reserved for flagship CTV, among them "X Factor," "Two and A Half Men," Mike & Molly" and "Criminal Minds."

CTV remains the industry "juggernaut," says Conforzi, but he says Citytv has done its part to try changing its reputation as a narrow-focused regional network (its stations are in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg).

Citytv's ability to nab shows with A-list star power and solid buzz went a long way towards attracting interest from ad clients, he says.

"Clients I work on, they like those high-profile programs, even if it's not quite their exact target they're going after," says Conforzi, who has worked with Sony Pictures, BMW, MINI, Future Shop, Best Buy, and Westjet throughout his career.

"They still like to be in those (shows) to get that exposure."

FX Canada is a premium channel that carries a similar cachet to HBO, he adds, predicting the launch will draw solid viewership from curious Canadians.

The channel kicks off with a two-month promotion for subscribers to Rogers Digital, EastLink and Cable Cable.

Pelley says talks are underway with other cable providers, including Bell and Shaw, to carry the channel to other parts of the country.

Citytv, meanwhile, will also expand to other parts of the country over the next year, he promises.

Moore says it's all part of becoming "a more consistently large-scale player."

Still, he admits that discussions to bring FX over the border started out almost by accident. Moore says he was seeking U.S. shows for Citytv when a sales pitch for the FX show "Wilfred" evolved into a full-fledged courtship for the entire channel.

"We were looking for channels to launch but we had had a lot of internal debate over what genres, what brands — 'Should we be doing our own brand? Should we be importing U.S. brands?'" he says.

"And sometimes when you're casting your net you just catch the right fish and this one has worked out exceedingly well."

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