Crave‘s management are eyeing a breakthrough into the top three streaming services in Canada, as its parent Bell unveiled its 2024 season Upfronts slate today.

In an exclusive interview with Deadline, Bell Media VP, Content Development & Programming Justin Stockman outlined a “multi-pronged, multi-year” plan to break into the top three by subscriber numbers, which is currently occupied by Disney+, Prime Video and Netflix. Crave has around 3.1 million subs at the moment, which has ticked up slowly over the past 24 months, but Stockman and Bell President Sean Cohan are aiming for bigger and better things.

“Crave is doing well, but we think it could do better, which was Sean’s statement,” said Stockman. “This is a growing country and there’s lots of opportunity. We are a country on the rise so how do we tap into that new market as well. We continue to roll out original content, lock in the deals we have, we’re focused on distribution strategies and bundling and all those are happening simultaneously.”

Stockman’s statement came in the same week Canada’s CRTC finally introduced new rules dictating global streamers pay 5% of their local revenues to “to support the Canadian broadcasting system.” The system will not impact Crave or CBC Gem, which are affiliated to a broadcaster, and could see the likes of Netflix, Paramount+, Disney+ and Prime Video winding in original content spending — something that production sources tell has been happening while the Online Streaming Act levy terms were formed.

“We’ve heard in the marketplace that there has been a lot of pulling back, but we’ve seen with the number of commissions that’s not the case with us,” said Stockman. “We’re finding the right types of deals and originals that are working for us, and the volume has remained constant. Crave is growing, so we’re ensuring we’re feeding that business.

“Maybe we had an advantage in that we weren’t in the same space to need the correction we’re now seeing in the U.S. market, where there was some crazy overspending in streaming. We announced we were profitable several years ago and we continue with that. There is less of a correction with us as we were being more practical and prudent from the get-go.”

The interview also came before today’s slate announcement, which saw Crave and network CTV lining up U.S. acquisitions such as NBC’s St. Denis Medical and Happy’s Place, Warner Bros Discovery’s Fox comedy Rescue: HI-Surf, Georgie and Mandy’s First Marriage, MGM+’s Emperor of Ocean Park and Peacock limited series Long Bright River, along with British shows Insomnia and Dope Girls, the latter of which is only for the streamer. Canada’s networks always get the first look at the latest U.S. shows after the advertisers, and Bell is expecting good things from the latest crop.

Among the line-up, Stockman said: “St. Denis Medical looks really great. People in the room, who’d seen a lot of shows, were laughing out loud, so we’re really excited to get that.” He also pointed to Dope Girls, which we revealed had been acquired a few minute ago, as a “great streaming title,” and explained that Bell now buys Crave rights to all broadcast shows when possible.

“In streaming there is more openness to more types of content,” he said. “For example, The Rookie is now a top show on Crave. We’re seeing sitcoms do better, and the type of content people are engaging with on streaming is broadening to more genres. As we’re picking up shows we’re ensuring we are getting Crave rights everywhere we can. This season we’ve taken Crave rights for every show available.” 

Crave’s expensive but subs-drawing HBO output deal gives it Hacks season 3, House of the Dragon season 2, Industry season 3, The Penguin, Dune: Prophecy, The Last of Us season 2, The White Lotus season 3, And Just Like That… season 3, Welcome to Derry (working title) and A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms: The Hedge Knight.

There have been questions around a potential launch of Max in Canada and how that would impact Crave’s deal. However, similar to Sky Group CEO Dana Strong’s assertion that the UK pay-TV giant will have access to the Warner content “in every scenario,” Stockman noted the Crave deal had renewed last year and would last “for many years to come… Not enough to get me to retirement, but close.”

Overall, Bell’s acquisitions level has remained steady over recent years, with output deals in place, and despite the strikes impacting the level of U.S. acquisitions last year — something that impacted the company’s revenues — “The number is still about the same,” said Stockman.

“We still have the same amount of mouths to feed, and we have our existing output deals. We picked up a little bit more for fall because ABC has moved a bunch of things to winter that we thought would be in the fall, so the linear schedule had holes to fill.”

Original series

On the original content front, There was also a first-look at superhero satire animation Super Team Canada, which we first reported on in February. At the time, it wasn’t clear if Will Arnett, whose Electric Avenue is co-producing the animated show alongside Thunderbird Entertainment’s Atomic Cartoons, would voice a character, but he has now been confirmed for a starring role, alongside Cobie Smulders, Kevin McDonald, Charles Demers, Brian Drummond, Ceara Morgana and Veena Sood. Jay Baruchel guest stars, and Bryan Adams performs the theme song for the show, which follows the exploits of six little-known Canadian superheroes.

“It’s still in production so it will hit Crave in early 2025,” said Carlyn Klebuc, General Manager of Original Programming for Bell. “Everybody is really happy with it, and it’s hilarious… One of the superheroes is a mailbox, and another shoots poutine out of their arms as their weapon. It’s a really exciting one.”

New series include Bad Trips, a six-episode limited drama set in the summer of 2015 in Toronto. Bored suburban 19-year-old Porscha falls for charismatic hustler, who introduces her to the city’s downtown party scene, where a music editor offers her a free trip to Sydney, Australia. However, the trip turns out to be a front to smuggle 81 bricks of cocaine, and Porscha is locked up in Sydney, trying to figure out how the hell she landed in prison while desperately trying to get herself out. Blink49 Studios, Real Friends Media, The Donaldson Company and Dreamchaser Entertainment are attached to the Crave series.

Also newly announced for the streamer is Drag Brunch Saved My Life, a Sphere Media unscripted series in which drag superstar Priyanka, flanked by her haute cuisine experts, event planning extraordinaires and locally ‘Pri-picked queens,’ embark on a mission to give restaurants a second shot by helping them stage their very own drag brunch production.

Sphere is also making CTV’s Mark McKinney Needs a Hobby, in which the Kids in the Hall member and Superstore actor travels through North America to meet the world’s most audacious hobbyists, and the communities of like-minded obsessives who nurture them so he can find one to claim as his own. Discovery is adding docuseries The Last Captains and Shipwreck Kings, Animal Planet is adding My Pet Ate What? and CTV Life will launch Queen of the Castle, an unscripted series following a high-stakes luxury renovation as Canadian socialites Ann Kaplan Mulholland and her husband Stephen transform a thousand-year-old English castle into an extravagant retreat. Other newly announced series include CTV Sci-Fi’s Revival and Crave doc Darcy & Jer: No Refunds.

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