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Bell Media’s Sean Cohan Talks Content, Streaming & International Plans


EXCLUSIVE: Canadians are consuming as much or more content than ever and Sean Cohan’s job is to make sure that one of Bell Media’s services is where they go to for it. “I know that from three years of working in measurement and data analytics that sleep is losing and consumption is winning,” he says. The analytics reference speaks to his time as Chief Growth Officer & President at Nielsen, which followed a stint as President of Pawn Stars prodco Wheelhouse, and before that, 15 years at A+E.

Cohan is in New York when he speaks to Deadline – his first interview since joining Bell Media as President last November – but is about to up sticks and relocate to Toronto.

He isn’t a poker player but quizzed about content spending at Bell Media at a moment when many are reining in costs, he says the company is “pot committed.” Asked about how the business will evolve in the next year and he says the company will “put a couple more chips on the table.”

The cards he holds at Bell Media include the CTV broadcast network, French-language service Noovo, sports nets TSN and RDS, a raft of specialty channels, a sizeable advertising business, radio stations, and the local streamer Crave.

“There’s what people would consider legacy pieces in that mix and a bunch of very future-facing properties,” Cohan says. “The challenge is taking these unique beloved brands, this great content and the strong people we have, and pointing them at a future where people are watching as much or more video than they were yesterday. It’s like being a storyteller that still informs, still entertains, still delights and provokes… but doing that across a range of different platforms.”

Companies with legacy assets in North America and beyond are weathering harsh market conditions and that has led to cutbacks. Bell is no different, recently announcing its biggest layoffs in almost 30 years. Two rounds of cuts included layoffs at the Media division, which has a headcount of about 5,000, irking politicians who had allowed consolidation with the expectation of continued investment, notably in news.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in media, tech or telecoms that hasn’t done some things, so restructuring has been an unfortunate necessity given the economic, and at times, the regulatory climate,” says Cohan. “I can say it’s not chaos — the sky isn’t falling in. I can’t promise that there’s not more change in the ecosystem, but I would say that we’ve done what we have had to do, and for now, it’s like let’s get on with it.”

On regulation, the controversial Online Streaming Act is aiming to bring SVODs and digital platforms more into line with traditional media, though the levy that will dictate how much the likes of Netflix will be forced to pay on local content hasn’t been set. The Bell Media President is grateful for the efforts to extend oversight to the streamers but says “the legislation hasn’t moved fast enough, nor has it gone far enough to deliver a level playing field,” echoing several other senior leaders in Canadian media.

His own company has to adapt and transform to the new world he says, but calls for “more attention to the some of the acute challenges that we’re seeing.”

Growing its own streaming service is a priority for Bell Media. Crave has inked a programming deal with Fox, has greenlit multiple originals, and is now offered directly to Prime Video subscribers, and 2024 will be a growth year for Crave, says Cohan. “Some of that is optimizing content, increasing penetration in places where it’s under penetrated,” he adds, noting that is part of a plan to embed Crave as well as other Bell Media channels and services more deeply in the digital world: “You’ll see all of our assets and brands and content being more ubiquitous across the digital landscape.”

In line with market trends, the next move is free ad-support channels. “We’ll launch FAST channels pretty darn soon,” the Bell Media boss says.

Drilling down on advertising, Cohan says the market is not shrinking, but requirements are changing. “We’re well positioned because if you want out of home, you want digital, you want audio, you want video you want you know, alternate Thursdays with the blue moon? We’ve got it,” he says. “We’ve invested in new capabilities… that allow us to rock up to advertisers and say: ‘What’s the audience you want? We’ll deliver it and we’ll show you how it works’.”

At A+E, Cohan launched channels and programming around the world and taking more Canadian content out globally is another goal in his new gig. “There’s certainly the talent locally, there is certainly the scale, and there is the investment to do this. Then there is Canada’s history as a co-producer and collaborator.”

Bell Media Studios turns out factual and entertainment shows and Bell Media Distribution sells them globally. “We’re fairly small on the global stage in terms of distributing the content that we make. I’m not saying you’re going to wake up with a leading factual and scripted distributor overnight, but I think there’s room for Bell Media to do more damage – in a good way – outside of Canada.”



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