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CBC embracing free streaming channels for local news, comedy

The public broadcaster said 2 ad-driven streamers will debut this fall
CBC is set to launch more free streaming channels including one dedicated to comedy and several focused on local news. Andrew (Andrew Phung) and Camille (Rakhee Morzaria) are shown in a scene from the CBC sitcom “Run The Burbs.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Ian Watson

CBC announced plans Thursday (June 1) to launch more free streaming channels including one dedicated to comedy and several focused on local news as it dives deeper into online options favoured by younger audiences.

While announcing its fall/winter lineup the public broadcaster said two ad-driven streamers will debut this fall with 2024 expected to see more free, ad-supported television, or FAST channels. They join CBC News Explore, which premiered last November to offer a deeper dive into current affairs and news topics.

CBC Comedy will offer a constant feed of CBC series, sketch comedy and standup specials including current episodes of “Run the Burbs,” “Son of a Critch” and “Sort Of,” as well as past seasons of defunct shows “Kim’s Convenience,” “Schitt’s Creek” and “Baroness Von Sketch Show.”

CBC News BC will stream local news from the West Coast and be the first of multiple local news streamers planned for connected TVs, the CBC News App and CBC Gem.

“We’re looking to launch a couple more that are more regionalized, localized and potentially over time, continue to launch more and more and more of those,” said CBC executive vice-president Barbara Williams.

“They’re pretty straightforward. They’re pretty easy to launch. The younger demo that doesn’t necessarily have a cable subscription still really enjoy the lean-back streaming experience and they’re discovering FAST channels of all types on their connected TVs and other devices.”

CBC announced the plans alongside its upcoming programming lineup for the main network and CBC Gem, much of which won’t land until winter 2024.

Additions set for the new year include the workplace comedy “One More Time” from comedian D.J. Demers, the police series “Allegiance,” the Vancouver-set procedural “Wild Cards,” and the reality competition “The Great Canadian Pottery Throw Down.”

Williams said the lineup reflects a heavy investment in nurturing new talent and finding new voices.

“(We’re) constantly thinking about: ‘Whose voice are we not hearing from? What story are we missing? What story is not being told by the, maybe, traditional broadcasters? Who doesn’t have access to be able to tell their story?” she said.

New this fall are previously announced extended versions of two feature films, reimagined for the small screen: the five-part Indigenous residential school saga “Bones of Crows,” and three-part tech series “BlackBerry.”

They join returning fall series “Sort Of,” “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” “Heartland,” “Murdoch Mysteries” and “SkyMed.”

“Run the Burbs” and “Son of A Critch” are set to return in winter 2024.

Returning reality fare this fall includes “Best in Miniature,” “Dragons’ Den,” “Family Feud Canada,” “The Great Canadian Baking Show” and “Still Standing,” with reality series set for 2024 including “Bollywed,” “Canada’s Ultimate Challenge,” “Push” and “Stuff the British Stole.”

New fall documentary series include “Black Life: Untold Stories” and “Swan Song,” billed as a character-driven series following Karen Kain’s final year with the National Ballet of Canada.

The winter doc lineup includes new series “For the Culture with Amanda Parris” in which the broadcaster hosts conversations that centre Blackness and “The Nature of Things,” which welcomes new hosts Sarika Cullis-Suzuki and Anthony Morgan.

The summer lineup includes third seasons of “Moonshine” and “Race Against the Tide,” both returning July 16.

Williams said the broadcaster is focused on ensuring audiences can find the best of CBC, no matter the platform, and to “have everything, everywhere.”

Over the past year, Canadians have streamed more than 34 million hours of content on CBC Gem, she said. More than half of those viewers watched on a connected television, such as a smart TV or one connected to a streaming device such as Apple TV or Roku.

“If people’s choice is, ‘I just want Gem,’ we want to be sure as much as possible that everything is there for them,” said Williams.

“If people just really want a cable subscription, we want to be sure that TV and (CBC) News Network is there for them and the Documentary Channel. If people really are just, ‘I’m only interested in mobile, just give me dot-ca and give me the news app,’ then guess what — you can find Explore on the (CBC) News app.”

New short-form series headed to CBC Gem this fall include six 10-minute episodes of “The Bannocking,” about a journalism student who returns home to uncover the truth about the abandoned residential school; eight episodes of the 15-minute “How to Fail as a Popstar,” an adaptation of Vivek Shraya’s hit play and book about “a young queer brown boy, growing up in Edmonton trying to achieve pop stardom;” and six 15-minute episodes of “I Hate People, People Hate Me,” billed as an offbeat comedy that explores queer identity.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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