Gusto TV’s deal with Bell may spur new studio construction

An agreement reached earlier this year with telecom giant Bell will allow Ottawa-based Gusto TV to produce some 100 hours of new content annually from its Glebe headquarters, CEO Chris Knight said this week.

Speaking to a business audience during a breakfast address, Mr. Knight said he wants to do it from Ottawa – which he calls “one of the greatest cities in the world” – even as the company expands globally, including a new venture in Poland.

Gusto TV’s deal is giving new momentum to a long-running push to build a purpose-built film and television studio in the nation’s capital.

“We’ve been trying for years and years to build a studio here. We’ve had challenges,” Mr. Knight told OBJ. “Now we have the volume of content and the longevity of our deal that we can plan many, many years in advance.”

If necessary, Mr. Knight said he would build a “state-of-the-art, single-purpose facility” for his company’s exclusive use.

“But what would be nice is if there was a bigger facility that could attract more business from out of town that could grow the industry here,” he said.

In 2012, Invest Ottawa selected a Toronto-based firm, Cinescape, to construct a new studio. Negotiations fell apart several months later. City councillors removed funding for the project later in 2013.

Unbundling and cord-cutting

Gusto TV is producing exclusive programming for Bell under the agreement. Mr. Knight – who is a member of Invest Ottawa’s board of directors and headed the “Paving the Dream” initiative that led to the construction of Highway 416 – said the local firm tries to eschew some of the contests and more theatrical themes of cooking shows on the Food Network by focusing on gourmet and travel-related culinary programming.

Its shows include One World Kitchen, Fish the Dish and Crate to Plate, among others.

That recipe has paid off, according to Mr. Knight, who said more than two-thirds of Gusto TV’s viewers are women, many of whom belong to the highly sought-after millennial demographic.

He said he’s unfazed by the declining interest in traditional television services among viewers who are increasingly watching shows on the Internet.

Gusto TV’s programs can be distributed online and still reach millions of viewers through conventional cable and satellite services.

“Television is still here and will be here for a while,” he said.

Gusto TV is also well-poised to capitalize on the “unbundling” of television channels that increases the flexibility of viewers to select the channels that they want.

“When you were buying a big package, you had a lot of channels (playing) reruns of other channels,” he said. “Those channels are inevitably going to wither on the vine and die. But everything you saw on Gusto was new and had never been seen in Canada before.”

Mr. Knight spoke at the Eggs n’ Icons Breakfast Series, which is a joint venture between the Ottawa Business Journal and Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.