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Dear CRTC: Less talking, more listening

Do you prefer to listen to Canadian music on Wednesdays or Fridays? Do you want to read Canadian books in the fall or spring?

Imagine if a government agency asked you that kind of question to form the basis of their regulations. Wait … one did.

My answer is you’re asking the wrong question.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission makes sure the objectives of the Broadcasting Act are met. According to the CRTC itself, “Canadian content, its development and availability to Canadians, is the underlying principle of the policy.”

But only from 10-2?

The main purpose of the Broadcasting Act and the CRTC is to ensure Canadians have access to Canadian programming. Canadian content is the given.

tv_guy_ENow the CRTC is opening up their TalkTV discussion for the public again in advance of the public hearings from September 8–19, hearings that will help them redesign the television framework in Canada.  And by public they mean anyone with a secret CRTC decoder ring.  

Eliminating Canadian content regulations is not on the table. What is? From their public discussion document

  • Maximizing choice and flexibility (pick and pay)
  • Relationships between broadcasting distribution undertakings and programmers
  • Ways to foster local programming, including a regulatory model for conventional television
  • Ways to foster compelling Canadian programming, including program production, promotion, exhibition and Canadian programming expenditures

I understand about half of that but I do know that the CRTC’s job is to foster Canadian content and our choices are about ways to foster. Not to rationalize why it should exist or to create a time ghetto to place it. And by the way, CRTC, we already know when people watch TV. There’s a reason primetime is not called not-primetime. 

So quit asking me when I want Canadian programming or why I value it. I value it because I am Canadian and that means something to me beyond a beer commercial. It means I believe we are a distinct country from the United States, with a different culture. There’s some Venn diagram overlap for sure, but without our own industries – cultural and otherwise – we might as well be the United States with funny money. 

But there are few members of the public  who could give the CRTC an informed, practical solution for how to change the industry in order to get what we want out of it. I want variety and fair pricing, and to know existing regulations are being upheld, otherwise what’s the point anyway? New regulations that won’t be upheld? 

I think Canadian networks broadcasting more original content, not duplicating what we can get on the US stations, is a solution. Eliminating simultaneous substitution might help. Not counting the same show toward fulfilling a CanCon requirement on multiple channels owned by the same network. Don’t allow for giant conglomerates who own every piece of the telecommunications and broadcast industry. 

But I don’t have the information to know whether networks are currently even meeting their CanCon requirements, or what revenues they make from Canadian shows, so how can I come up with a plan to increase the amount or quality of Canadian programming without introducing some industry-killing idea?

The CRTC is asking the public questions like: 

Who outside the industry knows what “high-priority programming” means to the CRTC? If I’m happy with the availability of kids shows on Netflix is that a no or a yes?

The Canadian government has a plain language policy in any communications to the public. That CRTC discussion document for their public hearings has a Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 13.9. That’s a lot of grade levels for a public document.

Oh they do try to simplify. They explain the benefit of eliminating simultaneous substitution as:

Canadians would be able to watch all non-Canadian programs, such as the Super Bowl, with American advertisements.

The language isn’t the problem, it’s that they’ve simplified the point right out of the debate. We have to read the Globe and Mail to see what the real benefits might be.

I’ve been an interested observer in Canadian content regulations for about a decade and I don’t understand the benefits and drawbacks of most of the decisions they are asking us to make. Thank goodness for people like TV, eh?’s Kelly Lynne Ashton, the Globe and Mail’s Kate Taylor and John Doyle, and Greg O’Brien at Cartt to explain and help spark thought and discussion.

If only the CRTC was listening:

I’ve been part of the conversation for a decade, first on other sites and then through this site. We did a series of TalkTV podcasts last year with people talking pick and pay, cordcutting and CanCon.

Welcome to the party, CRTC, but the community you’re trying to create with your desperate questions already exists and doesn’t trust you to listen. Because you haven’t been listening. And now you’re all “but guys, the party’s over HERE now. Let me explain how to get here with these incomprehensible directions.”

You want to ask me a relevant question, CRTC? Ask me what I expect from a government agency charged with ensuring Canadian airwaves are used in Canadians’ best interests.

I want a CRTC that acts in the public interest and can prove it. I want to see in clear terms what the rules are for a network’s Canadian content and the evidence that they are fulfilling their obligations. I want you to be transparent in what you’re doing about networks that don’t comply.

I want you to actively listen to the continuing conversations happening around you and I want YOU to do the work of translating our English to CRTC-speak instead of expecting us to learn how and when to talk to you. I want you to not tell me “it’s your last chance to have your say!” when you should be listening to your citizens always.

I want a CRTC who knows what questions to ask to get a meaningful response. But if you really, really want to know when I want to watch Canadian programming? Whenever I want, because I am Canadian.

Link: What would Canadian TV look like without simulcasting?

From Kate Taylor of the Globe and Mail:

Simulcast overshadows Canadian content
“… the system hooks the Canadian networks on U.S. shows and U.S. schedules, dampening their appetite for commissioning Canadian programs and forcing those shows into marginal Saturday-night or summertime slots. So, what would Canadian TV look like if we killed off simulcasting?” Continue reading.


We did it. YOU did it.

Thank you so much for getting us past $20,000 to fund the return of TV, eh?! There’s 3 days left in the campaign and all we can say is thank you thank you thank you. (And there’s still time to donate if you want us to exceed our dreams by even more than 1,381%.)

Well ok I’ll say a little more: we are humbled and grateful for the support and we want to do you proud for having this kind of faith in us. We’ve gathered a great team of people to provide content and are excited to have this base to work from — both financial and number of supporters — as we seek stable funding and dive into the Canadian TV world again.

We didn’t think we’d be up and running even before the campaign was over but you brought us back to life (but not in the creepy zombie way).

Thank you. Did I mention thank you? Here’s Greg saying it:

And me from earlier in the campaign:

Thank you.


TalkTV – Have Your Say, Again

You may have heard about the CRTC’s Talk TV consultation.  It’s been a multi-part consultation that first started with an online discussion forum where the public was asked for their thoughts on issues related to Canadian television.  The public and industry groups were also encouraged to conduct Flash! conferences to talk about Canadian television and send in reports to the CRTC.

The CRTC took all of that information and floated a few proposals to the public and asked them to answer a survey.  Finally (we thought), they announced a public hearing and solicited submissions on 80 specific questions to be followed by an oral public hearing starting September 8, 2014.  [If you're interested, summaries of the other phases of consultations and the public notices can all be found on the CRTC TalkTV microsite.]

Today the CRTC added in another public consultation and provided more proposals for the public and stakeholders to consider and respond to.  They re-opened the online discussion forum and they would like you, yes you, to read the working document and share your thoughts.  The discussion forum will stay open from today until the last day of the hearing and close on September 19, 2014.  This will allow you to respond to things said during the hearing as well as to the working document.  That is a very interesting option, particularly for those who don’t live tweet hearings (I tend to have very immediate tweet responses to things said during hearings).

I believe that the Commission’s attempt to look at the entire television landscape is laudable but too much for one hearing.  Having received all of the submissions it looks like they might have come to the same conclusion.  While maintaining that anyone presenting at the hearing can bring up any topic they wish (though hopefully a relevant one – please no Value For Signal), they are trying to focus the discussion under the headings of pick and pay, the relationship between cable and satellite companies and broadcasters, Canadian programming and specifically local programming.  They would also like comments on the specific proposals including implementation schedule and how proposed regulation can be adaptable to future change.

Some of the proposals are wonky but several would have a direct impact on audiences and creators.  Your input is important regardless of which side of the screen you sit on.  And which screen.  This CRTC has been known to read into the record written submissions from the public.  So please share your thoughts.

A few of the issues:

Pick and pay:  In addition to the proposal contained in the public notice (a small all-Canadian basic), the CRTC is floating another option.  Under that scenario, cable and satellite companies would be able to add in any other services that they wish as long as the small basic has the price of $20 per month, $25 per month or $30 per month.  The benefit of this is that the cable and satellite companies can add in ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and PBS if they want but still need to keep the basic package small.

After the small basic, consumers will be able to either pay for only the specialties they want, put together their own packages or buy prebuilt packages.

Simultaneous substitution:  There are two options, either no more simsub or remove simsub from live events such as the Superbowl or Oscars.  It’s interesting that these are even proposed when so many stakeholders pointed out to the Commission the importance of simsub revenue to broadcasters and therefore the amount they have to spend on Canadian programming.

Preponderance:  Two options again – either Canadians receive a preponderance of Canadian services or they are offered a preponderance of Canadian services (and could pick only the US ones after small basic if they wanted).

Redefining Broadcasting Revenues:  Currently there are expenditure obligations that are calculated as a percentage of a broadcaster’s revenues from broadcast (CPE or Canadian Programming Expenditure).  The proposal is to include revenue from programs offered online in the base for calculation.  Broadcasters would then also be able to count expenditures from programming created for online platforms as part of their CPE.  The CRTC sees this as a way to encourage made for digital content but it is also a huge potential first step towards looking at the broadcasting system as a whole and not its regulated and unregulated parts.

Programs of National Interest:  This expenditure requirement, which obligates broadcasters to spend money on drama, docs and Canadian award shows, will be maintained and children’s programming will be included.  There has been a decline in commissioning original children’s programming and this is the CRTC’s response.  Expect to see discussion about whether this proposal will be effective or whether there also needs to be CPE sub-quotas for children’s programming (as well as feature films and long form documentaries).

Programming requirements:  An interesting proposal is to eliminate exhibition requirements during the day but maintain them for prime time.  This will mean no incentive for Canadian daytime talk shows, particularly on conventional stations that can also simulcast US daytime talk shows or soaps.  Do people care?

Genre protection:  The proposal is to eliminate genre protection (which says that there can only be one service per genre, so only one science fiction channel, history channel etc) and nature of service definitions.  If this goes through then the Commission will overturn its recent decision on OLN and you’ll get your Whisker Wars back because services will be able to morph into anything that they want, whenever they want.  Good thing?

There are a number of other issues on local programming, community programming, Official Language Minorities, accessibility, set top boxes, vertical integration rules and a few other issues probably of less interest to TV, eh? readers.  The big topic missing from the proposals is any attempt to include OTT (foreign or domestic) within regulation.  I doubt that will stop it from being a topic of discussion.  The proposed implementation schedule is to have it all in place by December 15, 2015.

I encourage you to go online and have your say.  If you do not like any of the proposals share your thoughts.  If you think any of them are good ideas, let the CRTC know.

And stay tuned – this is going to be an interesting hearing.

I will leave the CRTC with the last word:

Screenshot 2014-08-21 17.23.01




Women in TV: Another example of “You can’t be what you can’t see”?

How can you dream of what you can be, and all you can be, if you never see it in the storytelling of your culture?” – Jill Golick, Writers Guild of Canada President

Tatiana Maslany should have an Emmy for her performance as the kick-ass clones of Orphan Black. Anna Silk, Laura Vandervoort and Rachel Nichols headline other popular Canadian genre shows. But when you dig deeper into the statistics of women in Canadian television, the idea of a female-friendly industry erodes.

Last year’s Women in View report and the previous Ryerson report show that the industry has a long way to go in representing women and minorities, particularly behind the scenes.  If telling our own stories is foundational to the Canadian television industry, we should aspire to have our country’s diversity of voices represented.

In this Operation Maple video, Golick and ACTRA National President Ferne Downey speak about the challenges facing women in television, onscreen and off.