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.


28 thoughts on “Dear CRTC: Less talking, more listening”

  1. I do think it becomes a very slippery slope if the Crtc says Canadian networks have to have 100% Canadian programs all the networks would have to do is say ok then bring back the local tv fund or we will need so much cash per year from the feds.

    Now with that said the end goal of this is to give us more choice would there be more choice if we had less American programs no of course not when you have most Canadians wanting more access to American programs maybe its time we allow more channels in.

    1. I’m not even thinking 100% CanCon, just that it should be the core business. So for one thing why incentivize Canadian networks to air US shows at the same time as we can get them on US channels – that adds no value to a Canadian audience.

  2. Diane

    The main issue i can see with that is you would have to include the American networks in the basic package.

  3. You’ve hit upon the full nut of it, D.

    Every few (or couple, it seems) years the CRTC has this enormous review where their hundreds of staff and the enormous lawyer contingent of the huge vertically integrated companies get together and talk about commas and paperclips. None of it has anything to do with the viewer.

    The stark reality is that the last big change they did was a brand new TV Policy — it’s less than two years old. You may already in mainstream publications read about how this company or that company wants it changed. “Changed” always meaning, “allow us to do less Canadian programming.”

    By the way, that’s also what “flexibility” means.

    Meanwhile, however, a lot of these companies are already underspending on the target that was set for them in that last round. This always happens. The ink is no sooner dry on what they agree to than they find a way around it.

    And the CRTC does nothing to enforce it.

    I’m not asking for people to care about how the sausage gets made; that’s not what’s at issue here. But as you point out, the more the CRTC talks about wanting to “engage” Canadians the more you see how useless they are at it.

    Canadians want to pay a fair price to get TV. They like the US channels which they’ve had for over 45 years, so you probably shouldn’t talk about taking them away. And they want different things to watch and not to have to pay through the nose for them.

    Under the broadcast act, the CRTC is supposed to make sure they’re getting these things. They’ve been asleep at the switch since Pierre Juneau left. Enforce the rules you have. Make certain that “Canadian broadcasting” means more than “Rebroadcasting of American signals.” That’s it. That’s what you have to do.

    But instead we’re going to have a million lawyers and ninety four hearings and the only thing I’m sure of? Three years from now Canadians will be paying more money for less choice, and everybody else will be screaming about how they need more “flexibility.”

    And another generation of Canadian creatives will be telling their stories, and mining their Canadian points of view, and doing that little mental jog to sub in U.S. locales and situations because they’re working in Burbank, not Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal.

  4. If you asked most would you pay more for Canadian channels many would say no if you asked those same people would you pay more for Usa nets those same would say yes.

    1. That’s not at all what people are saying in response to Talk TV and not really a point that goes for or against anything being proposed. That’s why cheap basic cable is on the agenda and why pick and play is supposed to be this big bonus for us, that we can have affordable cable and choose exactly what channels we get. The problem is many people want that because they assume they’ll pay less for fewer channels but that is very likely not the case since each unbundled channel will cost more.

  5. Jayme, what would they say if you asked “do you want to buy health insurance in the US system or the Canadian one?”

    What about if you asked them if they wanted to go to public schools in Ontario, or Alabama?

    Or what do you think they’d say if they were asked, “Do you want to live in Downtown Detroit or Windsor?”

    Citizenship has its rights and its responsibilities. Canadians getting to watch US TV stations has always been a perk, but it’s no more a ‘right’ than Canadians being able to compete in the US version of “The Amazing Race.”

    1. The point is this is about more choice not less so if we were left with just CTv/Global/City/Cbc most would not be happy and could even bring up many legal issues.

      1. Where is the recommendation to not have US networks at all that you’re referencing? And what legal issues? One of the basic cable recommendations seems to be exactly what you’re suggesting – Option A is a package including all Canadian channels (which carry US shows anyway) and then we have the choice to add US channels too. Or Option B is those channels plus whatever the cable provider wants to add (which would end up being US channels) for a set price. And then pick and pay is a separate issue where we could pick only the channels we want on top of that.

        1. Denis

          One exzample is Cornwall there local staion is Pbs Watertown it would be like banning local stations in say London you can’t ban them and if you try it will create legal issues.

      2. Having lived in the land of Farmervision for many years, I can say many people probably wouldn’t miss the American nets as much as you’d think. Growing up, most people I knew only had CTV, CBC, French CBC and sometimes when the wind was right and the leaves were off the trees, Global. Most people don’t care what channel they are watching a show on, just that they get to watch the show. People don’t give a flying fig if they are watching Parenthood on Global or NBC. If American nets weren’t on basic, most people wouldn’t order them if they cost extra, so long as their shows are on the channels they do get. When people are scanning their channel guide, they don’t pick the network, they pick the show. If I was looking for Grey’s Anatomy, I would pick whatever channel came up first on the guide as I was scrolling that had it. As it so happens, because I live in the boonies of Saskatchewan, I can’t even get a dual-tuner dvr so when I schedule my shows to record, I make use of the forty thousand Canadian timeshift channels to fit in all my shows on my dvr schedule–most of the channels I record my shows on are Canadian then. The only time I specifically search for an American net is when a show I watch does not appear on a Canadian channel.

        1. Ally

          I think your down playing how much people like the American nets many and i mean tons of people refuse to watch Canadian nets they perfer the American channel and just look at what they want to be able to watch the American ds durring the Super Bowl.

          Then you have the issue that 2 out of 3 Canadians wnat more access to more American programs that on its own is a sign people in huge numbers love there American shows and channels.

          1. Jayme, I’m not disputing that Canadians don’t like their American shows because they do. I just don’t believe that people really care what channel they are watching a show on, so long as they have access to the show at the same time its airing in The States. That being said, I did happen to notice when I spent a couple summers in the Toronto-Ottawa area, how pro-American people are there. They like their American stores, American clothes and are more likely to travel to the U.S. for a vacation then to other parts of Canada. Oh, and they like NFL football over CFL, which would be almost sacrilegious where I live. Everywhere else in Canada, people would pick something Canadian over something American but in the Toronto area I’m not so sure. There seems to be almost the feeling that Canadian things are inferior (ie. Canadian tv shows). I recall reading an article way back when regarding the demise of Canadian Idol which was hugely popular in Canada though not in Toronto. Maybe I’m off the mark but that’s the impression I got. All you Torontonians out there, am I completely out to lunch?

          2. Jayme, that’s three out of three people who you’ve challenged for saying things they didn’t say, referencing things that aren’t on the table, and making spurious claims (like the legal issues to taking away access to US Networks — which nobody is even proposing to do.)

            It seems at this point that the only conclusion is that you don’t really want to engage, listen or debate; that you believe what you believe & just want people to pay attention to that.

            You may very well be getting something out of the straw man conversation you’re having. But I’m not sure that’s true for anyone else. So good luck to you.

  6. One of the many problems, as you’ve mentioned, is Canadian corporations (Bell/Rogers) own every single link in the chain…from content creation (when they actually bother to create content), to the channels it airs, to the distribution methods (BDUs, airwaves, broadcast towers (for us OTA folk). You’d never see a market like that in the USA, and their OTA broadcasts are actually on the rise, because a business person owns the tower and wants to make money off it, instead of the CRTC asking ‘hey it costs Rogers and Bell lots of money to run these towers (with no actual proof of costs), how ’bout we let them shut ’em down, eh?
    Anyway, yes, we should all send our opinions to the CRTC. Act now! Before they slide any further into bed with the telcos.
    Thanks. My first visit to this website, keep up the good work.

    1. As for the ota in the States if Aero had won that likely would have been the end of Ota some networks made it very clear if Aero won they would take action be it put there programs online or go the cable tv route.

  7. I personally, have no issue with simulcast, because it means I’m getting the show at the same time as the Americans. What irks me is that shows like Outlander, for example, air at later dates than in the States and then I have to avoid all threads on the various tv sites for fear of spoilers. And the trouble with eliminating the U.S. networks is that I’d miss out on some shows which Canadian networks don’t pick up. What’s important for me to say, is that though I champion Canadian tv, I still want to get all my American stuff at the same time as the Americans–it’s because I’m online so much and the chatter on various shows is everywhere and I don’t want to miss out. That being said, there are several shows I don’t watch on time; I either wait till episodes build up on my dvr or the show comes to Netflix.

  8. “the CRTC’s job is to foster Canadian content”

    Canadian video game studios produce high-quality, high-budget games (like Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect) on par with U.S.-productions, without any “Canadian Content” protectionism. Protectionism is not the answer.

    “so how can I come up with a plan to increase the amount or quality of Canadian programming”

    Stop worrying about “Canadian programming”, and focus on “Canadian-made programming”. CRTC’s Canadian content regulations force Canadian television studios to think small and focus on the limited Canadian market, instead we should target the international or U.S. markets where the big money is.

    1. I’m not sure what distinction you’re making – most Canadian producers and networks are trying to sell to international markets, but they have to have original (aka Canadian) programming to sell. They’re not mutually exclusive points. I believe for Canadian networks to survive, they need to have original programming they can sell, and that conveniently supports my desire for more variety than simply the US shows I already get on the US channel.

      If a Canadian video game studio primarily distributed American video games the analogy would hold but that’s not my understanding of what happens – they would be out of business if they didn’t create original games, no?

    2. I don’t agree with you because I hate it when Canadian shows try to appeal to American audiences and try to look unCanadian by having a generic setting and generic character backgrounds. If Canadians try to make shows for Americans rather than first and foremost for Canadians, there’s no point in Canadian content. Canadians already make plenty of tv shows for American audiences (ie. Arrow, The 100, Beauty & the Beast, etc.). For me, the point of Canadian content is to have stories for and about Canadians and many shows fail in that regard. I think a good Canadian show telling a Canadian story can appeal to international audiences, just maybe not American audiences who seem to be too ethnocentric. I, personally, have loved many international shows such as McLeod’s Daughters, Waterloo Road, Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey. In my opinion, there’s enough shows being made for Americans and Canadians don’t need to make more for them. If Americans just happen to like them then so be it and in today’s online world, there are many Americans accessing dramas and comedies from other countries and loving them.

      1. The issue with that is many Canadians and i mean alot don’t liek INternational shows and by saying American like shows are nt Canadian content thats a slap in the face to the sactors etc who are Canadian your saying because its not a international type show you don’t count.

  9. Jayme, respectfully, nothing you’re saying seems to connect to either Diane’s op-ed, the CRTC proposals that they’re asking “Canadians to engage with” or things that have been proposed. It’s like you’re having an argument with someone who isn’t on this thread. At all.

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