Join Greg and Diane on Mondays as we debate a TV-related issue that’s on our minds. This week: Will the new CRTC decisions kill Canadian TV?
There was a lot of social media hand-wringing when Jean-Pierre Blais, chair of the CRTC, announced the first of many sweeping decisions regarding the current state and future of Canadian television late last week. Some complained the country will be overrun with U.S. shows, others the death of independent producers and a few even went so far as to state Canadian TV is dead. That’s the blessing and curse of Twitter; you’re able to make a snap statement seconds after hearing news. That’s totally allowed, by the way. Heck, I do it all the time. But I held off last Thursday because there’s just too much to process before I can decide if these decisions are good or bad for the industry.
At first blush, dumping Canadian content entirely from daytime would seem to be a rash decision. Could The Marilyn Denis Show, The Social, Steven & Chris and Cityline stop production because they’re more costly than, say, Judge Judy? Maybe. But the point of that mandate as I understand it is to drive more money to primetime in an effort to create stronger product there.
Does allowing specialty channels to rebrand without adhering to content guidelines open the door for a channel like ESPN to enter Canada? Perhaps, which would mean the folks at Sportsnet and TSN would have to up their game. Is that kind of competition a bad thing? Not always.
The one concern I do have involves two new pilot projects. As Kelly Lynn explains:
“One is for adaptations of successful Canadian novels and the other is for programs with budgets over $2 million. They must have Canadian screenwriters, one lead performer and 75% of the costs paid to Canadians (not spent in Canada but TO Canadians who might live anywhere) but they do not have to be owned by Canadians. Note that while they are certified Canadian and qualify for broadcast purposes, those productions will not qualify for other domestic funding programs such as CMF or the domestic tax credit (though they will for the production service tax credit) so I assume that the thought is that a U.S. studio or broadcaster will happily finance most of the cost.”
On the surface this feels like the CRTC is hoping more projects are filmed outside of Canada—in the U.S. for instance—a move that seems to fly in the face of celebrating our own shows. But it would seem the hope is a U.S. producer would sign on to something filmed there and help offset the costs and, in turn, pick up the broadcast rights of that project too.
There are still more announcements to come, including whether or not cable companies will be forced to set up a skinny basic cable system augmented by pick and pay channels. It’s way to early to know exactly how these guidelines will affect Canadian television, but I’m pretty sure the industry won’t cease to exist like some have suggested.
Believe it or not, the CRTC isn’t in the business of killing Canadian TV any more than Canadian networks are in the business of killing their Canadian shows. But a lot of people in the industry still feel the effects of the 2009 decision that focused on encouraging the creation of “high-quality Canadian television.” Sound familiar? In the case of 2009, the decision to eliminate priority programming quotas is blamed for cuts to primetime drama and comedy series. You’ll have to read the decision and/or ask Kelly Lynne Ashton for the details, but there is a basis for fears about the unintended consequences of the CRTC’s good intentions.
Last week’s decisions emphasized “quality over quantity,” but in this case the quantity and quality are different types of programming. The CRTC is allowing broadcasters to reduce or eliminate daytime CanCon specifically and anything other than drama generally, in order to have more money focused on bigger budget primetime series.
Independent producers, people working in daytime, and pretty much anyone who doesn’t work in primetime drama might very well feel like their industry is being killed. My viewing interests lie in primetime drama, so while I worry about the effects on other sectors, I like my odds of seeing some quality and quantity coming from primetime.
Like Greg says, the pilot projects (the literary exception and the might-as-well-call-it the eOne exception) likely won’t be very appealing unless the CMF and various tax programs change too, and that’s beyond the CRTC’s scope. Plus we already have minority coproductions which have less visible Canadian talent than these exceptions would provide.
CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais wants more examples like Beauty and the Beast and Reign — shows even those of us who run websites on Canadian television didn’t know until recently counted as Canadian to any degree, and which are neither blockbuster ratings winners nor critically acclaimed.
Blais thinks a more international flavour to Canadian programming is the way forward, and that US sales are the definition of success, and I disagree. But I’m not sure the new regulations will help his vision much anyway.
I have hope the unintended consequence will be more quality Canadian dramas, and it’s not a blind hope. Networks will have more incentive to air primetime dramas, they will have more money to do that with if they funnel daytime money to primetime, and there is a financial disincentive to taking advantage of the exceptions.
In other words, we could end up with more of the programs that are already our biggest success stories, and which happen to be fully CanCon: Flashpoint, Murdoch Mysteries, Saving Hope, Orphan Black, Bitten, Lost Girl … I could go on, but while Blais’ words and the resulting analyses suggest there is no agreement on what quality is, we have lots of evidence that we already know how to make quality programming in the sense of “people like and watch our shows.”