He Said/She Said: Will the new CRTC decisions kill Canadian TV?

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?

He said:

I’d encourage everyone to take a peek at Kelly Lynne Ashton’s excellent breakdown of the announcements here, here and here before weighing in.

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.

She said:

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.”


5 thoughts on “He Said/She Said: Will the new CRTC decisions kill Canadian TV?”

  1. No one in my household actually watches daytime tv, at least not the adult variety. During the daytime, the kids often watch kids shows (ie. CBC Kids) but I don’t consider that daytime. If me or my husband watch tv during the day, it’s usually primetime shows off of the DVR. I’ve heard that the ratings for daytime tv are horrible and even American broadcasters are considering downsizing their daytime shows.

  2. The first moving pictures to be viewed by audiences in Canada happened in 1896, in Ottawa, quickly followed by Montreal and Toronto, all were films commissioned by agents of Thomas Edison’s Vitascope, with some by the French Lumiere, and a few more by Brit Robert Paul’s Animatographe. The only Canadian content was Niagara Falls, and usually the American Falls at that.

    How many Canadians and Americans know that Edison, who never invented anything, and stole quite a lot of what he gets credit for inventing, was actually born and raised in Canada, his great grandfather was a United Empire Loyalist, but his father supported Alexander McKenzie’s 1837 Rebellion to become Americans and fled there when they lost.

    By 1920s 99 percent of the content was American with a splash of Brit and French here and there, and a lot of Niagara Falls filled in as Canadian content, though most of the time the shots were of the American Falls. A few Canadian stories were also filmed, mostly Mounties because that’s what Americans would pay to see, but few Canadians got to see them because the Americans owned and controlled the theatres and distribution. A survey found that a large and growing percentage of immigrants had come to believe they had by accident emigrated to the U.S. because of all this, so, Quebec and Ontario enacted Canadian content regulations and a lot of Canadian story films got made but again few Canadians got to see them. And by the 1930s almost all of that footage was deliberately destroyed by American film companies. Fast forward to the mandate and purpose of the CRTC, which was supposed to fix all that and result in a biblical flood of Canadian content. With the one exception of Quebec, if anybody can show me it actually happened, I’ll eat my Tilley Hat – twice.

    The CRTC has achieved the exact opposite of it’s purpose and mandate, as has the CBC.


    What little Canadian content there has been, will be no more.

  3. It’s disheartening to see the CRTC choosing which genre the country’s industry will make. Canadian kids TV is very successful internationally — and popular with Canadian viewers too — but every discussion ends up being about prime time, always. Caillou was more successful than Flashpoint, but you’d never know to hear industry folks talk.

    1. Kids programming is apparently getting further discussion later, but I don’t hold out a ton of hope it will be prioritized. And in any case it’s true the CRTC is valuing one genre over others where we do have significant international success – HGTV shows, for example. We do cooking and home reno shows that Americans think are their own, which seems to be exactly what Blais’ definition of success is.

      1. I’ve always kind of separated the two in my head: kids tv and adults tv, just like Netflix separates them in their show menu. Channels like Disney Junior and Treehouse only have shows for little kids and hopefully they stay that way, even though the CRTC took away the requirement of sticking to the genre mandate. It would be a shame if CBC Kids got downsized as my kids really like it.

Comments are closed.