Can Canadian television survive the digital age?
Canadian television programs are always available for those looking to find them, but changes in the digital landscape, matched with recent regulatory changes by the CRTC, are making this search a tad bit harder.
Last March the CRTC altered its Canadian television content requirements for broadcasters, stating it wanted to give networks a better chance to fight against online streaming services, like Netflix, which continue to take away customers.
These “over-the-top” streaming services, which also includes Bell’s CraveTv and Roger’s Shomi, do not have any regulations on how much Canadian television content they must provide or how much their customers must watch.
With fewer regulations for broadcasters, no regulations for streaming services, and not to mention the high amounts of Canadians downloading television online illegally, television shows made in the great white north may easily become a thing of the past.
Canadian news programs and live sports shows will continue due to their location and cost, but Canadian drama, which is already sparse, will be the first to fail, says Ian Morrison, spokesperson for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, a non-partisan group that promotes Canadian television programming.
Morrison says it costs $1 million on average to create one episode of a drama in Canada, which is a large price tag for a show that will almost always get smaller ratings than a similar American program.
One of the CRTC’s remaining requirements, that local stations air at least 50 per cent Canadian content between 6 p.m. and midnight, is designed so Canadian television shows, such as dramas, appear in prime time, which is when the most money can be made.
However, as Morrison notes, this never happens.
He says that most stations purposely never go above the required quota, choosing American programs over Canadian television whenever possible.
“If 50 per cent is the required amount, Canadian networks will never put on 51,” says Morrison. “Sadly, the floor is also the ceiling for Canadian content quotas.”
Morrison says Canadian programs usually air hour-long news or entertainment shows at both 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. to fill up these content requirements, leaving the rest of the time for American shows (drama, variety, and comedy) airing at the same time in the United States.
He says these existing flaws in the CRTC’s system require greater regulations to guarantee more Canadian content. He argues that if we remove regulations completely, no Canadian content will be aired, just as Canadian content does not exceed the 50 per cent minimum quota today.
The role of Netflix in Canadian television
Controversy arose last year in Canada when companies, politicians, and organizations, such as Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, all recommended imposing a Canadian contribution tax on Netflix, something that was opposed by the Harper government in a somewhat creepy way.
“Harper was probably the first Prime Minister to ever promote an American television service. He didn’t care about Canadian content.” – Ian Morrison
Netflix still does not contribute towards the Canadian Media Fund—a non-profit organization that develops, finances and promotes the production of Canadian content—something that is required of Canadian cable and satellite companies.
Yet, on a positive note, Netflix Canada, as well as CraveTV and Shomi, do offer many Canadian shows on their platforms.
Netflix even funds its own Canadian content, with the popular Canadian mockumentary show, the Trailer Park Boys, creating new seasons exclusively for the streaming service.
Here are six Canadian-made television shows to watch on Netflix Canada
Beyond regional restrictions: Internet and Canadian filmmakers
While both broadcasters and streaming services are limited to the location of the viewer, the Internet has no barriers and can offer a global network to Canadian television.
Natalia Buia, digital producer at Food Network Canada, uploads all of her network’s programs online, where they can be accessed many months later, with some Canadian shows available forever.
For Buia, the Internet is the light at the end of the tunnel for the future of Canadian television content.
“There are other ways to view Canadian content, but we just have to take some time in this transition,” says Buia. “We’re going to see some job cuts now, but we need to look past that.”
Buia points to the advantages that the Internet gives Canadian filmmakers in terms of freedom to post to their content.
“Canadian filmmakers need to start pushing for digital releases instead of trying to be picked up by networks,” says Buia, who spent many years working at MuchMusic before joining Food Network Canada. “Everyone is online all the time now, so we’re are all about web series. It’s the future.”
As for whether the CRTC needs to beef up regulations? Buia thinks the system is flawed.
“What I’ve experienced so far in my career is that you can’t force anyone to watch anything,” says Buia.
“Canadian consumers are much smarter than we think. We can’t just shove a show in their face anymore.”
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