Tag Archives: CanCon

Your guide to the new CanCon dramas of 2023

Canadian content. Depending on your views about the broadcasting industry, it’s either an important public policy to ensure Canada has its distinct culture and its citizens consume it, it’s a nationalist protection of cultural sector jobs to prevent talent from moving to Hollywood, or it’s a waste of taxpayer money for poor-quality TV shows that no one wants to watch.

Or maybe a combination of all the above.

This winter and spring saw a bigger than usual crop of new English Canadian scripted series on TV, and with a mix of curiosity and patriotic obligation, I decided to sample each of them.

While funding has always been a challenge for homegrown Canadian TV, discoverability has been an increasingly large one as well. You’re no longer limited to a handful of channels on TV, and even most people with TVs don’t watch a lot of their shows live. Without discoverability, a fantastic Canadian series could be lost to history because no one gave it a chance.

Canadian TV networks are trying. CBC has been pushing its series during Hockey Night in Canada, while CTV has aired endless commercials for its series during more popular programs.

They could do better, though. CTV and Citytv have their series behind online paywalls, requiring TV subscribers to sign in even though CTV and Citytv themselves are available free over the air. And if your TV provider doesn’t have deals with those networks (like, say, Videotron), then you can’t sign in to get access to these series. You’ll either have to wait for reruns or hope they show up on Netflix some day.

Anyway, to help give these series a discoverability boost, I watched a few episodes of each and provide a quick review. Some probably aren’t your cup of tea, and that’s okay, but if some sound interesting to you, and you have access, maybe give them a shot.

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Rogers missing the point

Rogers, which appeared in front of the CRTC today to tell them it’s a bad idea to make crazy-profitable cable companies give money to on-the-brink TV broadcasters, says the whole CanCon problem is moot because it’s developing a Canadian version of Hulu which will feature CanCon.

There’s only one hitch: You have to be a Rogers cable subscriber to use it.

Perhaps CBC got it wrong, or Rogers executives are using a stretched analogy, but they seem to be talking about video on demand over digital cable, not online video.

UPDATE: This post makes it clearer: Rogers wants to setup online video in a walled garden format where you’d have password-protected access to programming based on what you’ve subscribed to on their cable system.

People in Quebec who have Videotron Illico digital TV get lots of video on demand. Plenty of TV shows can be viewed for free on the service, provided those TV shows are owned by Quebecor. Quebecor owns Videotron and TVA, so you only see TVA shows on the service.

That doesn’t sound to me like it’s solving the new media problem.

New Media Fund helps new media (as long as it’s television)

The Canadian government today announced that it would combine the Canadian Television Fund and Canadian New Media Fund, two government-run funds that give money to Canadian productions, into the Canadian Media Fund, which would give $134.7 million a year to support both conventional television and “new media”, meaning those Internet things.

It’s being described as removing funding guarantees from CBC/RadCan (the CTF “crisis” started when cable companies refused to hand over money because they said too much of it was going to unpopular programming), though the Mother Corp is happy about the announcement because it allows its in-house productions to be eligible for the fund.

The Conservative government emphasizes that the new “fixed” fund will be focused on funding popular programming like Flashpoint, and not those boring CBC dramas that only get a few hundred thousand viewers. I’m hoping this means there will be more Canadian porn out there, because porn is always popular.

So, where can innovative Canadian new media developers get their cash? Not so fast:

“Applicants will be required to make their projects available across a minimum of two distribution platforms, including television.”

In other words, you can’t apply for the Canadian Media Fund unless “media” is television. It doesn’t matter if you’re popular or not, whether your content is primarily video or not. Canadian productions like LoadingReadyRun or Prenez Garde Aux Chiens are not eligible, because they’re not on television.

Just the kind of forward-looking outside-the-box ideas we’ve come to expect from our federal culture overlords.

UPDATE: Michel Dumais agrees with me, and has other critical comments about the new media fund.

CRTC Roudup: Conventional TV hurting

The CRTC today issued a release announcing its findings on the financial situation of private conventional television broadcasters.

In it, a few things that strike me right off: First of all, despite all the whining and complaining, conventional over-the-air television broadcasters like CTV and Global are still making money, albeit much less than they used to. Total profits for 2008 were $8 million, compared to hundreds of millions for the years before.

Though revenue was down from last year, the main reason for the financial shortfall is an increase in expenses, and the main increase there, which ate up half of their profits over the last year, is an increase in foreign (read: American) programming expenses:

Investments in Canadian programming remained essentially unchanged at $619.6 million, of which $146 million was paid to independent producers. However, private broadcasters spent $775.2 million on foreign programming in 2008, up 7.4% from $721.9 million in 2007.

In other words, the reason CTV, Global, CITY et al aren’t making as much money as before isn’t because they can’t afford to fund daily newscasts, it’s because they’re running themselves into the poor house bidding for the Canadian broadcast rights for House and Grey’s Anatomy.

It boggles the mind that Canadian broadcasters spend more money securing rights to U.S. content than they do creating their own Canadian content (in fact, if you exclude news from the equation, it becomes a ratio of more than 2:1).

The full analysis with tables and stuff (PDF) is worth taking a look at. It breaks down the numbers by region, and shows that profit in Quebec, for example, bucked the trend and actually increased slightly in 2008. This despite (or because of) the fact that Quebec’s private broadcasters spend more money to create their own (primarily francophone) content.

Taking that Canadian-to-U.S. content ratio again and excluding Quebec, it rises to 60:40 in favour of importing U.S. programming. Exclude news again, and you find out that non-Quebec TV broadcasters spend 80% of their non-news programming budgets  on importing American programming, and only 20% on creating Canadian content (that includes quasi-news programming like “other information” and “human interest”).

Perhaps we may have located the source of the problem here?

More on this story at CBC, CP and FP.

UPDATE: That didn’t take long. Quebecor (which owns TVA and Sun TV) is already using this to ask the CRTC to allow broadcasters to force cable companies to give them money (via Branchez-Vous), something the CRTC has already rejected.

More crappy cable channels

The CRTC is hearing applications for new digital specialty TV channels in one giant hearing (which also includes a bunch of radio applications). Among the suggested new channels:

  • The Asian Television Network has applied to create 12 new channels in various categories for news, sports and music programming. The applications are somewhat vague and ask for freedom to take programming from various categories, so there will probably be resistance from the existing players.
  • Current TV has applied for a Canadian version of its cable channel.
  • Some guy in Alberta wants to create The Country Channel, geared toward rural Canadians, which I guess means programming about farming and fishing. Again, some existing broadcasters will probably object to them not being more selective about programming categories.
  • A Toronto company called Ultimate Indie Productions (which seems to have assumed that its application has already been approved) wants to create a channel which features music from emerging Canadian artists (those whose record sales have not hit 80,000 yet), similar (in every way I can see) to a channel that’s already been approved but has not started service yet. It says no more than 65% of its content will be music, so I’m not sure what the rest is supposed to be. It also proposes no limits on feature film programming, which will annoy existing broadcasters. It’s also asking for an HD version of the same channel.

In other news

Does YouTube have more Cancon than CTV and Global?

Google spoke, and naturally everyone listens. Roberto Rocha and the CBC write about its submission to the CRTC about new media regulation. As you might expect, the company prefers a hands-off approach to the Internet.

Google’s argument is that with no government regulation whatsoever concerning content, YouTube still manages to have plenty of Canadian-produced videos, and if measured quantitatively, it has more Canadian content than Canadian TV networks.

Rocha pokes some holes into that argument, mainly by pointing out most videos posted to YouTube are of little public interest. Test videos, family videos, copyright infringement, personal vlogs and just utter crap. There are no professionally-produced scripted dramas produced by Canadians online, and you could probably count on one hand the number of people making a living from posting videos online north of the border.

Quebecor, which has both a broadcasting interest in TVA and an online interest in ISP Videotron, also argues against regulation. To back up its point, it mentions its web portal Canoe:

Quebecor Media believes that the Canadian footprint in the new-media broadcasting environment is significant and continues to expand rapidly. One indication is that the Canoe.ca network is among the top 12 Canadian platforms in terms of unique visits.

OK, hands up those of you who can name 12 “Canadian platforms”. Yeah.

Non-regulation isn’t perfect. It encourages profit-seekers to go after the lowest common denominator. While there’s plenty of “user-generated content”, there’s very little professional production. Even with the almost non-existent barriers to production and distribution, the difference in value between what is produced for television (even cable channels) and what is produced online is still very large. It’s unclear at this point whether that gap will narrow.

But online is also the great equalizer. There are no public airwaves to portion out. There are no limits whatsoever, and so there should be no regulation, just as there is no regulation of newspapers.

Where conventional TV networks sign import deals and use simultaneous substitution law to effectively print money importing U.S. shows, there is no such rule online because there are no international barriers. Sure, some are trying to put up barriers to make our lives difficult, but the majority of content is available to Canadians as much as Americans, no matter which side of the border it comes from.

It hasn’t arrived yet, because many media owners still think that paying for cheap wire content and slapping your brand on it is a good idea, but eventually media outlets will learn that they’ll have to produce original content to get any audience (and advertising money). It’ll be creative ideas, not cross-border dealmaking, that will create wealth for Canadian media companies in the future.

At least, we hope.

In any case, it would be pointless for the CRTC to try to regulate the Internet, simply because it can’t.

CRTC Roundup: Shaw seeks CNN International license

Shaw Communications has asked the CRTC to add CNN International to the list of eligible channel imports for Canadian cable and satellite companies. Canadian viewers’ exposure to CNNI is currently limited to the British-sounding people they sometimes hear behind an anchor desk during a noon-hour show or when breaking news happens late at night. The programming is distinctly different from CNN’s U.S. channel, and obviously focuses much less on U.S.-specific stuff.

The CRTC’s notice suggests it is ready to approve the channel, since it doesn’t compete with Canadian networks and is unlikely to have any program licensing issues.

No HD for you

Also from the CRTC this week is a denial for a new channel called Canada HD Network, which I mocked back in July. Back then I suggested the CRTC would likely deny the request unless it got much more specific about programming. Otherwise it would compete with conventional general-interest broadcasters.

Sure enough, there were objections from CTV, Canwest, Rogers, Astral Media, The Score and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, and Canada HD Network was shown the door. Similar decisions were made against its Diversion channel in high-definition and standard-definition (which were for some reason filed separately)

New HD channels coming

The CRTC has approved high-definition versions of the following CTV-owned specialty channels:

  • CTV Newsnet
  • Business News Network
  • MTV Canada
  • Comedy Network
  • travel+escape
  • Outdoor Life Network

This is only the first step in the process. The HD channels must now be created and CTV must negotiate with carriers to have the HD versions added to their lineups.

Good news, bad news for CMT

CMT Canada (Country Music Television) had a few requests for amendments to its license:

  1. It wanted to make changes to the categories of programs it can air, by adding animated programming and improv/stand-up comedy, by increasing (slightly) its cap on drama/comedy programming and by removing restrictions on the number of feature films it can air (though those films must still feature country music artists). All programming would still have to fit in with the country music theme and fit existing limits on non-music-video programming. Since no opposition was voiced and the proposed changes are not huge, the requests were approved.
  2. CMT wanted to change the criteria by which videos are deemed “Canadian” to judge only the music and not the video itself. For music video television stations to consider a music video as Cancon-compliant, not only must the music be produced/written/performed by a Canadian (similar to the criteria radio stations use), but the video itself must have been produced by Canadians. This means that a Shania Twain music video wouldn’t be Cancon if it was entirely produced in the States, even though the song itself counts as Cancon for radio stations. This request was denied because it would change policy across the board.
  3. CMT wanted to change its required financial contribution minimums. Currently it must spend 22% of gross revenues, half on creating new Canadian country music videos and half on creating new (original) programming. It wanted to shift the balance toward programming and away from videos. Partly this is because CMT is less of a music video station (its requirement dropped from 90% to 50%), and partly this is because it would have to spend less of that remaining 78% on original/Canadian programming to meet CRTC requirements if it could shift that budget over. This request was also denied, as the CRTC pointed out that CMT’s revenues have gone up and the network is hardly in a financial crisis.

Le Devoir’s 6 big media issues for 2008

Le Devoir looks at six big issues the media will have to tackle in 2008:

  1. What do we do with TQS? Its current format isn’t working, what should we change it to?
  2. How do we finance television? Should cable providers be forced to hand over money to over-the-air broadcasters?
  3. How long will the Journal de Québec situation go on? MédiaMatinQuébec has been running for eight months now, and the two sides are just now getting together to talk. What will an eventual agreement say, and how will that affect other media?
  4. How do we handle journalist multitasking? Media are expecting reporters to write, take pictures and edit video reports without paying them anything extra. La Presse’s union has already ordered journalists to stop blogging. The Journal de Montréal is knee-deep in union issues about convergence (which is in part why it doesn’t have a real website). Will the media eventually realize that more manpower is needed to produce for different media, or will the quality of journalism drop as journalists spend more time formatting stories than finding them?
  5. How will online distribution royalties be handled? The WGA will solve this eventually when it reaches a deal with U.S. movie and TV producers. But Canada has problems too. Quebecor is still trying to figure out how to get more programming onto its crappy Canoe.tv site. Will content creators get what they deserve, or will they be screwed over en masse?
  6. Will we have Internet CanCon? Or will the pseudo-CanCon we already have get even worse? How will the CRTC deal with the blurring of the line between the Internet and cable providers, television/radio broadcasters and telecom companies?

Do you have any answers?

CRTC specialty channel digest: Everyone wants a break from CanCon

Some CRTC hearings currently open for public comment:

Videotron wants France 24

France 24Videotron has made a request to add France 24, the European country’s answer to CNN, BBC World and Al Jazeera, to its digital cable network in both French and English.

Videotron wants to add the networks as Category 2 specialty digital channels, whose only real condition is that they don’t compete with protected-format Category 1 channels.

Considering we already have CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, EuroNews, BBC World and even Al-Jazeera (though with an unusual monitoring requirement) in this category, it’s unlikely the CRTC will reject the request.

Deadline for comments: Jan. 22, 2008

OUTtv is out of money

OUTtvLGBT specialty channel OUTtv, which as you can tell from its Wikipedia page has had an interesting history, wants to reduce both its Canadian content requirements (from 65% to 50%) and its requirement to spend money producing Canadian programming (from 49% to 25% of its revenues). The reason: Its “precarious financial circumstances” are forcing it to run more profitable (and cheaper) American programming.

OUTtv is a Category 1 specialty digital channel, which means that all digital operators must carry it (though not necessarily make it part of their basic package) and no other digital channel can compete directly with it with similar format. In return, the category demands a minimum of 50% Canadian content.

Not knowing the nature of OUTtv’s “precarious financial circumstances” (and for that matter, never having watched the network’s programming) I can’t really comment on whether or not this is a good idea.

Deadline for comments: Dec. 19, 2007

Avis de recherche won’t get off that easy

Avis de recherche TVThe CRTC is reconsidering an earlier decision to offer a license to Avis de recherche/All Points Bulletin TV, a pair of wanted-by-police channels that were licensed as Category 2 channels, but with must-carry status, which requires not only that digital* cable companies provide the channel on their basic digital service, but that they pay a fee per subscriber to the network.

The reconsideration was mandated by the Governor-General, who under advice from the Minister of Canadian Heritage ordered a re-examination of the unusually low requirement (see Appendix 5) for spending on Canadian programming.

Despite agreeing to a 95% Canadian content requirement (the channel is, after all, nothing but public bulletins from Canadian police departments), it is required to spend only 20% of its revenues on Canadian programming. That was considered too low by the government.

It’s hard to disagree. With a few pennies from every cable subscriber in the country, and a requirement to spend only 20% of that on programming, the channel’s owner stands to profit greatly.

In response to the decision to reconsider, the channel proposed upping the spending requirement to 43% of revenues, but with an odd rollover clause (and reverse rollover clause) that would allow them to shift up to 5% of that from one year to the next. So they could spend 38% of revenues on Canadian programming one year, and 48% the next, and still be in accordance with their license.

I fail to see how requiring this supposedly essential channel to spend a large percentage of its revenues on producing its programming is out of line.

Judge for yourself: Avis de recherche is available on Videotron Illico digital TV on channel 46.

Deadline for comments: Dec. 17, 2007

*UPDATE (Dec. 18): This post originally didn’t make clear that the channel is must-carry only on digital cable. It has been updated to clarify. See comment below. 

Shaw/StarChoice don’t want to simsub HD channels

The CRTC is conducting a hearing Jan. 15 over the apparent refusal of Shaw Cable and StarChoice satellite to follow simultaneous substitution rules for certain HD channels.

Simultaneous substitution requires Canadian cable and satellite providers to substitute American channels with local (Canadian) ones when the two are carrying identical programming (and the local network requests it, which they always do), so that Canadian consumers get all-Canadian commercials. We only notice the change during the Super Bowl, when those all-important multi-zillion-dollar American Super Bowl commercials are blocked out and replaced by a much-lower-budget Canadian equivalent.

The arrival of HD caused the scheme a hiccup for two reasons:

  1. Not all local broadcast networks have HD equivalents. Instead, most have just two HD channels, one for the East coast and one for the West. Since the East feeds come out of Toronto, cable providers in Montreal don’t have to substitute American channels for out-of-market Canadian ones.
  2. Substitution rules require that the signal being replaced is as good as or better than the signal it’s replacing. So they can’t replace a Fox HD version of House with a Global standard-definition version.
  3. The CRTC allows exemptions for small cable providers where the technical costs of substituting signals outweigh the benefits. (Neither Shaw nor StarChoice fit this definition of “small.”)

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters complained to the CRTC that Shaw and StarChoice were not performing their substitution duties for three stations:

  1. CTV HD Vancouver (Shaw and StarChoice)
  2. CTV HD Toronto (StarChoice)
  3. CITY-TV HD Toronto (StarChoice)

Shaw and StarChoice’s argument seems to be that HD presents unique technical challenges that makes it too difficult for them to substitute signals.

The word “bullshit” comes to mind, but I’ll wait until they present their argument at the hearing before I make any rash judgments.

If you’re interested in filing a written submission, the deadline is Dec. 13, 2007. The hearing is Jan. 15, 2008 in Gatineau.