Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Loophole around Canadian Content

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has recently drawn attention in this country for trying to regulate Netflix. Netflix’s content competitors, Bell, Rogers and others have complained about Netflix’s ability to circumvent regulations that impede their own performance. The CRTC threatened Netflix to regulate them and impose penalties if they did not voluntarily comply, which Netflix has declined to do.

It strikes me that Canadian content laws rest in a place that between meaningless and useful to make them just ineffective. As I understand it Canadian content laws require a certain percentage of their broadcasts to contain material made in this country. Going off of my memory (and I admit I could be wrong here) during prime time, defined as between 6 PM and midnight has to a certain percentage produce in Canada. Theoretically this is to encourage the broadcast of Canadian television shows, and encourage these companies to produce their own shows set in Canadian locales and themes. However, Global, CTV, CityTV and others use the time to broadcast their news hours, evening and late night, and simultaneously show American television programs.

As near as I can tell the Canadian content laws for television have done nothing to encourage broadcasters to produce new Canadian programs. The occasional show pops up, such as Corner Gas or Murdoch Mysteries, but they are by no means the centrepiece of the private television channels. Just flip through the Canadian channels between 7 PM and 11 PM and that much will be clear. In recent years a certain number of Canadian-light shows have been making an appearance, such as Rookie Blue and Orphan Black, which are both quietly set in Toronto and filmed in Canada.

However, as Canadians turn away from their televisions and rely on pay-as-you-go services such as Amazon, iTunes and subscription services like Netflix these regulations seem increasingly irrelevant. Given their toothless nature of the current laws I see no reason why we should continue them unless we fundamentally rethink the approach. I am not comfortable with the idea of mandating what should be broadcast. I think the changing media landscape and the success of shows like Orphan Black and Rookie Blue in the global market that Canadian produced shows can find success elsewhere. This country has a strong and talented film and television industry. I don’t know why a sitcom set in Toronto, or a police procedural in Vancouver could not be successful. American networks don’t disdain Canadian content, and there are so many of them that they’ll take cheaper foreign-made content.

Instead of mandating quotas perhaps we should do more to encourage more Canadian production. If we insist on regulation is must not be as ineffective and meaningless as it is now.

Note: A commenter on Twitter informed me that the location of a television show does not define it as Canadian content, but who makes it. The example provided was that the TV show "Vikings" is considered Canadian content. To my point of view this points out further flaws. This commenter, Ian Kiar, added that the main complaint of companies have is that they pay revenues into the Canadian Media Fund and Netflix does not. 

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