Canadian TV Will Never Be The Same

Let's Talk TV iconThe CRTC, the government body responsible for regulating television and telecommunications in Canada, has put forward changes to what we’re going to be able to watch on TV and how to get it. I don’t think things will ever be the same.

That’s cued up a lot of doom and gloom from people in the television industry. But it’s too early to know what really will happen and it’s also not a bad thing to change.

The two biggest decisions from the CRTC’s “Let Talk TV” discussion came this month. The first is that rules about how much Canadian content (CanCon) channels have to show during the day is changing. Standard channels, like CTV, Global, and CityTV, will no longer need to show Canadian shows during the day (there are still local programming requirements) and only need to maintain a quota of 50% CanCon during evening primetime. The CRTC is instead asking broadcasters to produce the highest quality Canadian shows it can making Canadians excited to watch homegrown shows, and hopefully to bring acclaim to Canadian storytellers.

The other big change is that there will be a “skinny basic” cable package offered next year which will be only local channels (like CTV, Global, CBC, CityTV) and “must-carry” chanels like The Weather Network, AMI, and APTN. (Note: I did recently work for AMI.) Other channnels, from things we consider standard cable networks right up to specialty and pay channels will then be offered in a variety of packages small and large, and on a pick-and-choose basis (some of this may vary by cable provider).

The first change about how much Canadian content is produced has some people claiming the nation’s television industry will disappear. I’m not quite buying it. There’s still going to be local news and programming, there’s still going to be scripted drama and comedy produced because networks HAVE to spend money on programming under the new rules (as they do now, on top of quota requirements) but there could be fewer shows. My guess is shows during the daytime like Cityline and “U.S. Reality Show-Canada” will be ones to get cut, though only time will tell.

The second change means cable channels are going to be pitted against one another more. If the Golf Channel isn’t getting money from being packaged with other channels and can’t entice enough people to buy it as a standalone channel it might disappear. Same goes for History, or that channel that shows beautiful photos of trees and oceans. The change here is that some channels could be surviving only because they’re in cable packages with channels people actually want. The pick and pay model may see channels fail to garner any interest on the open market. And, yes, that could mean some jobs are lost. (Though, a few of those cable channels don’t even produce much in the way of original content, or programming is duplicated across a company’s many cable channels, so fears here could also be overblown.)

Unfortunately, as important as the cultural aspects of television programming reflecting the Canadian sensibility, political climate, and ideas is, it doesn’t mean everyone is entitled to a job in the industry. I think these changes will result in some reductions in Canadian content, but we’ll still have plenty of Canadian shows to watch and channels to choose from. And the storytellers and producers who want to be a part of the cultural conversation are going to keep getting work.

There’s definitely right to be some fear that the Canadian broadcasters and networks are just going to load up on U.S programming. They haven’t exactly shown themselves to be local cultural supporters when it comes to financial backing. Though, I really believe, if one of the networks threw all of their money into CanCon they’d be the one to make the most money (you have to offer something different now). Who knows if it’ll happen. That’s really where we’re at now. We don’t know what will happen next year or the year after.

But that’s the world we live in today. Doing the same thing we’ve been doing for decades, with the Internet absolultely disrupting and changing media, is probably not going to give anyone employment support for very long either.