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Canadian Content (CanCon) has been undergoing a transformation. This past year, CRTC CanCon rules saw a shift with big changes to how funding would work and how CanCon would be exhibited. These changes are now being supplemented by a consultation conducted by the Department of Canadian Heritage (Heritage). The consultation, called Canadian Content in a Digital World, was started to strengthen the creation, discovery, and export of Canadian Content.
The initial changes were decided on last year when the CRTC changed some requirements for the production and exhibition of CanCon. The new rules tried to shift the emphasis away from channels showing Canadian shows ‘just to fill schedules’ towards bigger budget productions and better “discoverability” of those programs.. The hope is that, by encouraging larger-budget Canadian-made productions, prime-time television could be filled with more high-quality Canadian television shows.
The consultation was launched by Heritage Canada in September and officially ended on November 25th. The review was not limited to television broadcasting, but encompassed all aspects of CanCon. To get some public input that is crucial to such a comprehensive review, PIAC commissioned a survey of 1200 English-speaking Canadians for the consultation, asking these consumers for their thoughts on the role of CanCon and how they believed it should be supported in the future. The survey shows that Canadians don’t necessarily watch a lot of CanCon, with the majority of respondents saying they watch ‘some’ or ‘very little’; however, Canadians overwhelmingly want CanCon to succeed internationally. Over seventy percent of consumers said that the top priority for creating CanCon should be to create content so that it can be sold to the rest of the world.
Canadians differed, however, in what they thought was the best strategy to support CanCon. The leading answer was increased promotion and marketing of Canadian-made films and TV. This was particularly true amongst younger Canadians (18-29). Other answers included increased funding and ensuring that in a broadcast schedule or an online catalogue, there is space created for CanCon.
One of the proposals that was put forward was a levy on ISPs to help fund CanCon. PIAC contends that the hidden problem with the idea is that it would severely limit accessibility to the Internet for many Canadians – a competing and primary policy goal for both the Government of Canada and the CRTC.
“Our survey shows CanCon is important and Canadians want it to succeed. PIAC strongly opposes an ISP levy, however. Canadians, especially low income Canadians, need internet access in order to engage, participate, and be connected with the rest of society,” stated Alysia Lau, counsel to PIAC. “We don’t want any policy that would hurt the ability of Canadians to have affordable access to broadband.”
PIAC’s survey showed that Canadians most strongly support additional monies for CanCon coming from the “traditional” media broadcasters (such as CBC, CTV, and YTV) as well as cable and satellite providers. While there is some support for online video services to fund CanCon, Canadians still see “traditional media players” as gaining the most, and therefore believe they should be contributing the most.
PIAC also asked Canadians what types of CanCon should be supported. Responses varied greatly depending on age, region and education. Younger Canadians (18-29) favored dramas, but also showed a stronger support for programs serving specific minority groups, such as First Nations or persons with disabilities. Canadians from the Atlantic Region were more likely than other regional respondents to support local and community-based programs as a top priority.
“The consultation was very broad. Mélanie Joly, the Heritage Minister, has been noted as saying ‘everything’s on the table’ during this consultation,” noted Lau. “We tried to provide a thorough outline of the consumer’s point of view on all aspects as far as where CanCon is and where they would like it to be.”
The consultation has ended and it is as yet unclear what the next stage of this process will be. The Heritage Minister has signalled she intends to develop a “cultural export strategy” next year (2017) with International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland. Canadian Content is in a major restructuring phase currently, and this consultation, as well as the earlier CRTC decision, will hopefully bring positive changes to how Canadian Content is manufactured and funded. PIAC will continue to work towards making sure the public interest is represented during the process, wherever it may lead.