CRTC fights for Canadian content

The future of Canadian content in the media is looking bleak. As cable companies and networks continue to prefer American programming for its assured profit, both parties fight for revenue.

In the future, the cost of producing Canadian programs will likely be placed on the consumers or the shows themselves.

“It’s a problem right now and there’s a great fear that we’re going to see the disappearance of local television in particular,” explained Anne-Marie Kinahan, assistant professor of communication studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, adding that distinctly Canadian content will also be impacted by this trend.

Addressing regulations

The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has held ongoing hearings to develop new regulations to protect local television and Canadian content. Public hearings in December 2009 opened the platform to consumers after previous private meetings were held during the year.

Although the CRTC has considered posing a 1:1 ratio for American to Canadian content, there is a concern about imposing such regulations. Currently, the CRTC puts the onus on the networks and providers to follow their guidelines.

“They are very reluctant to use that power because they don’t want the perception of government interference in our industries or in our media,” explained Kinahan.

Without stricter regulation, corporate entities – such as the cable provider Rogers Communications and networks including CTV –continue to hold the power in the media that is available to Canadians.

Local closures

Steve Dotto, executive producer, writer and host of the informational show Dotto Tech which aired on CityTV until its cancellation last fall, expressed his concerns about the current climate.

“Now all these greedy large corporate entities are not happy with just making good profit, they want to make outrageous profit and with us paying for it,” said Dotto.

Dotto, who experienced the changes first hand when his show was offered the ultimatum to pay the network or be cancelled, explained that it’s the small, locally produced shows that are getting cut as networks remain profit-conscious.

“I refused to do the show for them and then pay them money to be on the air like an infomercial,” said Dotto.

As networks increasingly charge to air shows, the landscape becomes difficult for independent producers to break into the industry, while already existing stations across the country, including CTV’s station CKNX-TV in Wingham which closed in 2009.

A new platform

With the cancellation of his show, Dotto found a new medium to provide his information on the Internet.

“If people are consuming their local news on hand held devices, streaming into a Blackberry or into an iPhone or even online at the website as opposed to turning on channel 37 on their television, we should be honouring that,” said Dotto.

Although the Internet offers new possibilities to provide content, Kinahan explained that it will not resolve the debate in the industry.

Unanswered issues

“There’s still tremendous numbers of people that want to watch television on television in the living rooms,” said Kinahan.

The undying popularity of television requires that networks and providers reach an agreement on how to fund local content.

“It’s interesting that there has not been much talk of a way forward or a compromise or a solution,” Kinahan noted.

The CRTC hearings, the next of which will be held on Feb. 22, have thus far proved to be unproductive.

“What we see as consumers is a very routine standardizing of content,” said Kinahan.

“The power lies with the broadcasters and the cable companies.”