Watch much Canadian TV? Watch many web series? For most Canadians the answer to both of those questions is most likely, “Not a lot.” So naturally the best way to increase the viewership for both is to fuse them together into one super, unstoppable, non-watched force, right?
Wait . . . that sounds like a bad idea. But not according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. The regulatory body recently released a draft proposal as part of its multi-year Let’s Talk TV plan to alter how it regulates the creation and consumption of TV in this country. It covers a lot of ground — everything from whether Canadians should finally have a chance to watch Super Bowl ads, to being able to pick and choose channels rather than subscribe to a whole package. Included in the spread is the dish the CRTC is most lovingly known for – Canadian content. Yes, the phrase that haunts broadcasters and media executives in their sleep has once again reared its beautifully hideous head and this time the plan is to take it to the Internet.
In specific terms, the CRTC is proposing broadcasters be allowed to count online content as part of their Canadian programming expenditures, which it says would encourage broadcasters to produce more content online. Perhaps, but it could also be an excellent way to shunt CanCon requirements to the dark depths of the Internet and fill TV airwaves with more American programs that attract heftier audiences. And who could blame broadcasters if they did? It would make more sense, and dollars, for their bottom lines, given the pint-sized audiences typically seen for Canadian shows. In its latest (and final) season, CTV’s “The Listener” has averaged just over one million viewers per episode. Compare this to the 4.31 million that tuned in to watch the 2013 season premiere of “The Big Bang Theory,” the highest-rated show in Canada.
The CRTC proposal does nothing to further incentivize broadcasters to produce quality CanCon, or attract audiences. While one-third of Canadians now watch television online (which doesn’t mean one-third exclusively watch content online), the vastness of the Internet’s offerings means the competition to attract eyeballs is even keener than on TV. Given the seemingly minuscule effort that goes into promoting and marketing Canadian shows on television, this Canadian doesn’t have high hopes broadcasters will put any more dollars or energy into promoting online content, either.
The CRTC also doesn’t specify what type of online programming would count towards their CanCon requirements. There’s a big difference between a series of three-minute long webisodes and “House of Cards,” for example. What’s to stop broadcasters from throwing out a few dozen cheaply made web series to satisfy the regulators? Think of the savings.
Anyone wanting to comment on the proposals has until September 19th to go – where else? – online and tell the CRTC what the future of Canadian television should look like. Inevitably, more of it will live on the Internet. But if regulations are to be put in place, let’s at least make sure they benefit those who create and watch Canadian TV, and not just those who pump it out.