Canuck drama crisis continues

Nets spent $343 mil on imports, only $74 mil on local fare

MONTREAL — Canada’s commercial TV stations continue to rake in higher revenue and profit, but the rumblings of discontent at the lack of homegrown drama also continue.

Last week, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, the country’s main actors’ union, was furious to learn that networks shelled out $343 million on imported drama in 2005, almost entirely from the U.S., but spent just $74 million on local drama.

“Broadcasters’ primetime schedules are driven by Hollywood dramas dumped onto the Canadian airwaves at bargain-basement prices,” says ACTRA national director Stephen Waddell.

The figures were revealed in a report on the industry released March 27 by federal broadcast regulator the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission.

It found that both revenue and profit rose 4% for the Canadian private TV channels, with revenue reaching $1.9 billion and profit hitting $207 million.

National advertising revenue grew by just under 5% to $1.3 billion.

However, broadcasters’ expenses increased by 4.3% to $1.6 billion. Of that amount, the networks invested $1.1 billion in acquiring and producing programming, including $502 million for Canadian programming. The latter amount includes $118 million doled out to independent producers.

The private networks spent $265 million on homegrown news shows, $51 million on other Canadian information shows, $71 million on local general-interest programming, and $25 million on Canadian musical and/or variety shows.

ACTRA is also upset with a 1999 CRTC policy that allows private broadcasters to fulfill their Canadian-content requirements with low-cost reality programming rather than more costly drama.

“The CRTC has to fix its 1999 mistake and implement strong content and spending requirements,” Waddell says. “Broadcasters must live up to their obligations under the Broadcasting Act and be held accountable to the system that serves them so profitably.”

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