U.S. shows crowd out Canuck fare

ACTRA demands b'casters spend 7% of ad revs on English-lingo dramas

Canuck English-language TV drama is disappearing as the country’s private broadcasters spend a record amount on American content, according to the major Canuck actors’ union.

Howard Storey, a director of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television & Radio Artists, the 21,000-member union that reps performers working in English-language recorded media, said the trend is causing a fade-out of Canadian culture.

ACTRA claims private TV broadcasters spent C$401 million ($353 million) on U.S. and foreign drama in 2005, four times more than the $75.7 million spent on homegrown dramaThere have been only three first-run, English-language Canadian one-hour drama series broadcast on the three major nets since last November, in contrast to 12 in 1999.

“Canadians desperately don’t want to be seen as Americans, but this is happening,” Storey said Monday at the annual Canadian Assn. of Broadcasters confab, held at the Vancouver Performing Arts Lodge. “Broadcasters are filling their primetime slots with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of U.S.-made drama programs, all at the expense of Canadian culture.”

In the week ending Nov. 1, 80% of Global TV’s primetime programming was U.S.-made; on rival CTV, the figure was 83%. Both channels aired just 4% of Canuck drama or comedy.

This month, the Radio-television & Telecommunications Commission, the governing body of Canada’s airwaves, begins hearings to review TV regulations.

ACTRA is demanding private broadcasters spend at least 7% of their advertising revenues on new English-language drama and schedule at least two hours of primetime Canadian drama.

Similar rules once were CRTC policy, but they were nixed in 1999 when the definition of Canadian drama was expanded to include reality shows and other cheaper programming.

ACTRA also wants the Canadian government to apply content requirements for new technologies such as mobile TV and Internet broadcasting.

In related news, the Ontario Ministry of Labor Monday appointed its most senior conciliator, Reg Pearson, to mediate negotiations between Canuck thesps and producers deadlocked over terms of the Independent Production Agreement, which expires Dec. 31.

(Tamsen Tillson in Toronto contributed to this report.)