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Canadian TV Regulators Shake Up System With New Content Rules

Canada’s broadcast regulator today announced sweeping regulatory changes and several initiatives, all aimed at boosting Canadian-made TV content in the domestic and international marketplace. The decision is the latest in a series of changes that stem from a lengthy public hearing on the future of the Canadian TV system that involved a wide array of stakeholders.

“For too long, narrow criteria have prevented potentially successful content from being made by Canadians,” said Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission chair Jean-Pierre Blais, who cited internationally produced hits “The Code,” “Downton Abbey” and “The Killing” during Thursday’s announcement speech in Ottawa.  “In a world where content’s origin is second to its quality and desirability, we need to show more flexibility in determining which production can benefit from financial support.”

The CRTC will not require foreign-based streaming services, such as Netflix, to invest in Canadian productions, as several Canadian stakeholders demanded during hearings last fall. One key change announced today is that Canadian VOD services, which are required to invest in Canadian content, can now offer exclusive content only if they make it available to all Canadians over the Internet (i.e., without consumers needing a TV subscription).

The CRTC is launching two pilot projects that are exceptions to the standard Canadian program certification process. The CRTC will recognize as Canadian live-action dramas or comedies that are either adaptations of bestselling novels written by Canadians, or have a budget of a least CAN$2 million ($1.57 million) per hour. Productions under both pilot projects only need the screenwriter, one lead performer and the production company to be Canadian. The current standard requires that more key creative functions be held by Canadians.

The CRTC is also reducing the screen quotas for the overall portion of Canadian shows local stations must broadcast per day from 55% to zero, but retaining the requirement that half the of primetime schedules overall be Canadian-made; cable channels now must meet a 35% CanCon per day quota (previously, it ranged from 15% to 85%). Broadcasters will still need to reinvest the same percentage of their revenues into Canadian content, but now have the flexibility to spend it on fewer programs.

The Canadian TV industry employs nearly 60,000 people. A little over CAN$4 billion ($3.2 billion) was spent on Canadian content, such as international hit “Orphan Black,” in 2012-2013.

“Success will not be universal,” said CRTC’s Blais, who will announce two more related decisions in the coming weeks. “We must challenge ourselves to change. And I’m not simply speaking about creators, producers and broadcasters. The CRTC, policymakers and funding agencies must also embrace change and seize new opportunities.”


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