Tag Archives: Canadian Television

More Talk TV – Drawing a Box Around It

So as I’ve said before, this TalkTV consultation is HUGE. My big concern has been that there would be very little air time for programming issues as the Commission and the media focused on pick and pay and simulcast. Mainstream media has certainly gone in that direction already (with the notable exception of Cartt.ca, which has had a series of articles on almost every topic raised in the hearing.).

The Commission is now trying to draw a box around what will be discussed at the hearing by throwing out some proposals and asking for a focused discussion on those proposals. Stakeholders are free to talk about anything they want and in particular to float alternative proposals but this is a starting point.

The Commission has also re-opened the online public discussion forum and asked the public for their thoughts on the proposals now and over the course of the hearing. So instead of yelling at your computer screen at some of the things said at the hearing, you could post to the discussion forum.

Back to the proposals. They are extensive but they do limit the discussion from the 80 different questions in the original Public Notice. There are now 29 issues, though some of them have an Option A and an Option B. I find some more interesting than others, particularly those focused on Canadian programming. Here are a few to listen for in the oral public hearing (and note – @CRTCeng confirmed that the hearing will be available by audio and video feed so we’ll be able to see faces).

Simultaneous substitution: There are two options, either no more simsub or remove simsub from live events such as the Superbowl or Oscars. This is interesting because while a few stakeholders expressed concern over the impact of simsub on programming schedules, few came right out and asked for simsub to be rescinded. There was a general recognition that while it might not be perfect, simsub revenues are hugely important to the health of conventional broadcasters and by extension to their level of expenditure on Canadian programming. Apparently there aren’t even that many complaints about not being able to watch US commercials during the Superbowl. Seriously – if you really want to watch them, they’re almost immediately available online.

Redefining Broadcasting Revenues: The proposal is to include revenue from programs offered online in the base for calculating CPE. Broadcasters would then also be able to count expenditures from programming created for online platforms as part of their CPE. The CRTC sees this as a way to encourage made for digital content but it is also a huge potential first step towards looking at the broadcasting system as a whole and not its regulated and unregulated parts. Given that no proposal included a reference to extending regulation to OTT, this could be the CRTC’s first step towards platform agnostic regulation. Or it could be an attempt to close a loophole as its been widely speculated that since broadcasters have the ability to allocate revenues and expenses between regulated and unregulated platforms they are doing so to their advantage. I expect a lot of ‘oh no, you can’t make us do that’ and ‘oh no, we just can’t identify our revenues/expenses that way’ and of course ‘but we don’t make any money from online platforms and we are incapable of proving that’ and other such arguments heard before.

Programs of National Interest: First there is the positive statement that PNI will be maintained (sad that this had to be said). Then, that children’s programming will be included. There has been a decline in commissioning original children’s programming and this is the CRTC’s response. Expect to see discussion about whether this will be effective or whether there also needs to be CPE sub-quotas for children’s programming (as well as feature films and long form documentaries).   Just because you CAN include children’s programming in your CPE does not mean that you will, particularly if you are a corporate group without any children’s services and have been allowed to walk away from children’s programming on your conventional services (*cough* Shaw *cough* Rogers *cough*).

Programming requirements: An interesting proposal is to eliminate exhibition requirements during the day but maintain them for prime time. This will mean no incentive for Canadian daytime talk shows, particularly on conventional stations that can also simulcast US daytime talk shows or soaps. Do people care? This is one where I’d be interested to see if there are any responses on the online discussion forum. How much do people want their “The Social” and “The Marilyn Dennis Show” or can they live with “The View”. From a policy perspective, it’s saying that the Broadcasting Act can fulfill its goal of providing a diverse range of programming to Canadians through prime time programming alone. I’m not sure that’s what was intended. I’m also not crazy about getting rid of any exhibition requirements while scheduled programming is still important to Canadian audiences. We are not yet in an on demand world.

Another programming requirement proposal is to extend CPE requirements to all licensed services. Currently they are limited to conventional services, Cat As and Cat Bs with subscribers of 1 million or more. CPEs would be set at licence renewal and it is assumed that those Cat Bs with low subscriber bases or niche audiences would have lower obligations than the other services. They would also be part of the corporate group, if they are owned by one of the large companies, and could help to amortize costs. This could mean more money for CPE generated by services that air little Canadian programming because of their conditions of licence. If this extends to independent Cat Bs (and it’s not clear from the wording), I can see them having more of a problem than the Cat Bs in corporate groups.

Genre protection: The proposal is to eliminate genre protection and nature of service definitions. If this goes through then the Commission will overturn its recent decision on OLN and you’ll get your Whisker Wars back because services will be able to morph into anything that they want, whenever they want. I find this an odd proposal given that they just came down hard on OLN and before that issued warnings to G4TechTV and OWN and others. There are a number of reasons to advocate for at least enforced nature of service definitions both for diversity of programming (i.e. to avoid all services chasing the same audiences) and clear branding in a pick and pay environment.

Local programming: There were a lot of submissions which identified the need to re-examine the funding mechanisms for local programming and in particular to bring back some form of LPIF. The Commission apparently doesn’t want to go down that road (it is always very reluctant to reverse decisions) so instead they are suggesting that the expense burden on local services should be lightened by removing their obligation to maintain transmitters. Given how many stakeholders advocated a more direct funding regime, it could still be a topic at the hearing.

Finally, the Commission proposes that all of these rules would come into place December 15, 2015.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Commission’s attempt to draw a box around what it wants to talk about will actually limit topics or just add new ones to all the things that stakeholders want to talk about. This could be the last big hearing for some time so everyone wants to get their kick at the can (using a very old analogy, which seems quite wrong in this context). There’s also the fact that some of the decisions about programming and in particular tweaks to the Group Licence Policy have to be made now in order to implement them in the 2016 licence renewal process.

This is going to be a long hearing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s all about the fans

As an advocate for Canadian media I have been told time and time again that Canadians don’t watch Canadian television, go to Canadian movies or play on Canadian websites because it just isn’t good enough. We have the stats to prove otherwise but that doesn’t stop the trolls (who are sometimes even mainstream media) from slagging the stuff that we make here. I wish they all had spent the weekend at Fan Expo to see the truth. We have a star system, we have crazy fans, we have a huge audience for our home-grown content. This is a good news story (and a good news blog post). And honestly – if someone tries to tell me today that we don’t make good stuff I think that I might slap them.

I’ve been going to FanExpo for a few years now. The first year (2010) there was one Canadian property at FanExpo – the steampunk web series Riese (that’s the wikipedia reference – I couldn’t find a Canadian source to watch it as it’s geoblocked on Syfy.com) – I saw some fans still cosplaying characters from that webseries this year – which is quite cool. Each year since then the Canadian contingent has grown. This year there were panels and booths and cast signings for “Lost Girl”, “Call Me Fitz”, “The Listener”, “Murdoch Mysteries”, “Orphan Black”, “Bitten” (which hasn’t even aired yet but has a huge following based on Kelly Armstrong’s books – which I first learned about at last year’s FanExpo) and several other series which are American but shot here such as “Warehouse 13” and “Defiance”. The Independent Production Fund hosted a booth for several of the web series that they have funded. Across from them was the booth for “Ruffus The Dog’s Steampunk Adventure” (which apparently Gina Torres loved – #geekheaven). The animated web series “Captain Canuck” had a booth where Kris Holden-Reid, who voices the main character, did signings (I stood there for a while and ogled him – have to admit it). Quite a few indie gamers had booths. The Canadian presence was huge.

And the fans loved it. I spent some time on Saturday in line with fans and I really enjoyed meeting people. In the “Murdoch Mysteries” line people kept talking about being in line to see Jack and that confused me until I realized that was Yannick Bisson’s character name from “Sue Thomas F. B. Eye” (an industrially Canadian series from 2002-2005). My favourite fans were the lady in her 60s and her 90 year old mother in a walker. “Jack” was the mother’s favourite actor on TV. Both mom and daughter were pretty excited when the cast made a fuss over them. [Note – FanExpo is not just for geeky gamer boys and Lolitas. This story shows just how mainstream it has become.]

I took a break from the madness of FanExpo on a Saturday and went early to line up for “The Listener” panel and sit and read my graphic novel. I had passed a surprise “Listener” cast signing and let the women around me know that it was going on and offered to save their places for them. Then I started talking to the identical twins behind me. They now introduce each other as ‘clones’ after becoming big fans of “Orphan Black”. We talked clones (Will there be a new one next season?) and “Bitten” casting (can Supergirl play a werewolf? They think so) and they raved about how terrific everyone they met had been.

When the ladies came back from their cast signing one had brought me a poster and another invited me to join her in her VIP front row, as thank yous for their incredible experience meeting the cast. Awwwww! Listenerds are the best!

It’s not just about meeting the stars though. At each panel I attended (or heard about), fans got a chance to ask questions about story and in a few cases pitched story ideas for future seasons. [Christina Jennings was quite taken by a few of the “Listener” fan ideas.] They loved meeting the creators when they had a chance – I heard about how great it was to meet co-creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson of “Orphan Black”.

And then there were the “Bitten” ears. Everyone who went to their panel got a pair of wolf ears. You could tell after the panel was out and the rest of FanExpo (including the Nathan Fillion line which I was in instead of the panel – sorry guys) was infiltrated with wolf ears. Brilliant.

As we all know Nathan Fillion is Canadian. I’m not sure everyone knew how proud of that fact he remains. He made that clear and the crowd roared in appreciation (I have to admit it – I almost teared up). And yes, an appreciation for our Canadian talent who have gone south and done well for themselves is an integral part of our Canadian media world. Which is not the same as only promoting our ex-pat stars.

So what did I learn from this? Canadian fans are very aware that they are Canadian and different from Americans (you should have heard the crowd loudly correct George Takei when he said both Canada and the US entered World War II with the bombing of Pearl Harbour). We are proud that we are polite and generous whether we are celebrities or fans. We love our Canadian television not because it’s Canadian but because it’s great stuff. It competes with and is just as good as the American shows. We have a star system that seems to have grown organically just on the basis of that great television.

It’s not that the broadcasters do NOTHING – no, they do promote their Canadian programs and talent but just not enough. So the producers and talent take on promotion when they have the time and money to do so. Some of it is as simple as jumping in on social media (I think more than a few fans will be joining Twitter to twatch the “Listener” finale next Wednesday after the cast talked about regularly twatching) and the lack of ego that leads to free cast signings when the big US stars are charging mega bucks and limiting the number of autographs.

Some people are catching on – loved the sneak peeks from Shaftesbury and seriously if someone could send me some wolf ears I swear I’d wear them. Somewhere. Space does a great job at working FanExpo. We can do more. We can grow the audience with more fan support. And if the audience grows then maybe, when benefits money runs out and BDU contributions to the CMF drop, then just maybe broadcasters will see that it’s in their best financial interest to continue to give the audience the great Canadian TV that they have come to expect, with the stars and stories that they love.

Every year I tell people what a great experience it is to go to FanExpo if you work in Canadian television (and digital media but this year I focused on the tv side – maybe next year). Our task now is to support the fans throughout the year. Seriously guys, I don’t think a hashtag is going to do it.