Can-Con Under Attack — Again!

It’s a funny ol’ world.

Just as I was prepping a blog post which, in a sense, was taking a slightly optimistic view of Canadian movies & TV, suggesting some — few — advances are being made…I came upon an article suggesting there is renewed efforts by U.S. lobbyists to pressure Canada to scrap Can-Con rules.

And given Canada currently has a Conservative government, and Conservatives traditionally tend to be anti-Arts & Entertainment and pro-America…one can be pessimistic about the outcome.

Can-Con (Canadian Content) rules are the things that ask broadcasters and the like to put aside some time for Canadian-made programs: TV shows on TV, songs on radio, etc. As it stands, Can-Con only accounts for a minority of the broadcasting hours — most of the programs on TV and the songs on the radio in Canada are of American (or other non-Canadian) origin, at least on the private networks and stations.

And now these lobbyists want to make sure it’s all American.

Oh, come on: surely that won’t happen? you say.

Um, yeah — it probably would. Most broadcasters rarely live up to their Can Con obligations as it is…or at least find ways to fudge it. Global, for example, passes off Entertainment Tonight Canada as “Canadian” content, even though much of its coverage is just the same American-centric stories and celebrities covered by its mother show, Entertainment Tonight. As it stands right now: I’m not sure Global is showing any fiction Canadian series in primetime. It’s entire primetime schedule, 7 days a week is devoted to American programs (it has Canadian series on the roster — Rookie Blue, Bomb Girls — but with such short seasons, that weeks, months, will go by without any Canadian drama airing on Global). And that’s with Can-Con regulations.

It’s not hard to imagine the Global (and other radio and TV) executives popping the champagne and sending out the pink slips en masse if Can-Con rules were scraped, happy to devote themselves solely to the far cheaper enterprise of simply buying broadcast rights to pre-made American series (rather than developing, producing and marketing their own).

In music, there has long been the claim that Canadian popular music largely exists today thanks to Can-Con. That by forcing radio stations to devote (a minority) of their airtime to playing Canadian music, it provided a nurturing environment for acts that would later go one to be world famous — that even Bryan Adams or Celine Dion or Nickleback owe some of their success to Can-Con.

Those same pundits would point to the irony that when people denounce Can-Con rules they often point to Canadian music — arguing that Canadian music is successful and internationally popular and so Canadian artists don’t need protection. But, as I say, the pro Can-Con camp would say that’s precisely what proves the value of Can-Con, and disproves the argument that it encourages mediocrity.

Can-Con is like a baby’s incubator — it keeps the kid safe until he’s strong enough to stand on his own. An incubator doesn’t breed inferior children…it just recognizes children are vulnerable to the predations of the world.

But the biggest proof that Can-Can is of value, and that removing it would devastate the Canadian entertainment industry…is the fact that these American lobbyists want it removed.

As I say: American entertainment already accounts for the majority of TV and music in Canada (and movies…but Can-Con has never applied to theatres — and significantly, there are almost no Canadian movies in the theatres). It’s not like the American companies are hard done by — they already have the biggest piece of the pie in Canada. So why would they lobby so vigorously for the removal of Can-Con if they weren’t assuming its removal would benefit American interests even more?

Now obviously, there are those in Canada who would say: so what? They would be perfectly happy to have Canadian entertainment removed from the airwaves (and Canadian news and information, since Can-Con also applies to that as well). They would say: I don’t enjoy any Canadian TV shows or Canadian music (or read Canadian magazines, etc.) so I’m happy to see them go. Fair enough. Although usually they’ll grudgingly admit it’s not quite that black & white, and that there are a few Canadian programs and bands they like. But still…fair enough. Even though we could well imagine the economic crash if we mothballed the entertainment industry. But still:

Fair enough.

Just as long as we all understand that’s what we’re talking about.

Anyone who claims that the removal of Can-Con rules would actually be good for Canadian entertainment, forcing it to be “stronger”, or “better”, is lying — either to you, or to themselves. And we know this because the American lobbyists wouldn’t be trying to get Can-Con rules scraped if they thought it would make Canadian entertainment stronger or more competitive, would they?

It’s perhaps ironic that I read about this around the time the CBC was airing a cheeky documentary called The War of 1812: Been There, Won That, looking at the war where America tried to conquer Canada. (I talk about the war more here).

Looks as though the war isn’t over — it’s just being fought now, not with musket balls, but with lobbyists.


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3 Responses to Can-Con Under Attack — Again!

  1. Allen says:

    Well, here’s the deal…if they scarp CanCon requirements AND open up the airwaves to foreign ownership, Global, CTV, CityTV, etc won’t get away with simulcasting American shows and putting their own commercials on because American networks will sell their own ads here. That would force those networks to actually have their own IP so they can fill airwaves and generate ad revenue. But if they scrap CanCon and don’t allow foreign ownership expansion and networks like Global, CTV, etc can simply buy shows from American networks and stick on their commercials, then yes, Canadian content creators better call an immigration lawyer asap.

    • Administrator says:

      Yeah — simulcasting is its own can of worms. But even I — as patriotically zealous as I am! — am doubtful an all-Canadian schedule would be financially viable for a network (the CBC comes closest and, as its critics point out, it has public money). At least a schedule comprised of anything more ambitious than interview series and cooking shows! I don’t object to CTV, Global and the others filling their schedule with cheaply acquired U.S. series — just as long as they have a healthy amount of Canadian programs, too. The whole reason they were given protection (including simulcasting which bugs the cable providers — and viewers who end up missing the last minute of a show because suddenly it switches to another station!) was on the understanding they would devote profits to Canadian programs — and that’s where they seem to be letting the side down.

      • Allen says:

        They’d have to make it financially feasible. That’s the point. Just like networks such as FX , which has low budget comedies that are highly successful (Always Sunny, The League, etc), has figured out how to way to carry original content at a reasonable price, Canadian networks would be forced to get creative too and I think that would ultimately lead to some solid Canadian content and would force less creatives to flee for LA. Even if the budgets aren’t ABC levels, creative freedom and opportunity would keep the brain drain to a minimum and give Canadians more choice and good shows about themselves that doesn’t involve Don Cherry at intermission. My 2 cents.