Quality over quantity: CRTC to lower quotas on Canadian content on the tube

OTTAWA – The country’s broadcast regulator is cutting decades-old quotas that govern the volume of Canadian content on TV, a significant shift it hopes will boost the quality of programming that originates north of the border.

Under the changes, broadcasters will no longer be forced to air Canadian-made TV programs during the day, but they will still have to set aside at least half of their prime-time schedules to Canuck content, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced Thursday.

The CRTC expects the change to bring positive side effects for viewers, including fewer repeats of Canadian shows during the day.

The regulator also said it intends to take steps to ensure stations invest more cash into Canadian shows.

The goal, said CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, is to help the industry enter into the brave new world — across multiple platforms — of on-demand programming, where the active viewer is “emperor.”

“Today there is a fundamental shift in the television landscape,” Blais said in prepared remarks of a speech he delivered Thursday in Ottawa.

“We’re tearing down barriers to innovation that have hampered broadcasters and producers.”

The measures will drop existing Canadian content requirements for daytime programming from 55 per cent to zero. The CRTC will continue to enforce the prime-time minimum of 50 per cent between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.

The changes will also require that at least 35 per cent of the programs aired on specialty channels are made in Canada. Currently, specialty channels must broadcast between 15 and 85 per cent Canadian content.

The suite of new CRTC measures announced Thursday also opened the door for Canadian video-on-demand services to offer their own exclusive content — as long as it’s also available online, across the country and without a cable or satellite subscription.

Blais said he believes removing some of the CRTC’s content shackles will free up Canadian creativity.

“Some may balk at the suggestion that Canadian programming can reach the same heights as shows created in the other major global markets,” his speech said.

“If it’s possible for Britons, Australians and Danes to create world-class television programs and films, why not us?”

Not everyone agrees that the changes will help improve the quality of Canadian television.

Unifor, a union that represents 13,000 workers in the media industry, warned that cutting the daytime, Canadian-content minimums could kill the creation of new programming such as local news and entertainment.

In a statement, Unifor media council chair Randy Kitt also criticized the CRTC for failing to force the foreign-based, video-on-demand service Netflix to follow Canadian content rules.

“Netflix isn’t shy about collecting subscription fees in Canadian dollars and repatriating them to the U.S., so why do they continue to get a free pass?”

Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter