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Something Smells Fishy in the Canadian TV Industry



 
 

As the Canadian film and television industry continues to implode, new explanations are tossed out by those in the biz, justifying why.

According to makers of Canadian TV series, it is becoming increasingly difficult to finance Canadian TV series because the foreign sales -- what producers counted on to boost their coffers -- are drying up. Just to reassure us that this isn't a result of Canadian incompetence, we are told that Hollywood itself is finding it more and more difficult to secure foreign sales. It seems other nations have been increasing their own television output, filling up their schedules with domestic programs. The result is fewer and fewer time slots available for imported -- such as Canadian -- shows.

It doesn't take more than a cursory glance at that argument to realize that there's something missing from the equation, does it?

Canada is producing fewer TV programs...because other nations are producing more? Canada is a G-7 nation -- one of the richest, most successful nations on earth. Yet Canadian entertainment moguls are telling us practically every nation in the world is proving more successful at making TV series than they are? From Finland to Taiwan, from the Czech Republic to Chile, apparently nations everywhere are able to fill up their TV schedules with domestic products...while Canada can't?

Something's definitely screwy, there. Column A definitely isn't balancing with column B. Canada isn't buying their shows, yet they can make a go of it, but if they don't buy Canadian shows, the Canadian industry collapses?

Mayhap the question should be: is it that Canadian producers can't do it...or won't? That sounds bizarre, I know. Why would a production company not want to produce shows? But as such companies diversify, looking for ways to make bigger and bigger profits, while expending less and less effort, actually making programs becomes little more than a sideline. I remember reading in the business section of the newspaper how a production company -- Alliance-Atlantis, I believe -- was happiily announcing the company was on track...even as it was slashing productions. Seems a bit odd, doesn't it? That'd be a bit like MacDonald's announcing the company was going great guns...even as it would no longer be serving food. But as companies like Alliance-Atlantis diversify, moving into distribution, telecommunications, and cable stations, actually making programs becomes less relevant to their bread and butter.

The Canadian government, and its broadcasting regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission, keeps bending over backward to appease those who count the beans within the biz. A few years ago, Ottawa brought in a controversial law (controversial to Hollywood) which handed over much of the Canadian distribution market to Canadians. Which is why you'll see Canadian logos in front of American movies in Canada -- such as Alliance-Atlantis in front of "The Lord of the Rings". The idea was to bolster the Canadian film industry by letting Canadian companies reap huge profits from distributing American mega-hits -- profits that could, then, be used to make Canadian programs. Yet Canadian TV production is down, and the average movie budget is likewise less. The CRTC, after years of demanding Canadian broadcasters devote only about 30 percent of their schedule to Canadian fiction programs (a number rarely, if ever, actually met, not that anyone ever lost their license over it), recently cut that even more, by allowing such things as infommercials and "reality" shows to be counted as Canadian drama -- all as a way of strengthening the industry and appeasing broadcasters who claimed they could be trusted to do right by Canadian Content. And yet, production is down. The government offers incentives, and funding agencies galore. And still TV production is down.

So where's all this money going, if not into increased production? Well, doubtless some of the claims are true, that a dollar just doesn't stretch like it used to, and it costs more to make less. At the same time, I remember a few years back reading about a certain production company executive whose salary was a million dollars a year, or more. Now a million dollars a year might seem like a pittance compared to compareable Hollywood positions. But given that most Canadians regard the Canadian film and TV industry as a joke -- and a not very amusing one -- the notion that a film executive in Canada gets paid more than, oh, say, the guy who bags your groceries, is bizarre. At least one of those professions is giving you something you actually want. (A recent quote I read suggested that only about 0.2 percent of Canadians watched even one Canadian movie in a year.)

So what's the solution? Tune in next week and see.

That's all for now,
The Masked Movie Critic

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