Canadian TV is at a crossroads

By Falice Chin

There is no doubt television plays a role in Canadian lifestyle as a major source of entertainment and information. However, in terms of Canadian television, the message is the American medium.

"Two of the biggest [problems] are the continuing flood of American programming onto Canadian channels and the problem of new technologies," commented Dr. Bart Beaty, a professor in Communications and Culture and co-author of a recent book chapter on the status of Canadian TV. "It seems the more channels we add, the more American content we end up with."

In North America, American productions dominate the entire TV industry. Yet Canada doesn’t seem to try fighting against this trend.

"The government has consistently underfunded the CBC and now has also cut the Canadian Television Fund," says Dr. Beaty. "This is not a good direction.

However, Quebec bucks the provincial trend when it comes to TV. It has a large number of local, homegrown stars and popular shows are made locally.

"The Quebec success formula is centred around shorter running programs like miniseries that address life in Quebec," sid Dr. Beaty. "It’s a proven workable formula."

One thing that is hard to do when competing with the big budgets in the US is to make 24 episodes of a one-hour drama. The Sopranos is a better model for Canadian TV than ER. It’s what Quebec has been doing for a long time."

For the rest of Canada, an increase in Canadian input in TV production may imply changes. While the entire industry seems to be underfunded, there is definately an audience waiting–as proven by the successes of distinctly Canadian shows such as Hockey Night in Canada and This Hour has 22 Minutes.

"We need some fairly drastic changes in the near future, including overhauling the dominant model, but the government doesn’t seem to want to take the lead in this regard, nor do the established networks," Dr. Beaty continued. "I think that change will come from two sources: producers who have something new and unique to say, and consumers whose choices will continue to restructure the landscape."

Another problem facing the Canadian entertainment business is the loss of Canadian talent to the United States. Similar to "brain drain" in other professions.

"The example of local channels on satellite proves there is a market for local, or Canadian, TV." said Dr. Beaty. "Consumers demanded that these channels be added to the grid. We can retain Canadian talent by producing a viable market."

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