Cultural Policy Series, Part 3 of 5
Scholars have proposed that Canada must explore new cultural policies and approaches to media production in order to keep pace with globalization. However, Internet streaming is an interesting case study for how Canadian content may be protected and expanded by the market alone. The streaming service Netflix is available in both Canada and the U.S., but the content available on the Canadian and American versions of the service is quite different. This is not, surprisingly, the result of Canadian content rules as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has not forced streaming services like Netflix to adhere to these regulations.
A quick review of the content available shows a mix of Canadian and U.S. programming on both versions of the service. A large number of Canadian television programs—such as Being Erica, Schitt’s Creek, Hemlock Grove (a Netflix Original), and Murdoch Mysteries—are only available on the Canadian service, but some Canadian productions, including Trailer Park Boys and Heartland, are available on both. Netflix has curated content for the Canadian version of its service to meet the demands of Canadian consumers and, without government regulation, Canadian content still emerged as a popular option for viewers. Moreover, Canadian programming has made its way to the U.S. service in cases where the Canadian content was also deemed a popular option for American consumers.
Nevertheless, there are some programming decisions on the streaming service that suggest lingering issues in relation to distribution of media content. For example, the television series, Battlestar Galactica, is available in the U.S. but not in Canada. While Battlestar Galactica is a U.S. production, its outdoor scenes are shot in British Columbia and several of the series’ stars, as well as crew members, are Canadian. In “Downloading doppelgängers: New media anxieties and transnational ironies in Battlestar Galactica” (2009), Mark McCutcheon indicates that for most of the series’ broadcast history, Canadians were not able to view the show until six to nine months after it aired in the U.S. and the U.K. and now Canadians are not able to view the series via Netflix Canada. This cannot be explained by market factors, as the series was equally popular with viewers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada.
In 2015, the CRTC made a drastic change to Canadian content rules, cutting the quota of Canadian programs broadcast by local television stations during the day from 55% to zero, harmonizing Canadian content requirements at 35% for speciality television channels, and eliminating requirements for Canadian evening programming on speciality channels. Although the current requirement that 50% of local television programming be Canadian during weekday prime time has been maintained, this marks a change in philosophy for the regulator. Jean-Pierre Blais, CRTC Chairman at the time the change was announced, said, “Television quotas are an idea that is wholly anachronistic in the age of abundance and in a world of choice.”
This relaxing of Canadian content rules suggests that, at least in terms of entertainment media, Canada’s cultural protectionist policy is weakening. If this the case, new policies and approaches are even more important today. Canada will need to sustain or increase its funding for indigenous cultural products and industries, expand its ethnic and third-language programming to reflect Canada’s diversity, and promote joint ventures and other partnerships in Canadian production to expand the distribution of Canadian content in foreign markets. While the success of Canadian programming via new technologies like Internet streaming indicate that market demand exists for indigenous cultural content, Canada should maintain the momentum it has built to ensure the continued growth of its cultural industries.
“CRTC eases Canadian-content quotas for TV.” CBC News. March 12, 2015.
McCutcheon, Mark A. “Downloading Doppelgängers: New media anxieties and transnational ironies in Battlestar Galactica.” Spring 2009. Science Fiction Film and Television, 2(1), 1-24.
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