• Free the CBC
  • Free the CBC
  • About Friends

CRTC head wants Canadian TV producers to take more risks as ‘edgy’ shows draw eyeballs by Christine Dobby

Feb 18, 2014

Source: National Post

Jean-Pierre Blais is trying to find that just-right balance between letting market forces rule and stepping in to protect elements of the broadcast system most Canadians would agree are a public good.

For instance, when it comes to entertainment programming, the chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission says he wants to see producers in this country take more risks and rely less on protections built into the current system.

In an interview Tuesday, he noted that English-language audiences lately have been drawn to “very edgy, very different” shows such as Homeland or Breaking Bad.

“I question to what extent Canadians, whether producers or broadcasters, are taking those creative risks that seem to have been the hallmark of the current golden age of television,” he said.

“There’s probably a lot of inputs into that, but it’s been suggested that if you’re not at risk because you’ve got a pretty safe business model, it makes it a lot easier to produce tonnage rather than quality.”

Mr. Blais said that is a fairly harsh assessment and added, “There are Canadian producers producing really good content and it’s not always finding its audience for any number of reasons.”

After the first phase of the CRTC’s review of the television sector – which sought input from Canadians on what they like, hate and want to see changed – Mr. Blais said he still sees a strong desire for Canadian content from entertainment to local news sports and documentary programming.

Canadians watch an average of 28 hours of traditional television every week and almost half of that is devoted to Canadian programs, the CRTC said.

The second phase of the TV review, launched Tuesday, asks respondents to balance their own individual preferences against those of others who use the system and consider whether “the fundamental economics of that still work,” Mr. Blais said.

“It’s not so much, ‘I don’t want to pay for everything, but I want to have everything,’ but about realizing it’s a more complicated system than that.”

The commission’s review of the sector, which it launched last fall, has dovetailed with a directive from the federal government to “unbundle” channels to give Canadians more ability to customize the content they pay for.

The second phase, which the CRTC is calling the “Choicebook,” will run until March 14 and ask Canadians to consider scenarios from the perspectives of different types of viewers – ranging from rural retirees to 20-something Toronto students who get all their content online.

It touches on basic subscription packages – which currently must include certain stations designated by regulation for mandatory carriage – local news and sports, the concept of pick and pay or a la carte models, access to international programming, signal substitution and online programming.

Mr. Blais said the first phase was “a very ‘me’ conversation,” and noted that some who responded did not necessarily recognize that things they’re asking for – such as greater choice in terms of packaging – could put other important aspects of the system at risk.

Industry observers have cautioned for example that some specialty channels with small audiences could face extinction if unbundled from other, more popular programming.

But the chairman seems optimistic that people will think those implications through in this part of the consultation.

“I think Canadians have realized that when you live in society, you can’t just think about yourselves. We all pay school taxes even though we may not have children in school,” Mr. Blais said Tuesday. “In the same way, one really should think of the television system as a public good that delivers entertainment, yes, but it also delivers other public interest objectives.”

He said the commission plans to issue a notice in April for the formal part of the consultation with hearings that will include industry representatives likely to begin in September.

© National Post