Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #954: Content Control, Pro Or Con?

G'day mates!

The Flag of Australia, mocking it is a bootable offense!

 For you Americans who don't know about content quotas I'll try to explain them to you.

In the smaller English language markets like Canada and Australia radio/TV broadcasters and theaters owners are strongly tempted to run nothing but content from Hollywood because they believe it's easier to sell.  That's not much of a stretch since everything that comes from the USA comes with an epic load of marketing muscle behind it, that does the work for them.

But this notion can lead to an amount of active prejudice against locally produced content.

A classic illustration of this point is the legendary rock band The Guess Who from Winnipeg Canada.  In the late 1960s they had the number one single in the USA and the UK, and not one Canadian radio station would play them.

It didn't matter that they were moving records and selling out concerts all over the world. They were Canadian, and thus the powers that be deemed them unworthy to play on Canadian radio.

The Canadian government then imposed quotas on radio and television that said that 30% of programming must be domestically produced and feature Canadian performers and crews.

This opened the floodgates of Canadian music, and wonder of wonders, it started selling, big, and not only locally, but internationally. If you have ever bought music by a Canadian, the odds are pretty good that they owe their careers to the industry made possible by the content quota.

Wayne & Shuster arresting Ed Sullivan
On television it was more of a mixed bag. Before the rules the majority of domestically made programming came from our public broadcaster the CBC and most of that involved the comedy team of Wayne and Shuster.

After the Canadian content or "Can-Con" rules the biggest commercial network CTV, started making their own shows, but they were mostly cheaply made quota fillers like the epically cheese-tastic show The Littlest Hobo.

But this is where competition came in.  The upstart Global Network had the equally upstart sketch classic SCTV, which was eventually bought first by the CBC but then by the American network NBC.

The purchase of SCTV by NBC was a big moment for Canadian TV. It basically told Canadian broadcasters and producers that locally made shows didn't have to be quota filling loss-leaders. They could be sold internationally for a profit, and there was an explosion of new cable channels, all eager for material.

This led to a flood of cheaply made "mill shows" using Canadian actors and crews to target international audiences. The material was often iffy, but it did help establish a foothold for the industry.

The channel explosion began to expand into Canada as well. Those channels soon realized that exclusive original programming could be a selling point, and those same shows could be sold globally. So you saw an uptick in quality and originality with even American networks buying Canadian shows to run in prime time.

Now I'm the last person to support government interference of any kind in the media. State financing has essentially made our film industry perpetually moribund outside and incapable of reaching a Canadian audience. However, I can see where the Australian guilds are coming from.  Without someone holding a gun to their head the media outlets could very easily just shut down all local productions and go strictly Hollywood, regardless of how profitable those local productions are. The Hollywood stuff has the cachet and the marketing muscle already with it, and is easier for them to handle.

Things could also go the other way, where these same business people can see themselves as more than just an outlet for Hollywood, but as an alternative to Hollywood.

I'm just not sure we're there yet.

So you can tell that I'm of two minds over this issue, so let me know what you think.


  1. On Canadian Broadcasting, as an American I have to ask, what do you think of this video?

  2. The CBC went from being a quaint & backward broadcaster, to being the club for Toronto's media social elite. If you get an "in" with the CBC and toe the party line, which is currently the New Democratic Party, it doesn't matter how bad you are, no one can get rid of you.

  3. Well, in the case of Canadians and Australians, both nations have had success internationally with stars and films. So the owners of those properties are doing fine. When the Guess Who was number one in the USA, even if they weren't showing in Canada, they were prosperous. So only the Canadians were suffering for their own idiocy which sounds to me like their "infant film industry" doesn't need coddling. I just fear that once the government gets involved you'll see the equivalent of "Piss Christ" movies being funded in Canada and/or Australia.

  4. Sandy-

    Your comment has inspired me to do a refresher on the two solitudes of the Canadian film industry. I'll probably do it tomorrow.