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Canadian Television: A Window Dominated by American Culture - How long will this last?
Richard Stursberg, executive vice-president of CBC Television, explains, “When it comes to the most popular forms of narrative – television and feature films – Canadians overwhelmingly prefer the stories of another country” (Goodman 2006). Currently, Canadians are addicted to American programming. American programs pose a threat to the Canadian culture, as the television medium has the ability to shape the values and behaviour of its viewers. English scholars and cultural critics have proven that the medium of television has the power to influence. The threat of Americanization does not come as a new concern. Canadians have been aware of this cultural intrusion ever since film developed a place in the cultural environment of Canada. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was the first station to help promote and preserve the Canadian heritage by airing strictly Canadian content. Private broadcasters driven by American programming succeeded the CBC. These stations were focused on profit rather than improving Canadian sensitivity of national identity. Over the years, television regulatory agencies in Canada have been implemented to restrict the amount of American programming, though these efforts do not keep the majority of viewers from watching American shows. To reduce this influx of American programming, the CBC continues to promote Canadian programs. The long-term goals of the Canadian broadcasting industry are to develop more home-grown programming, preserve the Canadian culture, and build the status of the Canadian broadcasting industry. Before the arrival of the television, members of the Canadian broadcasting industry already understood film’s immeasurable power to influence. The federal government passed a commission that would promote the distribution of Canadian film and regulate foreign

influences. In 1949, the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, otherwise known as the Massey Commission, was established. Chaired by Vincent Massey, the commission’s goal was to write a report that would examine Canada’s cultural independence in relation to America and other nations. In 1951, the Massey Report was created, and it presented three main goals. It recommended that Canada increase the production of Canadian film to maintain the Country’s heritage, advised that there be persistent control over the broadcasting system, and warned that American influences have the potential to overpower Canada’s culture (Litt 1991). In order to preserve Canadian heritage the report recommended the establishment of cultural institutions such as the National Library of Canada.1 The Massey Report concluded that Canada was indeed threatened culturally by America. These findings confirmed that the commission’s work was instrumental in identifying and examining the ebbing flow of Canadian culture. Part one of the Massey report concluded: “[I]t is desirable that Canadian people should know as much as possible about their country, its history and traditions, and about their national life and common achievements…” (Canada 2001). Members of the commission wanted Canada to develop a national identity separate from Britain and become it own independent nation. When television was introduced in 1952, the Canadian public immediately took to the medium. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was the first television network to debut in Canada, and it drew in massive audiences. As the Canadian broadcasting industry became familiar with the influential capacity of film, English scholars Raymond Williams, Richard Hoggart, and E.P Thompson became motivated to examine the impact of television

The National Library of Canada: A library and archives that helps to preserve Canadian culture by collecting Canadian made publications, sound and electronic materials, artworks, and photographs.

on viewers (Attallah 2002). They focused on the relationship between culture and society by analyzing government influences on defining culture and the ways in which they affected individuals. They discovered that the government’s choice to introduce the television had the most power over society. Subsequently, the medium became recognized as highly influential. As members of the Canadian broadcasting industry became aware of television’s ability to influence, Canada grew determined to monitor its programming. The CBC began to take control by only airing Canadian content. This decision was made to protect Canadian culture from being brought under American control. Since Canada and the U.S. share a large border and a common language, American programming was Canada’s main concern. In response to the arrival of television in Canada, a second royal commission solely focused on television was established. In 1955, the Federal government selected Robert Fowler to lead the Commission to protect Canadian content in television broadcasting. Known as The Fowler Commission, it recommended that all Canadian broadcasting stations must air at least 45% Canadian content. By 1958, the government created a new regulatory system called the Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG). The Board’s purpose was to promote talented Canadians. This led the CBC to further broadcast Canadian imagery, symbols, and materials to help unify the Country’s population (Cole 2002). For nine years, the CBC was the prime television network in Canada and held total control over the country’s television world. This control declined in the early 1960’s when the BBG encouraged private stations to establish networks. 1961 brought the CBC’s first competitor in television broadcasting with the introduction of a privately owned station, Canadian Television Network (CTV). This new broadcaster was one that would air American programming. The American programming quickly began to win over audiences, forcing

CBC’s popularity to decline. As a result, CTV began to shatter the status quo for Canadian television (Beatty 2005). The promotion of American programming was the prime reason for CTV’s instant success. CTV’s promotion of American programming led Canadian governments to further fear the threat of Americanization. It was this fear that led to the development of a new regulatory agency in 1968. Known as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the agency would replace the BBG and promote further restrictions on American programming. The CRTC required that approximately 50% of television content on private stations like CTV must be Canadian. In comparison, the CBC was required to only air Canadian content (CRTC 1970). With the CBC‘s commitment to this regulation, the government gained hope that the Canadian broadcasting industry could once again, build a national identity. In March of 1987, The CRTC decided to raise the Canadian content requirements for CTV. The CRTC still required CTV to televise 50% Canadian content, though the commission also required that 4 ½ hours of this programming must be broadcast during prime time hours (8pm - 11:00pm). Plus, they insisted that only an hour of this programming could be broadcast before 8pm. Before these regulations, CTV’s prime-time hours were devoted to American Programming. As CTV made its highest commercial revenue off of American programming, the broadcaster feared that new Canadian content regulations would considerably decrease its revenue. This was not the only change obliged by the CRTC. The CRTC also required CTV to decrease the promotion of sex-role stereotyping and promote multicultural groups. Plus, the commission demanded the producers of CTV to write a report noting CTV’s long-term objectives (Musselwhite 1987).

Throughout the 1990’s, the CRTC increased Canadian programming regulations at a fairly slow rate. Canada continued to televise American programming because Canadian programs had cost five times as much to produce than importing American. Secondly, Canadians had become addicted to American Programming. This dependence made it more difficult for the Commission to raise Canadian content requirements (Attallah 2002). Presently, Canada continues to air American programming because it continues to be less expensive to purchase than to produce Canadian programs. However, some positive changes have been made to subside the amount of American programming on television. Unlike the past, the CRTC has made significant changes to Canadian content regulations. Now, the CRTC requires that CTV must reach a yearly Canadian content level of 60% overall (24 hours daily) and televise 50% during the evening hours (6pm - midnight). This current criterion is a fairly significant increase from the 45% requirement the CRTC initially required. Plus, the CRTC requires that 8 hours of Canadian television must be aired each week during primetime, compared to the 4 1/2 hours issued in 1987. Furthermore, the CRTC requires that the CBC air 60% Canadian content during the day, and unlike the private stations, during the evening as well (CRTC 2006). As the CRTC’s newest regulations provide positive ways to increase Canadian content, American programming continues to rule. Even though the amount of Canadian programming being aired during prime time has doubled since the 1980’s, there are no longer restrictions to the amount of hours CTV can air these shows during 7pm (CRTC 2006). As a result, there is now more room for American programs to fill prime-time spots. According to a study conducted by the CBC in 2001, of all of the programs targeted toward and watched by Canadians, 70% are American (Beatty 2005). Thus, even though the CRTC attempts to

limit American programming on CTV, it cannot guarantee that Canadians will watch more Canadian programming. The culture continues to be under American influence. According to Moses Znaimer, a past executive producer of Citytv television, Canadians still have reason to feel threatened by American Programming. In a four-part television series entitled TVTV: The Television Revolution (1995), he explores television’s prominent power. Znaimer begins to examine televisions impact on viewers by comparing the medium to other communication media. In an interview with film producer Oliver Stone, Stone confirms that there are three parts to television that make it highly influential: television’s visual structure, immediate and flexible organization, and its power to allow one to see for themselves. He concluded that the print industry lacks all of these abilities, making the television the most powerful media vehicle. To further prove television’s influential capabilities, Znaimer interviewed American television producers Sonny Grosso and Larry Jacobson. Grosso and Jacobson theorized that television has the ability to move audiences in ways that are not possible by any other communication media. Znaimer supported this theory by showing a clip of how a news story that was previously discussed in newspapers had become more meaningful to audiences when aired on television. Znaimer presented a clip of David Peterson (Ontario Liberal Premier from 1985-1990), which illustrated him being confronted by a Green Peace activist during a political conference. This visual confrontation made audiences and the government more attentive. They had already read about this situation in newspapers, although they did not become mobile until it was brought to television news. This proved that the television has the ability to mobilize viewer behaviour. Moreover, Znaimer argues that Canada is one of many countries that America looks down on as its playground. American production companies are exporting lots of their

programming to Canada in order to gain profits. The president of Warner Brothers International, Michael Solomon, confirms the truth behind this act. Solomon indicates how Warner Brothers makes 80% of its revenue in America and 20% mainly from Canada. Plus, he adds how he hopes to generate 30% - 40% more profit from countries like Canada in order to make extra money for the company (TVTV 1995). It is this statement that clearly shows how American production companies view Canada as their playing field (1995). Over the years, Canadians have continued to be exploited by American values upon the Canadian broadcasting industry’s purchase of American programming. Now, to stop the American broadcasting industry from taking advantage of Canada, the Canadian broadcasting industry is putting more money into the development of Canadian programs. Canadian programming is being played on CTV more than ever before. Homegrown programs such as Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001), Canadian Idol (2003), and the network’s most recent hit, Corner Gas (2004), are being aired on CTV and have received fairly high ratings. Surprisingly, CTV is airing these shows during prime-time hours. Producers of CTV are now willing to air these Canadian programs during primetime, as they no longer fear the possibility of losing revenue from them. These programs help make it easier for the network to meet the CRTC’s guidelines (Goodman 2006). According to a recent article in the Toronto Sun, a rise in the production and promotion of Canadian programming is helping to prove that Canada has the ability to create quality television as creative as the Americans. The only problem is that the majority of Canadians are not watching these Canadian programs. As CTV’s Degrassi, Canadian Idol, and Corner Gas are having success, American shows are still dominating. BBM Canada, a Canadian television rating service, proved this notion. They measured the top 30 shows during the week of 18 September 2006 and found that only one was Canadian made (Stewart

2006). This confirms that CTV’s Canadian programming is still being overpowered by American shows. Today, the CBC continues to be the sole television broadcaster Canadians can rely on to help preserve the Canadian culture. As the majority of the station’s programming remains Canadian, viewers have the benefit of watching programs rooted in Canadian humour, values, and history. The only problem is the CBC’s low audience rating. This is not a result of Canadians being uninterested in their heritage. According to CBC Television’s vice president, Richard Stursberg, the problem with most Canadian programs is their lack of ability to catch viewer’s interest. To solve this issue, Stursberg explains how the CBC is on the verge of producing more Canadian programming that meets the interests of Canadians. He reveals, “Canadians will watch home-grown programming when it is beautifully made, engaging and designed for them” (Stewart 2006). Current CBC programs such as Mercer Report and The Hour are two successful Canadian programs built about and for Canadians. These Canadian programs are helping to ease the CBC’s efforts to move audiences away from American shows. Executer producer of CBC Television, Kirstine Layfield, explains, “trying to get Canadians to choose made-in Canada programming is a constant battle” (Goodman 2006). Although, American programming is difficult to bring down, Layfield concludes that the CBC does not plan on surrendering to the influence of American programming. Instead, the CBC is on the verge of creating more interesting Canadian programming.

The Canadian broadcasting industry is on the right path to building a national identity and preserving the Canadian culture by increasing the production and promotion of home-

grown programming. However, at this point in time, the objective to outshine American television is nearly unachievable. Since Canadians are addicted to American programming, American shows will continue to flood Canadian stations. As a result, members of the Canadian broadcasting industry understand that they can only attempt to reduce the amount of American programming aired. Since only 3% of Canadian programming is currently successful on CTV, it is proof that creating and airing more Canadian shows is not the answer. Canadian broadcasters have realised that it is not the quantity of Canadian television, but the quality that will make a difference. To solve the problem, Canadian broadcasters are in the process of creating more interesting Canadian programming. CBC Television’s The Hour and CTV’s Canadian Idol are two new and appealing programs that are proving the prosperous value of the industry’s solution. If these popular Canadian programs continue to succeed and more interesting programming is produced, the Canadian broadcasting industry may anticipate a reduction in the amount of American programming. If this prediction succeeds, Canadian programs will grow to play a dominant role in the cultural environment of Canada. The window of Canadian television would be positively transformed.

Thursday, November 30th /2006 By: Kelly Foss