OTTAWA - The CRTC has long used a stick approach to boost Canadian TV programming, forcing broadcasters to produce minimum amounts, but yesterday, the commission dangled an enormous carrot to spur homegrown drama production.
Five years after doing away with drama expenditure requirements, the CRTC has come up with a regime to reward broadcasters who air original English-language Canadian drama with extra advertising slots.
Currently, Canadian TV stations and specialty channels can only air up to 12 minutes of commercials an hour. That would rise to a maximum of 14 minutes if they broadcast a certain number of dramatic shows.
For each hour of original Canadian drama aired, broadcasters can earn 30 seconds to 8 minutes of extra advertising, depending on factors such as levels of Canadian participation in the production, the budget, time of broadcast, and funding source.
Broadcasters will also earn extra commercial credit if they increase their audience share by a certain amount, and increase their spending on Canadian drama by a pre-determined amount.
Broadcasters can earn an unlimited number of additional advertising minutes, but they must be spread out so that no more than 14 minutes per hour are commercials. Think of it as a frequent flyer program with restrictions on the points you can redeem.
There are further limitations. For the largest English-language broadcasters�CTV, Global, and CHUM�the rewards will only apply once they have aired 26 hours of original drama per year. The exception is programs that don't receive grants from the Canadian Television Fund.
An incentive program for French-language drama will be released soon, the commission says.
The incentives came from a recent public process whereby the CRTC called for written comments on its proposed rewards program. The commission tweaked the program slightly with greater rewards following industry comments.
In announcing the program at the annual Canadian Association of Broadcasters conference in Ottawa Monday, chair Charles Dalfen said the commission didn't want to respond to some calls to require broadcasters to air a minimum number of hours of Canadian drama. "Our view was that regulation will only get us so far," he said.
CAB chair Alain Gourd agreed, telling the audience, "Incentives are better than rigid regulations."
Some broadcasters and producers welcomed the move, saying during a panel discussion on Canadian drama that followed Dalfen's announcement that it should spur production, but they lamented the program's complexity. Norm Bolen of Alliance Atlantis Communications likes the incentives. "We will exploit them to the maximum we can," the executive vice-president of programming said.
Bill Mustos, senior vice-president of dramatic programming at CTV, said he "applauds" the commission but questions why the CBC will qualify for extra commercial airtime for all its homegrown shows, which he thought could be used during sports and movies. He also wondered how much more advertising dollars are out there to add to schedules in the first place. "It's just more players eating away at the advertising pie."
Producer Linda Schuyler, president of Epitome Pictures, said she is "delighted" the commission is taking drama so seriously but felt the complexity of the incentives could delay broadcasters from picking up new shows, leaving producers with even less time to get episodes to air.
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