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Canadian content (abbreviated CanCon, cancon or can-con) refers to the controversial Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission requirements that radio and television broadcasters (including cable and satellite specialty channels) must air a certain percentage of content that was at least partly written, produced, presented, or otherwise contributed to by persons from Canadamarker. It also refers to that content itself, and, more generally, to cultural and creative content that is Canadian in nature.

Other countries employ similar quota systems. For example, Australian broadcasters are required to broadcast a certain percentage of Australasian content alongside international content. Similar domestic content quota laws also exist in the Philippinesmarker, Mexicomarker, Nigeriamarker, Francemarker, Israelmarker, Irelandmarker, South Africa, Jamaicamarker, the United Kingdommarker, and New Zealandmarker. (In the UK, Ireland, and France, this rule is now a European Union content rule rather than a domestic content rule).

A major motivation is the fear that without a regulatory system, independent Canadian popular culture would be swallowed up by that of the neighbouring United Statesmarker. However, the policy has been criticised by other commentators as cultural protectionism.

Radio

For music, the requirements are referred to as the MAPL system. Following an extensive public hearing process organised by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the MAPL system, created by Stan Klees (co-creator of the Juno Award), was adopted as a way to define and identify Canadian content in pieces of music for the purposes of increasing exposure of Canadian music on Canadian radio through content regulations governing a percentage (25%) of airplay that is to be devoted to Canadian music. The percentage was increased to 30 per cent in the 1980s, and to 35 per cent in 1998.

Some stations — especially those playing formats where there may be a limited number of Canadian recordings suitable for airplay, such as classical, jazz or "oldies", may be allowed by the CRTC to meet Canadian content targets as low as 20 per cent. Stations in Windsor, Ontariomarker are also permitted to meet lower Canadian content targets, due to Windsor's proximity to the Metro Detroit media market in the United Statesmarker.

Community radio and campus-based community radio stations often choose to meet higher Canadian content levels than commercial broadcasters because of their mandate to support up-and-coming Canadian artists and provide content not readily available on commercial radio or the CBC. However, legal Canadian content requirements may be lower for campus and community stations as they often air large quantities of category 3 music. The instructional campus radio station of Torontomarker's Humber Collegemarker, CKHC, adopted a 100 per cent Canadian content policy in 2005. Commercial broadcaster CKNS in Haldimand offers a Canadian-heavy music format. To offer flexibility its owners applied for 60 per cent Canadian content, rather than 100 per cent, as their condition of license. CFMU Radio in Hamilton, Ontario had for many years a minimum quota for music by local musicians.

Before the MAPL system was established in 1971 Canadian music was regarded with indifference on Canadian radio. This was a major hurdle for Canadian musicians since they could not gain attention in their home country without having a hit single in the United States or Europe first. Even after MAPL was implemented, in the early 1970s some radio stations were criticised for restricting their Canadian content to off-peak listening hours, in program blocks mockingly known as "beaver hours". This practise is now prevented by CRTC regulations that stipulate that CanCon percentages must be met between 6 am and 6 pm, rather than allowing a station to save all their Canadian content for off-peak hours.

On satellite radio services, Canadian content regulation is applied in aggregate over the whole subscription package. The licensed satellite radio broadcasters, Sirius Canada and XM Radio Canada, are not required to adjust the programming on the international broadcast services they offer, but must offer a minimum number of Canadian-produced channels with at least 85 per cent Canadian content on those services.

How the MAPL system works

To qualify as Canadian content a musical selection must generally fulfil at least two of the following conditions:
  • M (music) — the music is composed entirely by a Canadian.
  • A (artist) — the music is, or the lyrics are, performed principally by a Canadian.
  • P (production) — the musical selection consists of a performance that is:
    • recorded wholly in Canada, or
    • performed wholly in Canada and broadcast live in Canada.
  • L (lyrics) — the lyrics are written entirely by a Canadian.


There are four special cases where a musical selection may qualify as Canadian content:

  • The musical selection was recorded before January 1972 and meets one, rather than two, of the above conditions.
  • It is an instrumental performance of a musical composition written or composed by a Canadian.
  • It is a performance of a musical composition that a Canadian has composed for instruments only.
  • The musical selection was performed live or recorded after September 1, 1991, and, in addition to meeting the criterion for either artist or production, a Canadian who has collaborated with a non-Canadian receives at least half of the credit for both music and lyrics.


This last criterion was added in 1991, to accommodate Bryan Adams' album Waking Up the Neighbours. Adams had collaborated with Britishmarker record producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, and as a result, neither the album nor the worldwide smash hit single " I Do It for You" qualified as Canadian content under the existing rules. After extensive controversy in the summer of that year, the CRTC changed the rules to allow for such collaborations. Other Canadian artists with long-time international careers, like Anne Murray, Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne and Shania Twain, have used recording studios in Canada specifically to maintain Cancon status.

The MAPL logo

Every radio station in Canada must meet Canadian content quotas, therefore, the MAPL logo, created by Stan Klees, on album packaging and on the compact disc itself increases the chance that the music will receive airplay in Canada. The MAPL logo is a circle divided into four parts, one part for each of the four "MAPL" categories. The categories in which the music qualifies are black with a white initial M, A, P or L. The categories for which the music does not qualify are in white, with a black letter.

Controversy

Canadian content remains controversial at times — some Canadians believe that Cancon represents an unreasonable and undemocratic intrusion into the right of consumers to make their own entertainment choices, and claim that the policy is too often used to prop up weak or untalented artists. (See also cultural cringe.)

Some musicians and critics charge that radio stations tend to fulfil their Canadian content quotas by playing "safe" choices, i.e. well-established artists such as Shania Twain, The Tragically Hip or Bryan Adams, to the exclusion of emerging artists. In fact, artists who are not established are sometimes forced to build an audience outside Canada before Canadian radio will play them, the very thing the Canadian content rules were designed to remedy. For example, Arcade Fire had no commercial radio airplay in Canada until months after the band was widely anointed rising stars in the Americanmarker music media, while Daniel Powter had to reach the pop charts in Europe before Canadian radio played his music.

In 2005, the website Indie Pool launched a campaign to have the CRTC review and modify the current Canadian content rules to put greater stress on supporting new and emerging artists. The group's petition is signed by approximately 5,000 Canadian artists and music fans to date, but is not widely supported by Canadian media or acknowledged by the CRTC.

In 2006, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, in a submission to the CRTC, proposed a lessening of Canadian content regulating to 25 per cent, arguing that conventional radio faced more competition from alternative music sources such as Internet radio, satellite radio and iPods, and, in the same submission, proposed stricter new guidelines on the licensing of new radio stations. In another submission, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting argued the Canadian broadcasting industry is in a healthy position and did not need to have the Canadian content rules relaxed.

Talk radio and American syndicated programming

Unlike music radio, the rules on talk radio are more ambiguous. The vast majority of Canadian talk radio stations operate with local talk for most of the daylight hours, with the exception of two nationally syndicated Canadian talk show hosts: news/talk personality Charles Adler and sports talk host Bob McCown.

Syndicated programming from the United States invariably airs after 7:00 p.m. local time in virtually all markets, and usually features non-political programs such as Joy Browne, The Jim Rome Show and Coast to Coast AM. Due to their limited relevance to Canadian audiences, more political American shows such as The Rush Limbaugh Show or programs syndicated by Air America Radio are rarely picked up by Canadian radio stations, although the now defunct CFBN aired Dennis Miller and the Glenn Beck Program on tape delay in the evenings for a few months, from April through November 2007, when CFBN stopped broadcasting over the air, and The Phil Hendrie Show, which now contains significant political content, still airs on CKTB. Miller has since been picked up by CHAM. No rule prevents programs such as Limbaugh or Beck from being aired on Canadian radio stations; such programs are simply not carried because their focus on American politics limits their appeal to Canadian radio audiences.

As in the United States in the 1980s, the trend for AM stations in Canada in the 1990s (and continuing today) was to apply for an FM broadcasting license or move away from music in favour of talk radio formats. The total amount of Canadian-produced content declined as broadcasters could license syndicated radio programs produced in the U.S., while the Cancon regulations were conceived to apply to music only, and not to spoken-word programming. This became particularly controversial in 1998 when stations in Torontomarker and Montrealmarker (ironically on FM), started airing The Howard Stern Show from New York Citymarker during prime daytime hours. Stern was forced off the air not because of Canadian content, but because the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council reprimanded the stations broadcasting Stern numerous times for Stern's comments, which prompted the two stations to drop him in short order. Stern would later move exclusively to satellite radio.

American shows that combine talk and music, such as Delilah and John Tesh, will usually have special playlists for airing in Canada to assist in meeting Canadian content requirements. Because of the different requirements, American syndicated oldies programs are widely popular in Canada, such as American Gold, Wolfman Jack, and M. G. Kelly's American Hit List. These shows usually do not substitute Canadian songs; those that do can use music such as that from The Guess Who, Paul Anka, Terry Jacks or R. Dean Taylor. In other formats, an American syndicated program will sometimes be counterbalanced with an all-Canadian program; for instance, CKMX will broadcast Country Countdown USA and America's Grand Ole Oprymarker Weekend, counterbalancing that with the Canadian syndicated programs Country Gold with Will Brown, Canadian Country Countdown and Hugh McLennan's Spirit of the West, which is also carried by several U.S. stations. American syndicated series are usually played in "off peak" and weekend hours.

Television

To an even greater extent than on radio, Canadian television programming has been a perennially difficult proposition for the broadcast industry, particularly dramatic programming in prime-time. It is much more economical for Canadian stations to buy the Canadian rights to an American prime-time series instead of financing a new homemade production. Perhaps more importantly, given the reach of the major U.S. broadcast networks in Canada, it is virtually impossible to delay or modify a U.S. program's broadcast schedule, as regularly occurs in other foreign markets, to weed out failures or to otherwise accommodate indigenous programming.

In English Canada, presently only the public network, CBC Television, devotes the vast majority of its prime-time schedule to Canadian content, having dropped U.S. network series in the mid-1990s. The French-language networks, both public and private, also rely largely on Canadian series, relying on dubbed American movies - with a handful of dubbed series - for most of their foreign content.

Programming

Early Canadian programming was often produced merely to fill content requirements, and featured exceedingly low budgets, rushed production schedules, poor writing and little in the way of production values and as a result did not attract much of an audience. The Trouble With Tracy was a notable offender in this regard. However, even given these limitations, some productions managed to rise above the mediocre - both SCTV (originally on Global) and Smith & Smith (CHCHmarker) grew from local low-budget productions with a limited audience to large production companies with a North American audience.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, distinctly Canadian drama series such as CBC's Street Legal or CTV's E.N.G. consistently drew hundreds of thousands of viewers each week. In the latter part of the 1990s and the early 2000s, Global's Traders and the CBC drama Da Vinci's Inquest completed long runs, buoyed by critical approval if not overwhelming viewer success. As for CTV, after short-lived runs of planned "flagship" drama series such as The City, The Associates and The Eleventh Hour, the network has recently found ratings success with the reality television series Canadian Idol and with the sitcom Corner Gas, the latter now syndicated to the USmarker. The CBC dramedy This is Wonderland was a moderate success with a loyal fan base, but was nonetheless cancelled in 2006 after three seasons.

Specialty channels also naturally produce Canadian content, some of which, most notably Showcase's mockumentary series Trailer Park Boys, have been able to generate a strong mass appeal.

Despite these indigenous successes, Canadian networks have frequently fulfilled Cancon requirements by airing series filmed in Canada but intended primarily for the lucrative United Statesmarker market. Recent examples include CTV's Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, Mysterious Ways and Twice in a Lifetime, Global's Zoe Busiek: Wild Card, and Citytv's Stargate SG-1. International co-productions such as Jozi-H, The Tudors, Charlie Jade and the current revival of Doctor Who are also common.

Another increasingly common practice in recent years has been for the networks, instead of investing in new Canadian drama programming, to rebroadcast series that previously aired on Canadian cable networks, such as ReGenesis, Terminal City or Durham County.

The Red Green Show was also a success, being imported into the United States via PBS. That show's cast often did pledge drive specials and received strong viewer support on PBS stations in the northern part of the United States, such as Minnesotamarker, Wisconsinmarker, Michiganmarker, New Hampshiremarker and New Yorkmarker.

The television show SCTV created the two-minute long "Great White North" sketch with the characters Bob and Doug McKenzie to both fulfill and make fun of the Canadian content rules, as the sketch was loaded with Canadian stereotypes. It became the most popular segment of the show and the characters, played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, would be featured in comedy albums, commercials and a feature film (Strange Brew).

A few Canadian television series, including Due South, The Listener and Flashpoint, have also been picked up by American networks and aired in prime time, although the majority of Canadian TV series which have aired in the United States have done so either in syndication or on cable networks. SCTV aired in a late night slot on NBC in the early 1980s. CBS aired a late-night block of crime dramas in the late 1980s which included a number of Canadian series, including Night Heat, Hot Shots, Adderly and Diamonds, and later aired The Kids in the Hall in a late-night slot as well.

Regulations

For broadcast stations, the CRTC presently requires that 60% of all programming broadcast between 6:00am and midnight, and 50% of programming aired between 6:00pm and midnight, be of Canadian origin. However, historically, much of these requirements have been fulfilled by low-cost news, current affairs and talk programs in off-peak hours. It is usually not difficult to fill the daytime schedule with a sufficient amount of Cancon, often through reruns, while two-thirds of the latter requirement can be filled simply by airing an hour of news every night at 6PM and again at 11PM. As described above, often the remaining domestic content has consisted of low-cost science fiction or drama programming primarily intended for sale to the U.S.marker and elsewhere, and has aired on nights or in time-slots where it is unlikely to attract a large audience, freeing up other time-slots for American network programming.

Over the years the CRTC has tried a number of strategies intended to increase the success of Canadian programming, including expenditure requirements and time credits (i.e. a single hour of Cancon counts for more than an hour) for productions with specific requirements. Its most recent policy, issued in 1999, requires stations owned by the largest private groups, including CTV/A, Global/E!, Citytv/OMNI, and TVA/Sun TVmarker, to air an average of eight hours per week (between 7 and 11 p.m.) of priority programming, including the following categories:
  • drama (for CRTC purposes "drama" includes scripted comedies)
  • variety
  • documentaries
  • entertainment newsmagazines


Drama programs which meet specific requirements, including the number of Canadians in key production roles, can count for additional time credits for this purpose but not for the purposes of the overall 60%/50% requirements. (Global/E! and Citytv/A-Channel are generally prohibited from sharing priority programming.)

These current regulations have been criticised by actors' and directors' groups, among others, for not adequately favouring dramas. Indeed, reality television series began to grow in popularity soon after the policy was announced, driving Canadian broadcasters to produce more of these programs as opposed to higher-cost dramas. (For instance, the audition episodes of Canadian Idol could qualify as "documentaries", and the performance / results episodes as "variety".) As well, entertainment newsmagazines now regularly air during the "priority" period on CTV (eTalk Daily), Global (ET Canada), E! (E! News Weekend), and Sun TV (Inside Jam!), largely due to their priority standing.

The CRTC later modified its policies slightly by increasing the incentives for airing new drama programs. Broadcasters could receive additional minutes of advertising above the 12 minutes per hour generally permitted, which could be aired anywhere in the schedule, in exchange for increasing the number of Canadian dramas aired and meeting certain other drama-related targets. However, these are not mandatory targets. Moreover, in 2007 the commission effectively negated these incentives by announcing the gradual removal of all limits on TV advertising. Several cultural lobby groups and performing-arts labour unions have called on the CRTC to compel the major networks to air a minimum number of hours of Canadian drama, or spend an arbitrary percentage of revenues on producing such drama programs.

Requirements for specialty channels and premium television services — channels available only on cable and satellite — often differ greatly from those of broadcast stations. Most long-established specialty channels are expected to devote at least 50% of airtime to Cancon, while category 2 digital channels and most premium services have much lower restrictions. However, specialty channels are allowed to take part in the advertising incentives.

Movies

Some have suggested that Canadian content minimums be enacted for movie theatres as well, though none have resulted.

Trivia

The popular Canadian 80's duo Kon Kan took their name from this policy.

The 2008 Canadian Comedy Award winning sketch group Canadian Content is also named after this requirement.

References

  1. http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/resources/articles/sovereignty_identity/cancon_rules.cfm
  2. The MAPL System
  3. Canadian content for radio and television
  4. [1]
  5. [2]


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