Friday, June 04, 2010

How Canadian Governments Fund Canadian Job Losses

Who knew the answer to saving Canadian television would be revealed in an ad for mayonnaise…?


As Canada's television networks announced their fall schedules this week, it became clear that there would be little if any increase in Canadian production and that all the tears shed over their "broken business model", "catastrophic advertising losses" and the need for an infusion of Public funding to "Save Local TV" were just more of the false drama our broadcasters manufacture so they don't have to manufacture any real drama.

Once again, more than $800 Million has been bled out of the Canadian economy and Fedex'd to Hollywood by Rogers, Global and CTV, much of it for programs that will be cancelled by this time next year.

Meanwhile, these same networks will spend about 10% of that total on homegrown fare, much of it for programs that should have been cancelled by now for lack of audience interest.

With a blanket renewal of series already on the air and barely a new hour on any of the private nets, the creative community faces another season with no growth and even (as a result of smaller episode orders in some areas) a further decline in the number of local job opportunities and income.

Despite a growing number of Canadians experienced in producing world class television and new blood graduating from the country's film schools and universities on an annual basis, there seems no interest on the part of our various levels of government in finding jobs for these people.

Indeed, each and every level of government, be it municipal, provincial or federal spends a lot of money to support the destruction of the very jobs those people could be working at and bolstering government coffers through their taxes in the process.

I'm not talking about any lack of support for the arts or the way they overlook how the CRTC skews prime time from the universally recognized 8 pm - 11 pm heavy viewing periods to 6 pm to midnight, so our domestic networks can virtually eliminate Canadian comedy and drama from their schedules while continuing to qualify their Canadian-ness with the news and gossip shows that sandwich the real Prime Time hours.

These are issues all of us who blog about Canadian TV have railed against for years, endlessly trying to make the Public or the Powers That Be wake up to the real reasons the Canadian programming they deserve is not available to them.

I thought I'd run out of new ideas to offer in addressing these issues. And then, this morning Will Dixon posted an ad for Hellman's Mayonnaise.

An extended commercial, it asks us to consider the damage being done to Canadian family farms as well as our economy as a whole, raising the issue of the nutritional value of what we're eating and the additional costs involved in importing the vast majority of the food we consume.

Will asked his readers to simply replace the words "fruits" and "vegetables" with "American films" or "American TV shows" and consider the Hellman's argument in a wider context.

Try it for yourself here.

Those of us who know Uncle Willis, know he is capable of moments of sheer brilliance and watching the ad, I had an insight into Canadian television which had escaped me until now -- as well as an inspiration as to how we might get Canadian television to deliver more homegrown Canadian television.

You can't watch an hour of any American show running on a Canadian network without being inundated by ads paid for by one or another of our governments.

There are ads urging you to use public transit in your city or attend a local music festival. There are commercials for Provincial lotteries, nearby tourist attractions and government run casinos. And the Federal government pays for advertising urging you join the armed forces, buy Savings bonds, give up smoking or purchase more eggs, milk and cheese.

On one level, this is quite surprising. Despite all the advantages and support they get from government in the form of simultaneous transmission, genre protection, program financing and local programming assistance funds, our broadcasters depend on even more Public money being funneled their way to purchase air time for government backed messages.

And without that money, the networks clearly wouldn't be able to fill their commercial breaks with ads purchased solely by private industries with a product or service to sell.

And that would mean they wouldn't have those millions of dollars they cart down to Hollywood every year to keep JJ Abrams and Jerry Bruckheimer in nice houses and pools and Ferraris.

Therefore Canadian governments are actively involved in supporting American studios and artists while at the same time reducing the work opportunities for those working in Canadian television and film production.

So, instead of continuing to visit those windowless committee rooms to plead our case, instead of filing endless briefs and marching and lobbying and doing all those other things that never get us anywhere, how about if -- as citizens and taxpayers -- we simply asked our governments to do one thing…

Let's ask them to only buy ads on Canadian made shows.

Is that too much to ask?

If that single, simple alteration became a requirement of how public institutions spent public money, I'm betting we would see a sudden and huge network interest in launching Canadian shows.

This wouldn't cost the average Canadian a penny more than she now pays to fund these government initiatives. Indeed, since CBC would see a massive influx of ad revenue because it already offers far more Canadian shows, maybe they wouldn't need as much money as they know require from the public purse.

More ad revenue immediately available for Canadian shows might also make them the cash cows the networks insist they need to drive their business models.

I suspect we'd additionally see more Canadian product pushed into those plump and rosy Prime Time slots simply because the income was guaranteed, in the process exposing them to more people than they usually find in their traditionally less visited time periods.

And this might not even be something that requires a Parliamentary vote to begin with.

Somebody with more knowledge on the subject needs to weigh in here, but didn't we do almost exactly this a couple of decades ago with magazines?

If I recall correctly, that action resulted in a mini-golden age for those guys as well as American publications like "Reader's Digest" and "Time" publishing a Canadian edition to cash in on the gravy train.

So this might be an easy administrative tweak somewhere in the bureaucracy nobody even has to vote on. But even if it is, what member of Parliament, Provincial Legislature or Local council is going to vote against creating Canadian jobs?

This could turn everything around, Folks. Let's roll!

Oh, and everybody go buy a jar of Hellmann's Mayonnaise to thank them for the inspiration.


Frank "Dolly" Dillon said...

so let me get this straight. you want the Canadian government to spend taxpayers money buying ad time where they will get the minimum number of eyeballs?

Clint Johnson said...

@Frank, I think you got that crooked. The ad rate is based on the audience share of the show. What I got from this is that Jim figures the broadcasters will be incented to create Canadian shows that actually draw a larger audience... and to create more of them.

Author Unknown said...

I attended a conference on branded content today, and over the lunch hour, a marketing executive at a major Canadian organization told me that they are always interested in doing more product integration. They've worked closely with the CBC to be integrated into several of their shows, but are not able to get on any of the big American shows, for the obvious reason that CTV and Global can't get them access. They've had to be content working within the space of commercial breaks of American shows, and they want more.

However one feels about product placement, it is a growing part of advertising spending these days, and I think it really relates to your post... They're both about getting advertisers on the side of wanting to develop homegrown hits, which leads to networks wanting the same.

deborah Nathan said...

thanks again Jim. And I htink "Author Unknown" has a great idea. Get money behind us - govt ads, retail advertisers. I had read that 24 remained on the air after its first season because the advertisers were thrilled with the demographics - men, who never watch TV. We already write with an eye towards sales - so why not with an eye towards products as well? Most shows have computers, cell phones, cars, coffee,etc.

We will never pressure the broadcasters into parting with a single red cent of their own money beyond the minimum license fees, so look elsewhere.

Great ideas.

Joel Scott said...

Back in 1966, (my cell phone number now) my buddies and I would cart our metal wheeled first generation skateboards over to our special place.

In behind the Leader Post building on Park and Victoria was the sweetest new asphalt a 13 year old could hope for in the entire city of Regina. Not only was it ripple and crack free, it also had a slope out of the parking lot that was a fabulous match for our skate board tricks,

In the same building a prairie radio powerhouse CK 620 am was also housed, so the back door to the parking lot was always opening for employees, journalists and the odd political luminary would depart or arrive.

Some were there to do a live radio interview or to sit down with an editor for the paper. I had volunteered to be a Voice Your Choice phone tabulator for the local popular DJ on 620.

This was a daily ritual at 4:30 each day, where three selections were played and the audience was encouraged to phone in and "voice their choice" of selections and then the votes were tabulated, with the winner advancing.

It was there on 620 that I heard Yellow Submarine, Jimi Hendrix and Blue Cheer for the first time.

But every great song was always usurped by a Monkees tune that would muscle everyone else to the ground.

The DJ, who orchestrated this teen fest was Terry David Mulligan, the Forrest Gump of events.

If it was happening, Terry would somehow show up and not only witness the event, he would always end up on stage and be a participant.

Terry was the centre of celebrity ville in Regina and he knew it. In fact he was often haughty and arrogant with teen fans unless he knew you. I fell into the latter category and Terry was always nice to me as I volunteered for him.

Well, one of those sunny lazy afternoons, skateboarding behind the radio station, I heard Terry's voice call out, "Hey Blondie get over here!"

We padded to the door and Terry asked us to hang for a minute and he'd get us some used 45's.

He disappeared into the station and returned with 3 used 45's and gave them to us. They were Monkee 45's and we were very appreciative.

He then said how about we get those signed boys and reached around the door to pull out....PETER FUGGIN TORK!

We shat our pants. We were talking to a Regina!

I asked him why he was here and he responded that his dad was a prof at the fledgling University of Regina and his family had moved here from Connecticut. He was just visiting and had called up Terry as he liked his radio shtick.

He also gave me some currency that I could trade with long after he left...his parents address on Angus Crescent. An address where many a teenager stole rocks from the front yard or blades of grass, lest he had walked on them!

He told me he would be back at Christmas so I could drop by and say hello. Imagine the self esteem boost and the bragging rights we were now empowered with, plus we had his autograph as proof for doubting classmates.

Some girls cried when they held the 45, it was a powerful lesson in an anointed blessing from a pop star and it certainly help focus my career choice.

The synchronicity of this event was not apparent to me until the early 1990's when I formed a duo with Mama Cass Elliot's brother Joe Cohen. At the same time I was skateboarding in 66, Joe was living at Cass's house in LA and a regular guest was Peter Tork.

25 years later while on tour Joe told me that Peter was his neighbour now in Massachusetts, and they shared a coffee clutch together. With 380 million people in North America, somehow, Peter Tork underlined the word synchronicity for me...and the belief that anything is possible, no matter where one lived.

jimhenshaw said...

"Dolly", not everybody gets the kind of audiences you do (insert rimshot here)!

But you illustrate how we eternally defeat ourselves. While the networks may run our lives, they don't dictate to advertisers, especially ones spending as much money as our governments do.

In order to make them happy and attract their money they'd have to do such shockingly un-Canadian things as agressively promoting their homegrown shows (something they admit caused the massive audiences for launches of their recent shows).

They'd also be forced to put more shows in better time slots (maybe even in real "Prime Time" meaning more people would be available to sample and maybe commit to the domestic shows.

They might also have to put more money into developing Canadian shows and making their budgets competitive with the shows they buy in LA.

As I'm sure you've noticed by now, it's money that makes the world go around. More ads earmarked for Canadian series would make the nets make more of them.

Clint Johnson said...

A good first step, and it also earmarks a certain dollar revenue for the next step.

The government needs to phase out the dominating profit centre that they created by making the Canadian networks unnecessary middlemen for foreign programming. When they can make hundreds of millions of dollars being parasites on other peoples work, the hard work of creating their own content becomes a fools errand.

Since you can't just cut the supply and expect the junkie to be okay, I suggest the first step could be to immediately drop all geoblocking for Internet delivery. The Internet is still a small part of the delivery pie right now but it is the future and this should give the Canadian networks a shove in the right direction.

Then let them know that in the fall of 2015 they will no longer have simultaneous substitution - those (almost all American) networks will be carrying their own ads.

They will protest that this means that they no longer have the revenue to create Canadian shows... whereupon we point to what they have been doing for the last couple decades and slap them across the face with a glove.

Going all Bugs Bunny on their ass with a brick in the glove is optional but recommended.

Then let's see how many Canadian shows are developed over the next four seasons.