After almost 30 years living in the United States, I recently made the move back to my home and native land – Canada. While my formative years were spent in Toronto, my college education, adult life and media career were 100% American.
I traded my frenetic New York City apartment life for a house in Toronto, where getting a jump on my day might mean playing on the trampoline in my new backyard with my 5-year-olds. On a daily basis, I make comparisons between the cities and countries, finding some parallels and being amused by entertaining distinctions.
On the TV side: I’ve noted some subtle and not-so-subtle difference inherent to the Canadian media landscape, and it seems timely to talk about the fall lineups north of the border.
While the programming may be familiar, there are several key differences and challenges unique to Canada.
There are five main players: Bell Media (CTV and CTV2), Corus (Global), Rogers (City), The CBC and French TV provider Quebecor (TVA), in the national prime-time television scene. I will focus only on the English-speaking content providers.
Let’s set aside the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) since, as its name suggests, is dedicated to programming Canadian content. This brings up the first challenge that broadcasters here face. The government regulates the minimum amount of Canadian content (CanCon) required throughout the day.
Canadian content mandates date back to the late 1920s for radio. The consensus was Canadian listeners wanted Canadian broadcasting. It’s the reason why you can almost always find Anne Murray, Cowboy Junkies, Rush or one of their fellow Canadians on the radio dial if you surf around.
Regulations have evolved over the years, but content providers need to provide a range of programming reflective of Canadian attitudes, principles and values, as well as artistic creativity.
There is a scale of points to determine how Canadian a program is (talent, producer/director, location, etc.), and the more points, the greater the production credit/funding is available.
The regulation for prime time is that 50% of the schedule between 6 p.m – 12 p.m. be of Canadian origin/Canadian content. Broadcasters can meet that through their local and national news, but not entirely. All have at least an hour or more of Canadian-generated programming 8 p.m. – 11 p.m. one or two days a week.
Not surprisingly, Saturday seems to be the destination for this content. We have come a long way from the days of shows like “The Beachcombers”and even “DeGrassi High.” Current line-ups include, “Saving Hope” on CTV (Bell Media). CTV Two (Bell Media) airs “Flashpoint” and “Motive.” Global (Corus) has “Undercover Boss Canada,” while City (Rogers) has “Hockey Night in Canada.”
There are also the successful localized franchises that make their appearances later in the year, including “Big Brother Canada” on Global and “Amazing Race Canada” on CTV.
Setting aside CanCon, program scheduling is a more challenging process in Canada but can reap some great advantages. Corus, Bell Media and Rogers are able to purchase shows from all of the U.S. content providers, including OTT services, to craft their nights. Often, you will find shows from different U.S. broadcasters back to back in a single-night stack.
For example, Wednesday night on CTV (Bell) is a powerhouse of drama with “Blindspot” (NBC) at 8 p.m., “Criminal Minds” (CBS) at 9 p.m. and “Designated Survivor” (ABC) at 10 p.m. Corus’ Global TV has similar success with their Tuesday night line-up of “NCIS” (CBS) at 8 p.m., “Bull” (CBS) at 9 p.m. and “Chicago Fire” (NBC) at 10 p.m. City TV (Rogers) bought the rights to “The Mindy Project” from Hulu, which airs on Thursdays at 8 p.m., followed by an original “Mom” (CBS) at 9 p.m.
This continues across all dayparts, where you can watch “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” on CTV at midnight, followed by “The Late Late Show with James Cordon.”
The U.S. broadcasters’ line-ups are also available here, but only about 4% of the Canadian population watches these stations, according to Think TV (formerly the Television Bureau of Canada). Instead, Canadians consume their TV content from their Canadian providers, where they also get their local and national news.
What is unique when you watch these shows is that the Canadian broadcaster replaces the U.S. network watermark with its own. This brings up another interesting challenge called Simultaneous Substitution or SimSub, as it is commonly known.
Here is the quick and easy definition from the CRTC (Canadian Radio and Television Commission): Simultaneous substitution occurs when a program that originates in the U.S. may be showing in both Canada and the U.S. at the same time. The Canadian broadcasters signal is substituted for the American one.
When program substitution occurs, you see the signal, including the Canadian commercials, on an American channel.
You may assume that the commercials you see in the U.S. spill over into Canada and therefore, might think that you or your client do not need to purchase media north of the border. SimSub addresses that and ensures that Canadian goods and services are being promoted and supported; it also protects the rights of the broadcasters that are paying hefty fees for the right to air that content.With the exchange rate nicely in favor of the U.S., now is a great time to buy media here.