Canadian content (CanCon, cancon or can-con) refers to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) requirements, derived from the Broadcasting Act of Canada, 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 Canada. It also refers to that content itself, and, more generally, to cultural and creative content that is Canadian in nature.
The loss of the protective Canadian content quota requirements is one of the concerns of those opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Canada entered into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral free trade agreement, in October 2012.
The CRTC, originally established in 1968, is charged with enforcing the Broadcasting Act of Canada. The Broadcast Act declares:
- Each element of the Canadian broadcasting system shall contribute in an appropriate manner to the creation and presentation of Canadian programming;
- Each broadcasting undertaking shall make maximum use, and in no case less than predominant use, of Canadian creative and other resources in the creation and presentation of programming
It is from these requirements, set down in Section 3 of the Broadcasting Act, that obligates the CRTC enforce Canadian content requirements.
Other countries employ similar quota systems. Australian broadcasters are required to broadcast a certain percentage of Australasian content. Similar domestic content quota laws also exist in the Philippines, Mexico, Nigeria, Israel, South Africa, Jamaica, Venezuela, Russia, and New Zealand. Quotas also apply in the United Kingdom and France (which now has a European Union content rule rather than a domestic one). The United States does not restrict foreign content broadcasting. Given U.S. media's domestic and global strength, however, American broadcasters often air predominantly US-produced content as a matter of course.
For music, the requirements are referred to as the "MAPL system". Following an extensive public hearing process organised by the CRTC, the MAPL system, created by Stan Klees (co-creator of the Juno Award), was adopted in 1971 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 to be devoted to Canadian music. The percentage was increased to 30% in the 1980s, and to 35% effective January 3, 1999. However, most new commercial radio stations licensed since 1999 have been licensed at 40%.
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, Ontario, are also permitted to meet lower Canadian content targets, due to Windsor's proximity to the Metro Detroit media market in the United States.
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, CanCon requirements may be lower for campus and community stations as they often air large quantities of category 3 music.
Before the MAPL system was established in 1971, Canadian music was regarded with indifference by 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 ghettoizing their Canadian content to dedicated program blocks, in off-peak listening hours such as early mornings or after midnight, during which the music played would be almost entirely Canadian — thus having the effect of significantly reducing how many Canadian songs would actually have to be played during peak listening times. These program blocks became mockingly known as "beaver hours". This practice is now prevented by CRTC regulations stipulating that CanCon percentages must be met between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., 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. Sirius XM Canada produces channels focused on Canadian music and content and offers the CBC's national radio networks, as well as its digital-exclusive networks such as CBC Radio 3, which are incorporated into the overall lineup of U.S.-produced channels shared with its U.S. counterpart.
How the MAPL system works
To qualify as Canadian content a musical selection must generally fulfill 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 (performance) — 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, which, unusually, did not meet the Cancon standard despite every track being co-written and performed by a Canadian artist.
Adams had recorded the album mainly in England, and although some recording work was done in Canada, no track on the album qualified for the P in MAPL. Adams had also collaborated on the writing of the album with British record producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, with Adams and Lange both being credited as co-writers of both words and music on every cut on the album. As a result, no song on the album featured either music or lyrics entirely written by a Canadian, and therefore none of the album's songs qualified for the M or L in MAPL. All this meant that no track on the album qualified as Canadian content under the existing rules—although if Adams and Lange had simply agreed to credit one party with 100% of the music and the other with 100% of the lyrics, all the Adams/Lange collaborations would have counted as CanCon (as they were recorded by a Canadian artist.)
After extensive controversy in the summer of that year, the CRTC changed the rules to allow for such collaborations, wherein a Canadian can work with a non-Canadian on both music and lyrics, provided the Canadian receives at least half of the credit for both music and lyrics. This gives the recorded track 1 point out of a possible 2 for the M and L sections of the MAPL criteria; to qualify as Cancon, the finished recording must also meet the criterion for either artist (A) or production (P).
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.
What constitutes a Canadian under the MAPL system
The CRTC states that for the purposes of the MAPL system, a Canadian can be defined by one of the following:
- Canadian citizen
- Permanent resident as defined by the 1976 Immigration Act
- Person whose ordinary place of residence was Canada for the six months immediately preceding their contribution to a musical composition, performance or concert
- Licensee, i.e., a person licensed to operate a radio station
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.
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 percent, arguing that conventional radio faced more competition from alternative music sources such as Internet radio, satellite radio and portable audio players like 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. The lone restriction is that the station must have a working studio within the region it broadcasts, which prohibits the use of entirely satellite-operated stations (which are commonplace in the United States).
Syndicated programming from the United States invariably airs after 7:00 pm 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 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 aired for many years on CKTB, even during the period when it focused on political content. Miller also aired on CHAM for two years from 2008 to 2010. 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, especially given the high rights fees Limbaugh charges his affiliates.
As in the United States in the 1980s, the trend for AM stations in Canada in the 1990s was to apply for an FM broadcasting license or move away from music in favour of talk radio formats. (Since the late 2000s, AM radio in North America has been declining as stations have shut down and moved to FM.) 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 Toronto and Montreal, started airing The Howard Stern Show from New York City 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 Blair Garner, Elvis Duran, Delilah and John Tesh, 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, due in part to a fairly large library of Canadian musicians already in rotation in the format (such as The Guess Who, Gordon Lightfoot, Paul Anka, Terry Jacks or R. Dean Taylor). In other formats, an American syndicated program sometimes is supplemented with an all-Canadian program; for instance, CKMX will broadcast Country Countdown USA and America's Grand Ole Opry Weekend along with the Canadian syndicated programs Canadian Country Spotlight and Hugh McLennan's Spirit of the West, the last of which is also carried by several U.S. stations. American syndicated series are usually played in "off peak" and weekend hours.
A notable exception to the majority-Canadian spoken word programming came in 2012 when Astral Media introduced CKSL and CHAM, two stations in southern Ontario, as full-time affiliates of 24/7 Comedy Radio, a service of the U.S.-based Cumulus Media Networks. CHAM meets its studio requirement by maintaining a locally based interstitial host.
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.
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. One Canadian series, The Trouble with Tracy, is sometimes claimed as one of the worst television shows ever produced. However, even given these limitations, some productions managed to rise above the mediocre – both SCTV (originally on Global) and Smith & Smith (CHCH) 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 dramas Da Vinci's Inquest and Republic of Doyle 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 later found ratings success with series such as Corner Gas, Flashpoint, and Motive. 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. Canadian networks have also produced local versions of reality television formats to compliment the popularity of U.S. versions they may also broadcast, such as The Amazing Race Canada, Canadian Idol, and MasterChef Canada (CTV), Big Brother Canada (Global), and The Bachelor Canada (City).
Despite these indigenous successes, Canadian networks have sometimes fulfilled Cancon requirements by commissioning series filmed in Canada but intended primarily for larger foreign markets such as the United States and United Kingdom, such as CTV's Saving Hope, Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, Mysterious Ways and Twice in a Lifetime, and Global's Wild Card and Rookie Blue. International co-productions such as Orphan Black (Space and BBC America), Copper (Showcase and BBC America), Killjoys (Space and Syfy), The Tudors (CBC, Showtime, BBC, TV3 (Ireland)), and the early seasons of the current incarnation of Doctor Who (partially funded by CBC) are also common. As most Canadian television networks are vertically integrated with specialty channels, network schedules may also be filled with encores of Canadian productions from their sister specialty channels, or vice versa.
A few Canadian television series, including Due South, The Listener, Motive, Flashpoint, and Saving Hope, 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, on cable channels, or on minor networks such as The CW and Ion Television. 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. The Red Green Show was also a success, being imported into the United States via PBS member stations. 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 Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire and New York.
Canadian commercial television networks schedule a large percentage of their Canadian productions to air in the summer season; although traditionally a season of low viewership, this practice has actually been beneficial for Canadian television productions, as a widespread viewer preference for new programming over off-season repeats has resulted in these series improving their ratings in Canada, as well as increasing their chances of gaining a lucrative sale to one of the big four American networks—a revenue stream which is generally unavailable during the fall and winter television seasons.
SCTV lampooned the Cancon rules, as well a request by the CBC for a filler segment featuring distinctively Canadian content, by developing the characters of Bob and Doug McKenzie (played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas). Bob and Doug—who heavily invoked Canadian stereotypes—became SCTV's most popular characters, and spawned spin-offs featuring the characters such as comedy albums, commercials, the feature film Strange Brew, and the animated series Bob & Doug.
For broadcast stations, the CRTC presently requires that 60% yearly, and at least 50% of prime-time programming, 6:00 pm to midnight, be of Canadian origin. In May 2011 the CanCon requirement for private television broadcasters was lowered to 55% yearly. Canada's public broadcaster, CBC, must still maintain 60% CanCon quota. 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 6 pm and again at 11 pm. 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. 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. It is also a fairly common occurrence for stations to sign off during the overnight graveyard slots to reduce their Cancon liability.
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, Citytv/OMNI, and TVA/Sun TV, to air an average of eight hours per week (between 7 and 11 pm) of priority programming, including the following categories:
- Drama (for CRTC purposes "drama" includes scripted comedies)
- 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.
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.
Further complicating matters for Canadian content is the existence of simultaneous substitution, a process that allows Canadian broadcasters to effectively eliminate their American competition if they air the same American programming at the same time; the "simsub" rule requires cable operators to replace any American network feed (and its advertisements) with a Canadian one. This has had a decidedly negative impact on Canadian content, as most Canadian networks have made significant effort to import popular American series and take advantage of simsubbing to eliminate the American competition, which in turn crowds out Canadian programming to less desirable time slots.
There is concern about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Intellectual Property Provisions (Tencer 2012) of the TPP in terms of CanCon. In October, Canada formally became a TPP negotiating participant. In order to enter into the TPP agreement, Canada had to accept the terms agreed upon by the nine original signatory countries: Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Peru, United States, and Vietnam. According to MP Don Davies, Canada had no veto power over these terms and accepted the "existing unbracketed text, sight unseen and without input."(Davies 2012)
In September 2012, the International Intellectual Property Alliance, a U.S. private sector coalition representing over 3,200 U.S. producers and distributors of copyright protected materials, sent a submission to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office requesting that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement (IIPA 2012) "be comprehensive in scope, strictly avoiding any sectoral carveouts that preclude the application of free trade disciplines. We note that several market access barriers [in] Canada involve, for example, content quota requirements for television, radio, cable television, direct-to-home broadcast services, specialty television, and satellite radio services."(IIPA 2012)
In 1971 a group of Canadian playwrights issued the Gaspé Manifesto as a call for at least one-half of the programming at publicly subsidized theatres to be Canadian content. The numerical goal was not achieved, but the following years saw an increase in Canadian content stage productions.
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- MAPL system (CRTC)
- CBC Archives Sam Sniderman (Sam the record man) talks about his support for CANCON in 1971