For those unfamiliar with CanCon, it is a policy, managed (I believe) by Heritage Canada and enforced by Canada’s broadcasting regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), that establishes a system of quotas to ensure a certain amount of Canadian programming (e.g. music, TV) is broadcast within Canada.
In laymen terms: CanCon ensures that Canadian radio and TV stations broadcast at least some Canadian content. This can be good – making stars out of artists that might not have have received airplay – think The Bare Naked Ladies. And it can be bad, making (usually temporarily) stars out of artists that should never have received airplay – think Snow.
Well I’ve been allowed to serve as a Joost beta tester. After getting my email invitation last week I downloaded a copy.
In essence Joost is like You-Tube, but bigger, faster, and sleeker. It’s as though Apple’s design team revamped You-Tube from the ground up and, while they were at it, grabbed themselves some partners to provide some more professional content.
But what makes Joost so interesting is how it’s organized. Joost feels like on-demand TV, with content divided into “categories” – such as “documentaries films” – and subdivided into “channels” – such as the “Indieflix channel” and the “Witness channel.” There is already a fair amount of content already available including a number of hour long (or longer) documentaries that are worth watching. (I can’t WAIT until Frontline has a channel up and running. I’d love to be able to watch any Frontline episode, anywhere, anytime, on a full screen.)
So what happens to Canadian content rules when anyone, anywhere can create and distribute content directly to my computer, and eventually, my TV? At this point, the only options left appear to be a) give up, or b) regulate content on the internet. Problematically, regulating internet content and access may be both impossible (even China struggles with this policy objective) and unpopular (I hope you’re as deeply uncomfortable as I am with the government regulating internet content).
The internet has (so far) enabled users to vastly expand the number of media sources available to them, and even create their own media. This has been a nightmare for “traditional media” such as newspapers and television stations, whose younger market demographic has significantly eroded. As a result, these same forces are eroding the government’s capacity to control what Canadians watch.
Which brings us back to option (a). At worst, CanCon is going the way of the Dodo – it will be too difficult to implement and maintain. Indeed a crisis in cultural policy may be looming. On the bright side however, the internet enables ordinary Canadians to create their own media (blogs, podcasts and now even videos) and distribute it over the internet, across the country and around the world. This is a better outcome than CanCon – which essential supports large, established media conglomerates who do Canadian content out of necessity, not passion – could ever have hoped for. Ordinary canadians may now be in the driver seat in creating content. That is a good outcome. Let’s hope any policy that replaces CanCon bears this in mind.