The end of TV and the end of CanCon?

A few weeks ago I blogged about how the arrival of Joost could eventually require the rethinking of Canadian content rules (CanCon).

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.

4 thoughts on “The end of TV and the end of CanCon?

  1. Mike Beltzner

    Hard to enforce Can-con requirements are nothing new: this issue first came up with ham radios, and again when people starting using satellite receivers to pull down signals which didn’t offer the appropriate mix of approved content. The most interesting aspect to the Joost model, from a legal standpoint, is that since the application creates a peer-to-peer network, everyone running the application is not only a viewer, but also technically a broadcaster.

    The purpose of Can-con is ostensibly to expose Canadian talent, but it seems to me that benefits only the Canadian companies who publish that talent. Successful Canadian artists get a lot of exposure in the USA (ref: Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, Celine Dion) and I don’t think it was because they had recording labels in Canada that they were successful. Presumably the artists will be successful if they have talent, and the labels will be successful if they find that talent, both within and without the Canadian borders. That said, I like some of the proposals for CanCon “Progressive” where Heritage Canada awards credits to media outlets who choose to play Canadian content on their networks. It is the mandate of Heritage Canada to promote Canadian content, not to enforce it.

    Turning to the latter portion of your post, where you posit that the negative of a potential cultural crisis is offset by the positive of Joost’s ability to turn more people into producers, there’s a flaw in your logic. Joost’s business model is to behave like any other TV broadcaster, purchasing television productions from studios using revenues generated from advertisers. That’s not really an “open” game, and Joost hasn’t made any significant moves towards enabling everyday content producers, or connecting them with potential viewers. The only product that I’ve seen do that is Miro (http://www.getmiro.com/), which is a video podcast viewer that also allows people to create channels as well as view them.

    Reply
  2. JimBobby

    Whooee! Good boogin’ DaveyBoy. I reckon yer on the money a hunnert percents worth ’bout CanCon dyin’ out. I ain’t sure it’s a good thing but I figger yer right an’ it’s on the way out or at least it’s becomin’ more’n’more meaningless.

    The whole big media broadcast monopoly ain’t about to die, though, just on accounta a few boogers an’ podcasters steppin’ on “their” territory. I ain’t so sure this here Joost deal ain’t gonna be another way fer the bigass MSM main street media to insinuate itself into the wide open spaces of the innernet an’ boogeysphere.

    People only got so much time they can spend in front o’ the monitor or infront o’ the TV. Bigass MSM is good at cross promotin’ and at havin’ fingers in all kindsa pies, like radio, TV, newspapers, magazines an’, most recently, the innernet. I feel a little queasy about a more professional YouTube.

    JimBobby

    Reply
  3. Mike Beltzner

    Hard to enforce Can-con requirements are nothing new: this issue first came up with ham radios, and again when people starting using satellite receivers to pull down signals which didn’t offer the appropriate mix of approved content. The most interesting aspect to the Joost model, from a legal standpoint, is that since the application creates a peer-to-peer network, everyone running the application is not only a viewer, but also technically a broadcaster.The purpose of Can-con is ostensibly to expose Canadian talent, but it seems to me that benefits only the Canadian companies who publish that talent. Successful Canadian artists get a lot of exposure in the USA (ref: Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, Celine Dion) and I don’t think it was because they had recording labels in Canada that they were successful. Presumably the artists will be successful if they have talent, and the labels will be successful if they find that talent, both within and without the Canadian borders. That said, I like some of the proposals for CanCon “Progressive” where Heritage Canada awards credits to media outlets who choose to play Canadian content on their networks. It is the mandate of Heritage Canada to promote Canadian content, not to enforce it.Turning to the latter portion of your post, where you posit that the negative of a potential cultural crisis is offset by the positive of Joost’s ability to turn more people into producers, there’s a flaw in your logic. Joost’s business model is to behave like any other TV broadcaster, purchasing television productions from studios using revenues generated from advertisers. That’s not really an “open” game, and Joost hasn’t made any significant moves towards enabling everyday content producers, or connecting them with potential viewers. The only product that I’ve seen do that is Miro (http://www.getmiro.com/), which is a video podcast viewer that also allows people to create channels as well as view them.

    Reply
  4. JimBobby

    Whooee! Good boogin’ DaveyBoy. I reckon yer on the money a hunnert percents worth ’bout CanCon dyin’ out. I ain’t sure it’s a good thing but I figger yer right an’ it’s on the way out or at least it’s becomin’ more’n’more meaningless.The whole big media broadcast monopoly ain’t about to die, though, just on accounta a few boogers an’ podcasters steppin’ on “their” territory. I ain’t so sure this here Joost deal ain’t gonna be another way fer the bigass MSM main street media to insinuate itself into the wide open spaces of the innernet an’ boogeysphere. People only got so much time they can spend in front o’ the monitor or infront o’ the TV. Bigass MSM is good at cross promotin’ and at havin’ fingers in all kindsa pies, like radio, TV, newspapers, magazines an’, most recently, the innernet. I feel a little queasy about a more professional YouTube. JimBobby

    Reply

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