THE CASE FOR GLOBALITY
“Our whole approach has been myopic and protectionist. Suddenly we’re not prepared. We’re not prepared philosophically, with the government policies, or the economics. You now have a hick-town mindset in a big, big metropolis called the world cultural industry.”1
Everyone knows: how we watch TV has changed. Yet, what we watch has not: good stories, well told. And we are watching more TV than ever. While the TV distribution market has become borderless, global and online, we (the audience) have benefited from content abundance. There’s more great TV, at less cost, to watch anytime, anywhere, on any screen.
Per the classic real estate joke, the three factors that matter most in TV are these: Audience, audience, audience.2 In a way, this sums up this book’s approach. However, the approach is no joke; this book is a serious business analysis of Canadian TV that follows the money to the core of the policy problem. There it finds a structural fault embedded in the original design of the TV value chain that impacts the popularity of Canadian TV. Flouting the audience rule, a Canadian mediaucracy was built to meet the goal of the industry to supply jobs, together with the goal of the government to meet a legal stipulation to supply TV content to the domestic audience. Canadian TV was never designed to meet the needs of Canadian TV audiences and certainly not to respond to the demands of global audiences.
Amidst today’s transformational backdrop, the purpose of this book is to definitively solve the problem that has plagued Canadian TV since it began: lack of audience and therefore, lack of money. After more than five decades of a Canadian TV policy framework, the Canadian TV industry has not become financially self-sustaining. Canadian TV remains dependent on public funds. At the same time, domestic and global demand for TV is at historic levels. This book demonstrates that this is a policy problem, not a creative one. And it is fixable. The problem to be explored is not rooted in a resistance to digital shift. It stems from resistance to mind shift. The necessary mind shift is to a new goal of globality, which means global reach plus content popularity. The formula is straightforward: global + popularity = globality.
This book’s subject is the high-budget, scripted, commercial TV entertainment that was formerly broadcast 8-11 pm and was known as prime time, long-form, or premium TV. This genre has been the financial engine of TV since the platform’s invention in the early 1950’s. Now, well into the streaming era, it’s often known simply as TV, so for the sake of simplicity, that’s what it will be called in this book. A further qualification is that the term Canadian TV, in this book, refers to English-language prime time TV because it accounts for about two-thirds of official Canadian content. French-language TV has never been subject to the popularity challenges of English-language Canadian TV. French-language TV, at least partly because it is in French, is often decisively popular with Canada’s French-speaking audiences. French-language TV policy deserves its own book in entirety.
Canada has lost time adapting to the global, online era. Canadian TV policy remains guided by protecting its domestic Canadian audience of 37M from foreign programs and digital companies that the industry calls global giants. Many nations are producing TV hits that aim to entertain a potential audience of the planet’s 5 billion Internet-enabled consumers. It’s been new rules for a while, but Canada is still playing by old policies. A once brilliant industry remains fractured and facing backwards, failing to see the single, unsolved policy problem relevant to the global, online era: a need for globality.
Commitment to globality
I argue that next level success is close. Today, any nation can reach large audiences anywhere in the world, and many do. A compelling example of what globality could mean for the Canadian TV sector was recently delivered by the Emmy Awards sweep by the Canadian series Schitt’s Creek. Don’t be fooled — the show’s success doesn’t prove the policy framework is working fine. As the joke goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. The “schweep”3 is important because it shows what can happen when strong creative connects with a global market. Rather than a win for Canada’s mediaucracy, the show is a demonstration of the power of market demand, the potential of meritocracy, and a global ethos that breathes audience, audience, audience.
Others besides myself see what’s at stake. Some of their voices, Canadian A-list producers, showrunners, production executives and policymakers, some working in Hollywood, in interviews never before published, are loud and clear throughout the book. They argue passionately for Canada to get in to win it — the global audience.
A Canadian CEO frames the problem: “When you over-subsidize and over-regulate an industry, you suck out all the competitive will and create a lazy culture. If the numbers don’t matter, why do you need to compete?”
A Canadian creative in Hollywood calls Canadian TV development “warped, broken, and a bridge to nowhere.”
A Canadian executive worries that the framework rewards mediocrity: “If you can do an OK show and get renewed, why would you do a great one?”
My sources assert that “the DNA of the Canadian system needs to change,” and that “the rules don’t make any sense anymore.” They suggest “the whole thing should be blown open” and Canada must “figure this out, stop complaining and just get on with it.”
The story of Canada TV policy’s collision with the online era is told in three parts:
(I) THE PRESENT: Why Canada hasn’t made global hits
(II) THE PAST: A 100 year paradox
(III) THE FUTURE: How Canada can make global hits
PART I/THE PRESENT:
WHY CANADA HASN’T MADE GLOBAL HITS
CHAPTER 1: TV POLICY UP IN FLAMES answers “why is this happening?” with an overview anchored by a metaphor for Canada’s collision with the online era. The reason why change is needed is that a three-alarm fire threatens the three financial pillars of Canada’s 20th century TV policy framework: (1) linear broadcasting profits; (2) cable technology profits; and (3) territorial monetization of premium TV. While these consequences are unintended, a new approach has not yet been envisioned, one that serves producers’ 21st century needs. More simply, Canada hasn’t made global TV hits because that wasn’t the goal. Make it the goal, and it will happen.
CHAPTER 2: INDUSTRY WEIGHS IN listens to top-tier Canadian showrunners, producers, development executives, and policymakers, many of them early responders who sound the alarm on the policy framework.
CHAPTER 3: FOLLOW THE MONEY follows the money, demonstrating that the root cause of unpopularity is not the creative. Canada is teeming with very talented producers, creators, development executives, and policymakers. The problem is the underlying value chain structure of the policy framework — how money flows through it.
CHAPTER 4: OTHER COUNTRIES DO GLOBALITY explores TV from four of many countries making global TV hits. Each is salient to Canada’s situation: Denmark, Israel, South Korea and the UK.
PART II/THE PAST: A 100 YEAR PARADOX
CHAPTER 5: 20TH CENTURY/BRILLIANT INNOVATION illuminates how 20th century goals were achieved with a chronology from 1929-1999 that includes original research on two game-changing policies. Simultaneous substitution (a.k.a. AmCon for CanCon) financed broadcasting and production, while the 10-point system built a world-class media workforce. The chapter concludes with CRTC’s May 1999 decision promising an open Internet.
CHAPTER 6: 21ST CENTURY/FACING BACKWARDS documents recent TV policy history. Four federal inquiries since 2014 have explored the same issue: The impact of digital disruption. A few weeks after the final report, in January 2020, the global pandemic shuttered TV production the world over, including in Canada.
PART III/THE FUTURE:
HOW CANADA CAN MAKE GLOBAL TV HITS
CHAPTER 7: FIVE STEPS TO GLOBALITY is a singular chapter that shows how to get globality done. Five steps deliver a critical path to purpose-driven, evidence-based TV policy for the global, online era:
1: New goal: TV hits that maximize popularity around the world
2: New policy purpose: Incentivize globality (global reach and must-see content)
3: New policy strategy: POM (Production Optimization Model) to COM (Content Optimization Model)
4: New instrument: G-Score, a sliding scale matrix that is producer accessed, platform agnostic, pivots on market performance, and will not harm production strength
5: New measurement focus: PM (Production metrics) to AM (Audience Metrics)
Digital shift to mind shift
As a policy historian, I know digital shift to online TV access is not the problem. Canada’s telecommunications companies invest billions to stay technologically current and financially robust. Being technologically current is even mandated by Canada’s Broadcasting Act. The hurdle is a mind shift from domestic supply to global demand. Global audiences for Canadian TV will bring revenue and soft power.
As a policy theorist, I admire iconic thinkers such as Harvard’s Clayton Christensen and Michael E. Porter, who observed that passionate defense of a status quo — by legacy stakeholders in any industry — is the rule, not the exception.
As a teacher of MBA and MA students, I know that Generations Y and Z are exuberant global citizens. When we discuss Canadian media, my students cannot comprehend either the protectionist instinct or the anger at global media companies.
Following the money empowered me to solve the puzzle of how to future-proof Canada’s policy framework without inflicting harm on hard-won strengths. Yet, if we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten. As I’ve been quoted, the new goal must be to “make popular content and exploit it globally.”4 Globality will mean shifting from making shows to making hits, from mediaucracy towards meritocracy, and shifting the money “from national profits on global hits to global profits on national hits.”5 This perspective is transferable to any country and/or any industry entrenched in old ways that resist the global dynamics of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, transformations that have accelerated in the pandemic era.
Before beginning, I will table two caveats that are related to the acceleration of entertainment distribution disruption. Both deserve attention.
First, following the money in entertainment TV did not resolve — and was not intended to — the crisis caused by the digital distribution of information via the Internet, i.e. the infocalypse. Unlike in entertainment, digital distribution has disrupted, not just how, but what information is consumed. While undoubtedly unintended by the inventors of the tech, the consequences of digitally delivered dis- and mis-information have been global, political, and tragic. There is much to be figured out. This includes acknowledging that every single technology, since fire and the wheel, has been deployed for human evil. The Internet, similar to the printing press, is a messenger. For Canada, a bright spot was illuminated during the 2021 CRTC hearing on the CBC, which suggested that the universality and popularity of CBC radio may have helped provide our diverse country with a level of social cohesiveness not found in the U.S. Also, the designation, in January 2021, by the Canadian government, of the Proud Boys as an extremist organization helps delineate illegal content from the vaste cache of borderline content in a democracy that treasures free speech.
Second, following the money in entertainment TV also did not resolve the heart wrenching reveal, accelerated by the pandemic, of so many raw discrepancies and long-tolerated inequities along parameters of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, ability, age, work, wealth, and more. Moreover, these crises are connected to the infocalypse because disinformation caused many to distrust and disobey public health measures, actions that strengthened the impact of the virus, which in turn further weakened the economy — for example anti-mask demonstrations across Canada. Many sectors, including the TV industry, must address and repair long-standing injustices. In these few months, Canada’s TV industry and policymakers have begun this critical work.
Much has been written on these challenges. Much more will and should be. While neither of these two journeys is this book’s story, an outcome of the policy solutions set forth in this book could be the freeing up of public funds so they can be directed towards solving these other issues.
In proposing the analyses herein, I stand on the shoulders of amazing policy thinkers and innovators who preceded me and set a very high bar for Canadian policymaking. Thus said, I want to be clear that the views herein are my own and in no way represent those of Ryerson University. I realize readers may not agree with the ideas. Where the arguments are critical, they are critiques of policy — not people. Discussion is truly welcome. A message that guided me through the writing was Einstein’s: You can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that caused it.
I hope you will be as galvanized as I am by these words with which I end the book, spoken by a Canadian TV executive: “Aren’t we masters of our own destiny? If we made the rules, we can change them.”
Irene S. Berkowitz, PhD