Think tanks at odds on the Canadian TV content conundrum

05/30/2016

The Globe and Mail

Is the funny gang at This Hour Has 22 Minutes a good use of tax dollars? What benefits accrue to Canadians from Tatiana Maslany’s acclaimed performance in Orphan Black?

Artists are often inept at explaining the value of what they do – their art would seem to be its own explanation – and many tire of seeing culture judged for its social utility. Think tanks, on the other hand, are great at declaring what is useful and what is efficient. So no surprise that as Ottawa belatedly awakens to the reality that it needs to revise federal broadcast regulations, the policy wonks are all over the issue. This week, both the Fraser Institute and the C.D. Howe Institute released reports recommending that Canada dispense with Canadian-content rules forthwith.

Even the most ardent cultural nationalists know there’s a problem. On television, regulations requiring that about half the programming day be devoted to Canadian shows were created for linear schedules; they make little sense in an on-demand environment. Also, unregulated foreign services – that would be Netflix – face no such requirements. Nor does Netflix contribute to the Canadian programming funds underwritten by the cable and satellite companies. So you have an uneven playing field: The old television players face Canadian-content obligations that the new Internet players don’t.

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