Insights from #CanConDef

Initial findings from the audiovisual industry survey

Audiovisual industry stakeholders and Canadian audiences have now identified hurdles, opportunities, reflections and future visions via phase one of the #CanConDef initiative

Mandated by the Canada Media Fund, the foresight firm La Société des demains set out to spark a national conversation about the future of Canadian content (CanCon), consisting of an ethnographic in-depth interview process and online survey. 

Who answered #CanConDef surveys? 

-1,556 respondents from the audiovisual industry; 
-1,001 outside the industry from the general population;
-61% “linear” creators (defined as producer, director, writer or actor);
-23% are technicians or crewmembers;
-16% “digital-first” or interactive and digital media (IDM) creators; 
-15% work in supporting industry roles;
-70% were between 34 and 64 years old. 

Here are some of the preliminary findings from the #CanConDef surveys and interviews, ahead of a final report to be published this fall. 

Top industry challenges 

According to respondents working in the Canadian audiovisual sector, the three “most urgent challenges” in the industry are: 

  1. Gaining flexible and accessible support for Canadian productions;

In the in-depth interviews, most respondents demonstrated an ambivalent relationship with the scaling system. They largely considered it “simple” and “efficient” to use 10 points, and a vast majority were not willing to adopt a system with more points, like in the United Kingdom.

The concept of “flexibility” varies according to the groups interviewed. Some want to include foreign locations and talent, as long as a story remains within the perspective of Canadian creators. For the northern Indigenous communities, for instance, people from the same nation (e.g. Innu) should always be recognized, whether or not they live on different territories. 

  1. Foreign streaming services operating in Canada [and] calling for a broader definition of Canadian content;

A vast majority of those interviewed celebrated the passage of Bill C-11 The Online Streaming Act , and generally welcomed greater involvement of digital streaming platforms in the creation of Canadian content. 

Nonetheless, streaming services pose considerable challenges to the system, including the role these platforms will play in determining or eventually "broadening" the CanCon definition. 

Some fear that making the definition too “loose” will open the door to contributions that favour the service sector or big-budget, English-language projects, to the detriment of more diverse independent productions. 

  1. Changes in audience consumption habits

The online survey found that roughly two thirds of all respondents consume audiovisual content each week, but that American content dominates Canadian viewing habits (53%).  

The general population reported they were slightly more likely to consume Canadian content (28%) than industry workers (24%), due in part to Quebec audiences, who watch more Canadian content (35%) than the rest of Canada (26%). 

Audiovisual industry respondents said they discover new content through “human connections,” like word of mouth and recommendations from curators and influencers. 

General population respondents reported that their prime discovery methods are via “technological means,” such as search engines and “whatever is available on my feed.”

Is CanCon distinct? 

The forthcoming Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) policy review has the potential to modernize our broadcasting system, putting the very definition of “Canadian content” on the table. 

In the online survey, audiovisual industry workers responded that the redefinition of CanCon should prioritize where content is made and by whom. That is, 

  • Creators living and working in Canada;
  • Productions that employ Canadians; 
  • Canadian ownership of production material and IP. 

The general population, meanwhile, believed that the focus should be on what is represented via content as well as where it is filmed. They qualified CanCon as: 

  • Stories that showcase characters living in Canada; 
  • Content set in Canada; 
  • Content filmed in Canada. 

The preliminary data suggests there’s a distinction between content made in Canada and content made by Canadians. 

Half (47%) of the general population and a third (29%) of industry workers responded that they “don’t know” or “don’t believe” Canadian content itself is distinct. 

When asked what the objectives for redefining CanCon should be, among the top three answers from both groups were: 

  • To ensure online streaming services are investing in CanCon; 
  • To ensure economic stability and predictability for Canadian companies and workers. 

For the general population, the most common objective was to foster pride, a sense of national identity and social cohesion. For industry workers, the third most common objective was to encourage Canadian ownership of intellectual property (IP). 

More than half (57%) of respondents think mobilizing Canadian talent is the best way to increase competitiveness and create economic benefits for the industry. 

IP is key

Industry players especially see intellectual property retention and monetization as essential to the future, rating it highly for three different questions.

  • 60% said retaining IP is an important element to consider in the regulatory redefinition of Canadian content;
  • 45% identified IP as a key consideration to ensure competitiveness and economic benefits;
  • 38% viewed IP as an important element to ensure  Canadian diversity, culture and talent on screen.

In ethnographic interviews, questions were also repeatedly raised about the relationship between Canadian IP and creative control, suggesting that greater distinctions could broaden the scope of what qualifies as “Canadian content.”  

Diversity: a challenge and asset

In addition to concerns with intellectual property, simplifying funding models and retaining talent, the main conversation emerging from #CanConDef is that a majority of respondents don’t feel well represented by labels.  

The very definition of CanCon was perceived by many in-depth interviews  respondents as a protective mechanism and lever for the industry, as well as a barrier to entry. 

“Diversity,” according to respondents, is both difficult to accomplish and a distinctive feature of the industry. Some of the interviewees felt that seeking out diversity makes the broadcasting system complex and difficult to redefine, while others identified it as the main characteristic of what makes Canadian content unique.

Relatedly, interviewees from the industry showed a strong tendency to define themselves by their “professional mission,” divided into two main categories: 

  1. Those who never felt represented and want to create a different system and industry;
  2. Those who identify with and wish to protect the “screen culture” they grew up with. 

A tension appears to exist between making the industry more diverse and resisting change, while still seeing the value of Canadian content that’s distinct. 

Next step: “What You Said” report

Stay tuned for the #CanConDef “What you Said” final report, coming out in fall 2023. 

Shortly thereafter, the CRTC will begin to review the definitions of Canadian content and consider definitions of Indigenous content, look more deeply into policy, and take key decisions about a new regulatory framework. 

The Canada Media Fund (CMF) fosters, develops, finances and promotes the production of Canadian content and applications for all audiovisual media platforms. The CMF guides Canadian content towards a competitive global environment by fostering industry innovation, rewarding success, enabling a diversity of voice and promoting access to content through public and private sector partnerships. The CMF receives financial contributions from the Government of Canada and Canada’s cable, satellite and IPTV distributors.
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