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Where are all the Canadian reality TV shows going?

Bit by bit, reality and factual TV shows are disappearing for the upcoming season.  It appears to be happening quietly – even by stealth.   At least seven reality/unscripted TV shows have been either cancelled or put on ‘indefinite hiatus’ in the past two months.  More announcements are expected.

The cancelled or ‘suspended’ shows include Big Brother Canada, Chopped Canada, You Gotta Eat Here, Timber Kings, Leave It to Bryan, and Income Property.   They are created by a variety of independent production companies and they all have one thing in common:  the shows were aired on channels owned by Corus.

Corus defends its scheduling changes and cancellations, saying in a written response that shows “have reached their natural end after several seasons”.  Lisa Godfrey, the VP of original content at Corus writes that “in the case of Big Brother Canada and Real Housewives of Toronto, these series have not been cancelled, they are simply not on the schedule this coming broadcast year”.

Godfrey notes a number of new series in production including The Baker Sisters, Bud Dynasty, Hunting Nazi Treasures (a co-pro with Britain’s channel 4), and Worst to First, a renovation show based in Vancouver.

But on set, and among workers, there is a strong perception that there’s an overall decline in production.  According to a June survey of supporters of CMG’s Fairness in Factual TV campaign, two-thirds of workers made the same or less money in 2016 than the year before.   And more than half say it’s now harder to find work than it was a year ago.

When the CRTC renewed the licences for all broadcasters in May, it actually gave them more ‘flexibility’ in programming which should, in theory, have led to more production of certain types, including reality.  Broadcasters now have to spend only 5% of their revenues on ‘programs of national interest’ (PNI) — that’s scripted dramas and comedies, feature documentaries and scripted children’s shows.   Broadcasters still have to spend 30% on Canadian content.   So there’s 25% of the money available for reality and other production.

It doesn’t appear that much money is being spent on new production and a quick look at schedules suggests that broadcasters are relying on repeats more than ever.

Observers were concerned about the effect of the Shaw-Corus merger on the production marketplace when the deal was announced 18 months ago.  Now it appears that those worries have turned into reality.  Independent producers report that Corus, in particular, is playing unprecedented hardball with them, exerting unusual interference and control and that it’s increasingly not worth it to pitch or produce new shows. I asked Corus’s MP Lisa Godfrey about these claims, and she has not responded to those questions.

The CMG’s Fairness in Factual TV campaign will investigate whether a complaint with Industry Canada or the Heritage Ministry is in order.   It is concerned that broadcasters appear to be exploiting the consolidated ownership structure in Canada and not taking full advantage of the publicly funded supports that are in place.

CMG plans to publish the full results from its 2017 survey of factual TV workers later this summer.

Lise Lareau
CMG Fairness in Factual TV Campaign

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