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Cancon falls to 20-year low on CBC prime time

VANCOUVER - Foreign programming now makes up 25 per cent of prime-time viewing hours on CBC English TV, according to new research by Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

“What you’re seeing is a behaviour that is mimicking the private Canadian broadcasters,” said Ian Morrison, who speaks on behalf of the Canadian programming watchdog.

The findings show the lowest amount of Canadian content in 20 years -- with the exception of the 2004/05 NHL lockout -- during the coveted hours of 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The research was based on AC Nielsen audience rankings from the spring sweep period during mid-February to mid-March, using Canada’s largest 10 viewing markets.

A large portion of CBC TV’s foreign programming includes American game-shows and Hollywood movies. CBC announced last year its controversial plan to begin airing Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, which continues to receive criticism from Cancon advocates.

“Nothing in the Broadcasting Act says anything about the CBC helping us to enjoy more American contest shows,” said Morrison.

The research also concluded that foreign films made up 24 of the 54 films aired on CBC between September 2008 and mid-June 2009 -- another discouraging find, said Morrison.

“You don’t need a television station subsidized to bring you Hollywood,” he said.

In 2000, almost the entire prime-time line-up for CBC-TV was Canadian programming. A high level was maintained until 2004, but then dropped off significantly.

This recent shift may be attributed to several factors, said Morrison, including the ideals of current upper CBC brass.

“It’s probably...that the values of the senior management of the CBC are out of sync with the Broadcasting Act values,” he said.

Another reason may be a belief that foreign programming is more profitable because it is cheaper to acquire and provides increased advertising revenue.

But this could be a false assumption, Morrison said, because the audience demographics of programming such as game-shows are not highly attractive for advertisers.

And even if foreign programming is more profitable, the public broadcaster's mandate means it should receive increased federal funding to ensure Canadian content is aired, he said.

“In our view the CBC has a moral requirement to be Canadian because that’s why taxpayers are funding it.”

Garrett Zehr reports for The Tyee.

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