How to turn a profit on Canadian programming

Run 40 repeats on another channel.

The Usual Suspects of the CanCon lobby paid Nordicity to research and write a study (PDF) on the economics of TV programming. The study gives the appearance of marshalling a huge range of plausible assumptions to arrive at the preordained conclusion that Canadian programming can be profitable for broadcasters.

The study considers one-hour dramas, including Da Vinci’s Inquest, and half-hour comedies, including Red Green. (Seemingly all other cited shows come from the Privates.)


By far the most interesting assumptions are:

  1. The Canadian Discount:

    Canadian television programming is subject to an implied discount. Canadian broadcasters typically sell television advertising in packages that include a combination of different types of American and Canadian television programs…. [I]t is understood throughout the Canadian advertising industry that Canadian programming is subject to an implied discount of 15% to 25%.

  2. The Schedule Adjustment Factor

    addresses the fact that Canadian broadcasters have historically – although to a lesser extent in recent years – typically aired most Canadian prime‐time television programming on Friday or Saturday evening, or during the peak‐fringe period [of 5:00 to 8:00]….

    On Saturday, audience levels were 60% to 73% lower than the Sunday‐to‐Thursday average. On an aggregate basis, therefore, we found that audience levels on Friday and Saturday were approximately 51% lower than the Sunday‐to‐Thursday average…. Friday or Saturday time slot reduced a program’s audience by 25%, on average.

40 airings for five grand (or 26 for one)

Our analysis shows that Canadian drama with an average audience of 700,000 between Sunday and Thursday is likely not profitable for a Canadian broadcasting group following the completion of the conventional broadcast window. After seven conventional airings, the Canadian drama generates a per‐episode deficit of $138,264 for the broadcasting group.

  • Assuming no dead-zone broadcast times, you need 16 specialty-channel airings to “generate a surplus of $5,416.” Include the dead zones and you need 40 airings on a specialty channel.If we assume an generous average ten-episode run for a season and a gap of 100% between airings, to hit 40 reruns of all ten episodes on Showcase or whatever you need 800 weeks’ elapsed time. Do you really want to be watching reruns of Blue Murder in 2021? Do you think Asper fils is still gonna want to run that show then?Is that too long a time? You could air reruns on more than one channel to cut down the timespan. I suppose it is possible to pull an April Fool’s Intelligence scenario and run a show on second through eighth windows. But anyway, today are we still watching episodes of Traders? Hot Shots? Straight Up? Urban Angel? Earth: Final Conflict?
  • You need 26 airings of a half-hour comedy to achieve a surplus of a measly $1,886. That’s five years of off-and-on repeats. Is Little Mosque gonna get any funnier in 2014?

The examples are kind of moot for the CBC anyway, as it lacks a harem of specialty channels onto which to dump reruns. (Does Bold really count?)

Canadian shows do not pay

That seems to be the honest conclusion. The only way to make them pay assumes an ecosystem of B-list rerun channels endlessly rehashing the same shows. Even then the return on investment barely pays for a single plane ticket in the business-class cabins that are the preferred domain of the broadcasting executive whose business was built on rebroadcasting American shows.

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