Television in Canada

Television in Canada

Television in Canada began with the opening of the nation's first television stations in 1952. As with most media in Canada, the television industry, and the television programming available in that country, are strongly influenced by the American media, perhaps to an extent not seen in any other major industrialized nation outside the US itself. Customers have come to expect the wide variety of choices available in the US, but in the eyes of many this has come at the expense of the high-quality indigenous programming available elsewhere, even in comparable English-language markets such as the United Kingdom or Australia. This influence is less pronounced in the predominantly French-language province of Quebec.

History of television in Canada

While American television stations, including affiliates of ABC, NBC and CBS, near the Canadian border were available to view for several years prior, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was the first entity to broadcast television from Canada, in September 1952 in both Montreal and Toronto. Private CBC affiliates began operating late in 1953 to supplement the Corporation's own stations; the first private CBC affiliate in Canada was CKSO in Sudbury, Ontario in October of that year. At the time all stations were required to be CBC affiliates, as the CBC was the only television network operating in Canada.

In 1948, there were 325 television sets in Canada. When Canadian television began, the Radio-Television Manufacturers Association of Canada estimated that 85,000 sets were expected to be sold in 1952. 95% of these were concentrated in Ontario, with 57.4% in the Golden Horseshoe region (40.2% Toronto and Hamilton, 17.2% Niagara Peninsula) and 34.6% in the Windsor region near Detroit. Television watching outside Ontario was limited to British Columbia's Lower Mainland with access to American programming from Seattle and some sets in Montreal. Television sales were promoted not only by the arrival of CBC Television, but by revised credit practices at that time which allowed purchases without requiring an initial cash deposit. [cite news | title=Expect To Sell 85,000 TV Sets Before Year's End | publisher="The Globe and Mail" | date=19 August 1952 | page=13 ]

Following a review by the Diefenbaker government in the late 1950s, a number of new, "second" stations were licensed in many major markets, many of which began operating before the end of 1960. CTV, the first private network, which grew out of the inevitable association of these new stations, began operating in October 1961. About the same time, CHCH Hamilton disaffiliated from the CBC and became the first station not affiliated with either network, not counting the initial launch period of most of the to-be-CTV stations.

Over the next 25 years or so, many more new stations were launched, primarily CBC stations in major markets replacing private affiliates (which subsequently joined with CTV or became independent) and new independent stations in the largest centres, such as CITY Toronto, CITV Edmonton, and CKND Winnipeg. During this time cable television also began to take hold, securing the fortunes of individuals such as Ted Rogers, who secured the licences for much of Toronto.

The 1980s and 1990s saw exponential growth in the multichannel universe, beginning with pay-TV services and later continuing with various waves of specialty services, usually launched in one fell swoop. The launch of direct-to-home satellite television services in the mid-1990s accelerated this growth.

The early- to mid-1990s in particular also saw further growth and consolidation of broadcast TV. Baton Broadcasting, owner of the CTV affiliate in Toronto and already seen as the network's dominant player, bought or replaced most of the network's other affiliates and ultimately acquired the network itself. Izzy Asper slowly built up a string of stations across the country and created the CanWest Global System, later taking the brand name of its most significant asset, the heretofore Ontario-based Global Television Network.

Additional groups also sprouted up in the form of Western International Communications, CHUM Limited and Craig Media. In 2000, CanWest bought WIC, which had itself grown from the CTV affiliate-owner in British Columbia to include many of the stations of Allarcom and Maclean Hunter, in order to satisfy its long-held desire to enter Alberta, but also giving it a second network. CHUM secured two regional services in Ontario before expanding to British Columbia and merging with Craig, its equivalent in the Prairie provinces.

The early 2000s, aside from the completion of the consolidation described above, brought an apparent convergence craze among the major media conglomerates. CanWest bought the Southam newspaper chain, including the leading broadsheet papers in several major cities, raising new concerns on media concentration. Telecom giant BCE, believing it needed control over content to fuel its new media strategy, formed Bell Globemedia, essentially CTV and its specialty services put together with a single, if influential, newspaper, "The Globe and Mail". CanWest continues to pursue its strategy; in late 2005 BCE announced it would sell most of its interests in Globemedia to a consortium of investors including the Thomson family and Torstar.

In many respects, however, since the consolidation phase of the late 1990s and early 2000s it now more closely resembles the British or Australian models, in which the vast majority of stations are directly owned by their networks, and offer only slight variance in local scheduling apart from local or regional newscasts. In some cases, in fact, a single station serves an entire province (or even multiple provinces, in the case of the Maritimes) through a network of rebroadcasters rather than through multiple licensed stations. Some privately-owned network affiliates do still exist, although these are now relatively rare and exist only in smaller television markets.

Recent developments

:"The proposed acquisitions outlined in the following section are all pending Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approval. See also: 2007 Canada broadcast TV realignment."

In July 2006, Bell Globemedia (soon after renamed CTVglobemedia) announced plans to acquire CHUM, in a deal that would place Canada's four largest private English-language broadcast services under just two owners (in CTVgm's case, CTV and Citytv). The enlarged CTVgm would also own interests in nearly 40 specialty channels and pay services. As part of the proposal, CTVgm would sell several of CHUM's less valuable properties, such as the smaller A-Channel system, to Rogers Communications, Canada's largest cable provider and already a major media company in its own right. This sparked another round of media consolidation. In early 2007, CanWest, in partnership with Goldman Sachs, announced an agreement to buy Alliance Atlantis, another major specialty channel operator, and more deals are expected in the near future. Other major specialty operators include Corus Entertainment (owned by the Shaw family) and Astral Media.

On June 8, 2007, however, the CRTC approved the CHUM merger, conditional on CTV divesting itself of Citytv rather than A-Channel.

Consolidation has also continued between cable companies (see Multichannel television in Canada) and between specialty channel operators. There are now few of the small family-owned television groups that dominated the formative era of Canadian television, the most notable perhaps being the Stirling family, which owns CJON in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. The twinstick model of broadcasting, in which a single locally-owned company operated both CTV and CBC affiliates in a community, is also now rare — within English Canada, only the cities of Thunder Bay and Lloydminster still receive television service from a twinstick operation, and of those two, only Thunder Bay's Thunder Bay Television duopoly is still locally owned.

A Statistics Canada study, conducted in November 2004, found that only 37.2% of what Canadians watched was Canadian content. [ [ Statistics Canada] ]

Television programming

As outlined below, Canadian regulations ensure that the majority of programming aired by Canadian stations are of domestic origin. However, thanks to domestic newscasts and daytime programming, a very large percentage of the airtime in peak viewing hours (in most areas, 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.) can be devoted to programs of foreign origin, in large part due to the significant amount of programming available from the U.S., not to mention the availability of the major U.S. broadcast networks themselves via cable or satellite, or even as terrestrial signals in border markets.

A Canadian network is allowed to override, or "simulcast", the cable/satellite feed of an American broadcast signal when they air the same program simultaneously, ensuring that the Canadian broadcaster, not the American broadcaster, is able to benefit from the advertising revenue associated with broadcasting to the Canadian audience (see also simultaneous substitution). Arguably this simulcast right has led to an even greater glut of American programming on Canadian stations, including programs of little relevance to Canadian audiences, or poorly-received series that may never be seen outside North America.


The broadcast schedule of the generalized Canadian television station essentially mirrors that of its U.S. counterpart. Programming begins at about 6:00 a.m., usually with a local or national morning show. Daytime programming, including talk shows and soap operas, follows, although some Canadian stations may air "brokered-time" religious or charitable programming as well, which unlike traditional infomercials can count towards Canadian content requirements.

As opposed to the U.S. model, most stations, even in major markets like Toronto, carry a single newscast during the late-afternoon/early-evening period, specifically from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. However, as in the U.S., "strip" programming fills the following hour, at least in the Eastern and Pacific time zones, and is followed by prime time programming. One or more newscasts follow, usually beginning at 11:00 p.m.; the main exception is "The National", which airs at 10:00 on CBC.

To maximize simultaneous substitution opportunities, in the Eastern and Pacific time zones, prime time programming airs from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m., while in the Central zone it generally airs from 7:00 to 10:00, in both cases mirroring the U.S. networks. However, viewers in the Mountain time zone — i.e. Alberta — have historically received U.S. network feeds from the Pacific zone, not from the Mountain zone. Similarly, those in Atlantic Canada receive U.S. feeds from the Eastern time zone. Local stations in those regions also use 8:00 to 11:00 (8:00 or 8:30 to 11:30 in Newfoundland) as prime time, but with most programming advanced by an hour, and 10:00 p.m. programming either aired earlier in the evening or on another day.

CBC Television airs programming at consistent times in all time zones, the Newfoundland time zone excluded, meaning that if a program airs in Toronto on Thursday at 9:00 against, for instance, "", the same program will air at 9:00 in Winnipeg against "ER" and in Halifax at 9:00 (and St. John's at 9:30) against "Survivor".

Canadian content

While, under Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission regulations, the majority of programming broadcast by most channels is Canadian-produced, English-language private broadcasters have always had difficulty airing more than a bare minimum of indigenous programming in primetime. Among the most successful recent series are the comedies "Corner Gas" and "Little Mosque on the Prairie", the drama "Da Vinci's Inquest", and reality series "Canadian Idol".

Scripted television programming in Canada tends toward the shorter runs more typical of British television rather than the longer seasons that predominate in the United States. A typical Canadian drama or comedy series will produce between six and thirteen episodes in its first season, although an exceptionally popular series such as "Corner Gas" may produce up to 20 episodes in later seasons. Less expensive forms of programming, such as news and sketch comedy programs, will usually produce many more episodes each year, coming closer to the American model.

The French commercial networks air significantly more Canadian content than their English counterparts. They do air small amounts of American programming dubbed into French, most commonly popular Hollywood movies, afternoon soap operas and exceptionally popular series such as "The Simpsons".


While the majority of services operate in English, there are a growing number of similar services in the French language, serving primarily Quebec. Télévision de Radio-Canada, the French-language equivalent of CBC Television, broadcasts terrestrially across Canada, while TVA, one of Quebec's two commercial French language networks, is available across Canada on cable.

RDI, the French equivalent of CBC Newsworld, also has cross-Canada cable carriage rights, as does TV5 Canada. Most other French language networks are available only in Quebec, although some have "optional" cable carriage status in the rest of Canada. (TQS, for instance, is carried on cable in New Brunswick and parts of Ontario.)

The Ontario government's French public television network TFO is the only French language broadcaster in Canada whose operations are located "entirely" outside of Quebec.

Other ethnic and multicultural services, serving one or more cultural groups outside of these two official languages, are also growing in strength. Four terrestrial TV stations, CFMT and CJMT in Toronto, CJNT in Montreal and CHNM in Vancouver, air multicultural programming in a variety of languages, while Telelatino airs programming in Italian and Spanish on basic cable. Numerous third-language channels have been licensed as Category 2 services on digital cable.

The business and regulation of television

The Canadian broadcasting industry, including all programming services (over-the-air or otherwise) and all distributors, is regulated in regards to ownership and content by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which in most cases issues licences for each such operation. The CRTC issues licences pursuant to Canadian laws and the Commission's own regulations and conditions of licence, which regulate such matters as Canadian content, Canadian ownership, and accessibility issues such as closed captioning.

Among other regulations, all Canadian broadcasters and distributors must be at least two-thirds owned and controlled by Canadian citizens; also, all conventional stations, and most established specialty services, are required to air a majority of Canadian content, both throughout its schedule and in its primetime schedule.

Industry Canada regulates the technical aspects of broadcast stations and certain aspects of other licensed undertakings.

Broadcast television

Unlike specialty services, conventional, or over-the-air, broadcast stations are permitted to air a wide variety of news, information, entertainment, sports and other programming without any restriction as to theme or content, and none restrict themselves in that regard. Religious television stations are an exception to the previous statement but must provide a variety of programs reflecting different points of view. CRTC regulations have so far prevented a large number of the infomercial- or religious-based stations now frequently found in major centres in the U.S. from operating in Canada; infomercials, even those made in Canada, are not considered Canadian content.

Nearly all broadcast stations have now been aligned, in one form or another, into national groups based on ownership and/or content. Many of these groups are designated as "networks", in the colloquial sense, below, although in the regulatory sense they may or may not be licensed networks. However, they are often treated very differently from U.S. networks. For instance, most networks provide a full slate of programming, often, but not always, buying the national rights to "syndicated" programs that air across affiliates of multiple American networks. Hence "Dr. Phil" only airs on CTV stations and "Entertainment Tonight" only on Global stations. However, for historical reasons, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" airs on a mixture of stations, albeit one dominated by CTV.

Also, it is not uncommon to find multiple affiliates of one network, and no affiliates of another network, available in the same market on basic cable, particularly in smaller markets. For instance, in Kingston, Ontario, two CBC affiliates are available, a local privately owned station and a CBC-owned station from Ottawa, while E! and A are not available. In many markets, including some major cities, there is only a handful of local stations, with other network services provided by an affiliate based hundreds of kilometres away. For instance, in Ottawa, only three English networks/systems – CBC, CTV and A – have stations based in the market; the "local" Global, Citytv and E! stations are in fact rebroadcasters of Toronto-area stations. Such a scenario would be virtually unheard of in a major American market.

Despite a general CRTC policy that limits station ownership to one station per market per language per company, several exceptions have led to "twinstick" (or duopoly) operations in several markets. In some cases this allows multiple stations to serve a small market that could otherwise support only one station.

In larger markets, however, CanWest and CHUM have justified several instances of twinsticks, generally two stations based in separate but neighbouring regions. This was allowed on the basis that, in another owner's hands, stations like CHCH in Hamilton, Ontario and CHEK in Victoria, British Columbia (both CanWest stations) would inevitably turn their focus to the larger Toronto and Vancouver markets respectively, leaving their cities of licence with little or no local news coverage. This has led to the development of the E! and A systems, respectively. Nonetheless, the local news coverage these stations provide do not prevent them from airing programs with mass appeal during the rest of their schedules, frequently promoted on their sister stations.

All stations have call signs beginning in "CB", "CF", "CH", "CI", "CJ" or "CK", but few now use them. While Industry Canada nominally maintains a requirement for stations to identify themselves every hour on the hour, [" [ Broadcasting Procedures and Rules - Part 1] ", Industry Canada, September 2006, section 7.3] in practice this is rarely enforced. Meanwhile the major networks have strived to minimize the costs associated with multiple brand names. Some newer call signs are rarely known outside the industry (i.e. CKXT for "Sun TV"), while the major networks have largely removed all traces of formerly well-known call signs on local stations or their websites. A notable if partial exception is CITY-TV Toronto, which, along with several sister stations, use the "Citytv" brand name.

Networks, systems and groups

The publicly-funded CBC operates two broadcast networks, CBC Television and "la Télévision de Radio-Canada", operating in English and French respectively. Both are devoted primarily to domestic content, albeit with different results: The French-language service, which does not have significant foreign competition, has been considered a major success in recent years, while many have found much to be desired in its English counterpart over the same time. The English network in particular has suffered immensely due to various cuts to, and restructurings of, the CBC's budget, beginning in the late 1980s, as well as greater competition with private broadcasters, both domestic and foreign, in English Canada. Both networks are available over-the-air in most of the country.

The first tier of national private networks include CTV, Global, and TVA. CTV, presently the country's most-watched network, and Global are English networks which generally split the most popular foreign programs between them, with significant local news programming in most areas but limited amounts of domestic content in primetime. Both are available over-the-air in most regions. TVA, a French-language network available throughout Quebec over-the-air and elsewhere via cable and satellite, airs mostly programming made in Quebec, to great success in that province; see also Quebec television.

CTV, Global and TVA are owned by CTVglobemedia, CanWest Global and Quebecor Media respectively.

The remaining networks or systems have a more limited reach or audience appeal. As the CRTC is much more conservative in licensing individual stations than the FCC, they do not reach all markets; in fact both E! and A consist almost entirely of former CBC affiliates that disaffiliated and quickly turned their focus towards larger nearby markets. They are:
* Citytv - a system of local stations which focus on movies and niche-appeal programs in primetime, although gradually adding more broad-appeal series; owned by Rogers Communications
* E! - a secondary service owned by CanWest, airing Global's "leftovers" and a lot of programming from the U.S. channel of the same name. Includes one multicultural station in Montreal.
* A - a secondary service owned by CTV
* TQS - a French-language network owned by Remstar; availability in Quebec is roughly equal to that of TVA but availability outside of Quebec is limited
* APTN - a non-profit Aboriginal service carried primarily via cable
* Omni Television - a system of five multicultural stations owned by Rogers.

Many smaller markets have stations that receive programming from more than one network. Most notably, NTV in Newfoundland and Labrador airs CTV's newscasts but relies mainly on Global for entertainment programs.

Some markets have at least one provincial educational service available, namely TVOntario and TFO (Ontario), Télé-Québec and Canal SAVOIR (Quebec), the Saskatchewan Communications Network, Knowledge (British Columbia), and Access (Alberta). Of these, all but Access are owned by governmental or non-profit agencies.

Other major stations include NTV, a independent station in St. John's airing Global and E! programming; religious stations CTS (southern Ontario) and The Miracle Channel (southern Alberta); and TVA-owned independent station Sun TV in Toronto.

A number of American stations, such as the Newport Television-owned independent station KVOS-TV in Bellingham, Washington (near Vancouver), and the Fox affiliates in Buffalo, New York (WUTV) and Burlington, Vermont (WFFF), have also aggressively courted Canadian advertisers and are perceived by many viewers and advertisers as effectively Canadian stations.

Multichannel television

Cable and satellite television services are available throughout Canada, delivering local and often regional stations, the major U.S. networks, and additional programming via specialty and other non-broadcast channels. The largest and best-known cable providers are Rogers Cable and Shaw Communications, while the two licensed satellite providers are Bell TV and Shaw-owned Star Choice.

Specialty channels, unlike cable networks in the U.S., must be licensed by the CRTC. They must be focused on a specific genre and cannot include general-interest services of the TNT or USA variety; as a result programs from these U.S. channels often end up on conventional stations, not cable. Specialty channels include such categories as sports (TSN), news (CBC Newsworld and CTV Newsnet), music (MuchMusic), arts (Bravo!) and drama (Showcase). Anglophone premium television services include The Movie Network east of the Ontario-Manitoba border, Movie Central west of that border, Super Channel nationally, and Super Écran in French-speaking Canada.

Some U.S. channels are also available, although these are also subject to CRTC approval. Aside from the four main broadcast networks, they are generally prohibited if a similar Canadian channel has already launched at the time of the request for Canadian carriage. American cable networks have occasionally been removed outright if an equivalent Canadian channel is licensed, as in the case of CMT.


In Canada, as in the United States, television uses primarily the NTSC and ATSC formats.

Many networks, including CBC, Radio-Canada, CTV, Global, and Citytv, have begun distributing digital television signals, although many are presently only available through cable and satellite providers, and in some cases over the air in selected markets such as Toronto.The CRTC has set August 31, 2011 as the deadline for over-the-air television broadcasting in Canada to move entirely to digital transmission. This is approximately two and a half years later than the switchover date in the United States.

ee also

*List of television stations in Canada by call sign
*List of Canadian specialty services
*Canadian science fiction television
*List of Canadian television series


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