Image: Murdoch Mysteries (Shaftesbury Films)
The ongoing trend in the TV industry is the globalization of content. Thanks to the Internet and the rise of both local and global streaming platforms, it is easier than ever for viewers to consume content from all over the world. For local content producers in a particular market, this is both a threat and an opportunity.
While it is difficult for local TV to compete directly with the huge budgets and internationally recognized stars of the giant American media corporations, a Canadian production that is tailored to the local audience can resonate in ways that TV made elsewhere never can.
Additionally, there have been an increasing number of examples where a title that was made specifically to appeal in just one market nonetheless goes on to become a success in others.
In this study, Parrot Analytics has commissioned a survey to uncover just what it is that Canadians really value about their local content (in additional to the regional preferences of Spain and Australia surveys can also be found here). In doing so, we have identified many of the success factors that contribute to content emerging as a local hit. The survey involved the participation of 500 Canadians, the following question was asked:
What qualities of Canadian-made TV shows can’t be found in shows produced elsewhere (e.g. in the USA)?
As this was an open-ended question with no fixed answers to choose from, survey participants could list as many qualities as they wanted. Some responses went into considerable detail about multiple aspects of Canadian content, while others preferred to focus on the quality they considered most important.
In analyzing the responses, a set of overarching categories were identified and the content of each individual answer was then assigned to the category or categories on the basis of “best fit”.
What Canadians like best about Canadian TV is that they can relate to it
The results of the survey showed that the biggest proportion of answers included the concept of “relatability”. That is, seeing locations that are familiar to Canadians, storylines that reflect current Canadian social issues, and characters that share the culture and social mores of Canada rather than elsewhere. 49% of these answers were, generally speaking, about relatability.
“Recognizability” is the idea that Canadian content is more relatable and authentic than international content. 21% of survey participants said this, which took the form of concepts like “authenticity”, “the Canadian perspective” and “regional feel” – being able to not only recognize Canadian culture in Canadian content but also being able to see the cultures of different regions represented. That last aspect can often be overlooked but Canada is a huge country; a show about downtown Vancouverites will not reflect the everyday realities of, say, potato truckers on Prince Edward Island.
The Canadian sense of humor was a differentiating quality of Canadian content in 13% of answers, with answers listing “quirkiness” the largest single humor segment.
13% of answers listed Canadian talent as the best quality of Canadian content, with answers praising Canadian actors and comedians as well as behind-camera talent.
As a country that is sometimes overshadowed by its southern neighbor, Canadians can be quick to separate themselves from the USA. As such, it is not too surprising 8% of responses chose to specifically highlight differences between Canadian and American content. Answers ranged from simple differences like the use of metric units through to more cultural issues like “less guns”, to more philosophical contrasts like Canadian content having “a world view that extends past the United States”.
Wildlife and landscapes were mentioned in 7% of responses. Some respondents talked about specific landmarks like the Rocky Mountains, while others said that accurate portrayals of the weather and snow of Canadian winters was something only Canadian content could provide: As one respondent phrased it, “our common battle against the elements”.
The language and accents heard in Canadian content is better than those of other countries according to 4% of respondents. While part of this is the relatability of hearing characters and actors with the same accents, the major part (57%) of responses in this category praised French-Canadian content, with several of these responses written entirely in French. French-Canadian representation is clearly a very important part of Canadian content for some.
The smallest of the major categories with 4% of respondents is answers that included food in some way, typically as an example of a relatable item. Canadians are mostly proud of their maple syrup, but other favorites were mentioned like poutine, cheese, and of course, beer.
The Canadian values that matter most
The second largest proportion of the detailed response categories was “Canadian Values”. 17% of answers included a specific value of Canadian culture as the quality that separates Canadian content from the TV of other countries. We can break this category down into even more detail, as per the following chart.
The largest of these subcategories were the 38% of responses that said that “Gentleness” was one of these qualities. The responses tended to define this as a certain laid-back humility – “sort of a certain hominess” – to Canadian content, often mentioning concepts such as “wholesome”, “down to earth”, “kind” or “nice”. It seems the Canadian reputation for politeness is something that Canadians themselves enjoy about their content.
20% also thought that Canadian content has more “honesty” or “integrity” than content from elsewhere; it has a morality that is easier to trust.
“Community” like “helping out our neighbors and caring for those in need” was included in 16% of these responses, encompassing depictions of friendliness, compassion and inclusivity being featured by Canadian content.
As in humor, 9% of Cultural Values respondents thought that the best value portrayed in Canadian content is Quirkiness. For some respondents, this was specific mannerisms such as the Canadian propensity for apologizing. Other answers pointed to a certain “campness” and “cheesiness” of Canadian content and the charm of shows clearly working with a tiny budget that is completely absent from slick imported titles.
Other interesting responses
There were also a handful of responses that did not fit into any of the major categories but were nevertheless of interest on their own.
One response took a very holistic view of the question and opined that the greatest thing that Canadian content does is to “support the economy”. This is a verifiable quality as it is estimated that the Canadian TV and Film industry generated $20.4 billion of GDP in 2011.
It is unusual for government policies to show up in these sorts of surveys, but three people answered that CanCon was the reason Canadian content is better than international content (referring to the requirement that a certain percentage of primetime broadcast must be of Canadian origin).
Finally, this wouldn’t be a proper Canadian article if hockey wasn’t mentioned, but luckily two responses talked about Canadian TV having a broader range of live sports and said “hockey” was the most important one.