Beyond Barney: Ebb in Canadian kids’ productions, says ACT

About a quarter of Canadians are not being served by conventionals, while the number of domestic productions has decreased by about 15% in the last decade, says the Alliance for Children's Television.

A strong decline in the quantity of Canadian children’s programming productions means the industry is not doing enough to serve almost a quarter of Canada’s population, says Caroline Fortier, executive director for Montreal-based children’s TV advocacy group Alliance for Children and Television (ACT).

Last week ACT released the results of a national study that analyzed more than 1,000 hours of kids and youth programs broadcast over the first week of April. The study went beyond gender issues and assessed things like ‘emotional well-being’ for the first time. The results? Canadian productions score highest when it comes to ‘stimulating reflection, creativity and interactivity with the viewer.’ And the mental state of Canadian kids shows’ main characters was strongly positive (5.71 on a seven-point scale).

But according to ACT, now just 36% of all kids programs broadcast here are Canadian, compared to 50% about a decade ago. Fortier blames this in part on a 1999 CRTC regulatory change wherein children’s programming ceased to be in the priority category.

Educational and specialty broadcasters carry more than 90% of all children’s programming (41% and 49%, respectively), followed by public (9%) and private conventional broadcasters (1%). At 24% of the population, the 18-and-under crowd is a big chunk of the TV audience that’s not being served by the conventional stations, according to ACT data.

‘The general message is that we’re not doing enough. We believe that we are not serving [this audience] in terms of quantity and diversity,’ Fortier told MiC. ‘We don’t think that generalists who don’t have any kids programming on their schedule should be called generalists at all,’ Fortier said.

The study’s findings come at a crucial time, with support of local programming at the centre of intense lobbying efforts in the fee-for-carriage battle.

Breaking up this monopoly of kids broadcast outlets would also present an advantage to children’s brands, both from an increased supply and cost perspective, Alexandra Panousis, SVP, group media, Starcom Worldwide, told MiC. Starcom this year partnered with YTV to develop a unique ‘Show your Stripes‘ program. While Starcom has not seen a lack of good quality television programming for kids, Panousis adds that working with Canadian productions has added benefits.

‘Working with a Canadian broadcaster allows us to develop comprehensive programs based on relevant consumer insights and uniquely tailor them to the needs of our clients,’ said Panousis.

‘The volume of Canadian production this year has likely been affected by the recession – we think that may be true of all Canadian production,’ said Panousis. ‘Where we see an opportunity is in the area of interactive content and digital platforms.’

Canadian productions are also more likely than US productions to feature characters who recycle and conserve (11%), who use new technologies (17%), who more often engage in cultural activities (30%) and, naturally, score the highest percentage of understanding Canada (14%).

The study was conducted by Dr. André Caron and his team of researchers at the Université de Montréal’s Centre for Youth and Media Studies. The detailed content analysis was based on a nationally representative sample of 196 hours of programming – 563 programs were coded and 1,613 characters were analyzed. The shows were broadcast on ACCESS, APTN, BBC Kids, CBC, CFTO/CTV, Discovery Kids, Family Channel, Knowledge, SRC, SCN, Teletoon English, Télétoon French, Treehouse, TQS, TVO, TFO, Télé-Québec, VRAK.TV and YTV.