Nobody needs this many reruns of Decks, Docks & Gazebos.
That is part of the argument Blue Ant Media Inc. has put forward in asking the federal broadcast regulator to ease the Canadian-content burden on its television network Cottage Life so it can boost profits by importing more of its daytime lineup.
The private Toronto-based company, which also owns networks such as Smithsonian Channel Canada and Aux TV, claims it is pushed to "employ an inordinately high repeat factor" on Cottage Life because of a rule that compels it to run Canadian shows for 80 per cent of the day.
The company says it cannot afford to produce or commission any more "high-quality" shows than it already does.
Specialty TV networks have begun jostling for position after the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) opened the door to looser Canadian-content rules in a decision stemming from a major hearing called Let's Talk TV. The regulator promised to scrap daytime quotas for specialty networks, which vary by channel but average about 60 per cent, while setting an across-the-board 35-per-cent quota for the evening prime-time hours.
But those new rules will not go into effect until channels renew their licences, which in many cases will not be for years. Cottage Life's licence runs until Aug. 31, 2018. Some channel owners have begun making moves to shake up their schedules sooner.
"It just makes economic sense for them to try and get ahead of it," said Gregory Taylor, an assistant professor of communication and culture at the University of Calgary.
In July, Bell Media, which is owned by BCE Inc., applied to have several of its popular channels – including Bravo!, The Comedy Network, Discovery Channel and Space – converted to a different category of licence, in which case it would forfeit some of the special benefits the channels enjoy but substantially reduce their Canadian-content obligations.
And while Canadian producers are bracing for the impact of the CRTC's looser rules, predicting jobs will be lost and fewer Canadian shows made, Blue Ant says the current system is fuelling a "vicious cycle": High quotas encourage more reruns, which draw fewer viewers and less revenue, in turn sapping budgets to make Canadian shows.
"The overall result is that Cottage Life's marquee series are being overextended" and the focus on quantity "is crushing quality," Blue Ant argues in its submission, filed on Aug. 31.
The company declined to comment on an active application. The CRTC said in its March decision that, on average, more than half of Canadian programming hours are filled with repeats or shows "recycled" from other networks.
Cottage Life launched in 2013 and has about 2.5 million subscribers. It was converted from Bold, a channel Blue Ant bought from the CBC. Canadian shows created by Blue Ant for Cottage Life include Brojects, Cabin Truckers and Colin & Justin's Cabin Pressure, which are in heavy rotation. Much of the rest of the schedule is made up of U.S. reality shows such as BBQ Pitmasters and Hotel Secrets.
Blue Ant's request is not only about buying more U.S. content – it is about boosting the quality of Canadian shows to sell outside Canada through its distribution arm, according to Prof. Taylor.
"This is what the CRTC called for, which is higher quality, as opposed to quantity," he said. "But their focus is Blue Ant International sells globally."
Cottage Life's licence requires it to air 80 per cent Canadian content during the day and 50 per cent during prime time, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Blue Ant wants a 50-per-cent quota throughout the day, noting in its application that the average daytime threshold for 39 other specialty networks in the same category is 59 per cent.
If the CRTC grants its request, Blue Ant predicts it could boost Cottage Life's profits by $1.2-million over the next three years – although more U.S. hotels and fewer Canadian cottages could be on air.