My name is Yves Légaré, Director General of the Société des auteurs de radio, télévision et cinéma, SARTEC, which is a recognized union under both provincial and federal law on the status of the artist and which represents 1,250 members in the audio-visual sector.
SARTEC is a signatory to collective agreements with the Association des producteurs de films et de télévision du Québec, CBC/Radio-Canada, TVA, the National Film Board of Canada, TQS, Télé-Québec, TFO and TV5.
Our writers write feature films, fictional series, youth features, television dramas, variety programs and documentaries that are broadcast by general interest television networks and specialty channels. They are produced by both the broadcasters and independent producers.
My comments will of course focus solely on the francophone market; I'll leave it to my colleagues from the Writers Guild of Canada to comment on the anglophone market.
The current economic crisis will of course have a negative impact on broadcasters' advertising revenues, particularly since a number of major advertisers are among the hardest hit. The current problems of the television industry do not stem solely from the economic crisis—they have been perceptible for a long time—just as they are not limited to Quebec or local television alone.
With regard to local television in Quebec, in most markets, local programming consists almost solely of information, and has for a long time. Can it be said that local television adequately reflects the activities of a region and that the regions are represented on the network as a whole. Not really. Ideally, local television programming should not be limited to news bulletins or to specific events, but should highlight the region's talent and make it accessible to the francophone population as a whole. That is rarely the case, and that's not new. In the 1990s, we, like others, criticized the termination of certain types of production in the regions by both Radio-Canada and Télé-Québec. Apart from the production of certain French-language projects outside Quebec, such as Francoeur or Belle-Baie, and apart from the production of certain documentaries outside Quebec and occasional variety programs, local production is always limited to information.
While local programming is not as rich as it should be, generally programming on French-language television has also undergone significant changes in recent years.
In March 1995, at a public hearing before the CRTC, all the partners in the francophone broadcasting system, including Radio-Canada, TVA, TQS, the producers and the unions, proudly stated that the francophone system differed not only in the number of services provided, but by its ability to produce programs that more accurately reflected the reality of its audience.
At the time, 47 of the 50 most watched programs on the francophone networks had been produced in Quebec. Of those programs, the so-called priority programs, particularly the dramas, held enviable positions. Again at the turn of the century, nine of the top 10 programs in the ratings were Quebec dramatic series. In 2005, only three dramas ranked in the top 10, and only one in November 2008.
The supply of television programming has changed, reality TV is increasingly on offer, and American programs and formats, which previously had trouble ranking in the top 50, are increasingly featured on our television screens.
Despite its past successes, Quebec television is thus witnessing a rise in various disturbing trends since early in this decade, and local programming does not appear to be the only segment suffering.
Of course, the audiovisual landscape has vastly changed in recent years: there's been an increase in the number of specialty and pay television services, and francophone audiences have migrated to those new services. This has made for more diversified television offerings and resulted in increased production in certain niches such as documentary series, for example. The fact remains that fragmentation of the market and, subsequently, of advertising revenues, has harmed the performance of general interest broadcasters. However, these broadcasters have always been the cornerstone of our broadcasting system, being the main trigger of original national content.
Long before the economic crisis, funding issues were already pressing in the sector and influenced the supply of television programming. One need only think of what some called high-cost series, where the main broadcasters stopped programming big budget series, or of the problems at TQS. And scarcely four years ago, in 2005, SARTEC and the Union des artistes criticized the decline in youth and animation series in Quebec.
The decline of general interest broadcasters is not the only problem. The CRTC's 1999 television policy, by relaxing the rules for priority programs, definitely had a negative impact. Similarly, the development of new platforms created by new technologies favoured certain types of programming, such as reality TV, which could broadcast excerpts on a number of platforms, whether it be for pay use, CDs, magazines, variety programs that were available in both broadcasters' reviews and on other platforms.
The past successes of the francophone broadcasting system are not necessarily a guarantee of the future of our television industry. Those successes were supported by adequate funding and an adequate regulatory framework. Even before the economic crisis, intervention already seemed necessary to ensure the survival of national content. Thus, to restore a certain balance in the system, we have long supported the idea of allocating subscriber fees to general interest broadcasters to the extent that regulatory requirements regarding priority programs guaranteed high-quality national content.
Similarly, rather than a softening of the regulatory framework, we argued in favour of raising requirements regarding priority programs for specialty channels whose profit margins are particularly high. We also expressed the wish that the CRTC would gradually start regulating the new media with respect to their broadcasting operations because, to repeat on all platforms the successes we had in television, we must acquire the resources and use the tools that have served us so well to date.
Would granting subscriber fees to general interest broadcasters solve all the problems? Surely not, but the funding already in place can also be used to guarantee adequate national content. On the one hand, with regard to local programming, the establishment of the Local Programming Improvement Fund through the addition of 1% of revenues from cable and broadcasting undertakings, will no doubt help improve the situation, but, here again, we are waiting for the CRTC rules to see what impact that will have.
With regard to priority programs, if continued government investment in the New Media Fund has proven to be good news, the fact that the new governance rules are making so much room for the cable companies, and the terms and rules of the fund are not yet established, creates great concern and uncertainty.
Will public policy and cultural interests be properly considered by a fund governed mainly by private funding organizations? What will be the impact of the importance attached to the measures regarding hearings? On educational and public television networks such as Télé-Québec, TFO and Radio-Canada? What will be the combined effect on Radio-Canada's programming of the cancellation of its reserved budget for the New Media Fund and of the recently announced budget cuts?
In conclusion, for a number of years now, our anglophone colleagues have rightly been concerned about the future of their television. In the francophone market, we have always publicized our successes. However, we can now only observe that we have been declining for a few years. Current trends are troubling. The francophone market should be considered separately and the necessary measures should be adopted to continue its success.