The history of Canadian media performers goes back to the first days of radio. In the 1940s an association was formed called the Radio Artists of Toronto Society - RATS. Radio performers in Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver also organized to fight for artists' rights, working conditions and better fees. In 1943, the Association of Canadian Radio Artists (ACRA) was formed as a loose national coalition of actors' groups. Over the years, ACRA evolved to become the Association of Canadian Radio and Television Artists, the Canadian Council of Authors and Artists, the Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists and, in 1984, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists.
The Canadian Broadcasting Act, historically and in its modern conception, is based on the fact that since the start of the 20th century, it was important for broadcasters to ensure that information flowed freely and reflected the diversity of Canadian points of view, as opposed to the classic approach, which gives media owners more freedom to express their views. "The Canadian broadcasting system as we know it today would probably not exist if we had allowed the marketplace to regulate ownership rights."
The Canadian government regulates media ownership and the state of media through the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission. In section 3 of the Canadian Broadcasting Act, it states media organizations should reflect "equal rights, the linguistic duality and multicultural and multiracial nature society and the special place of aboriginal peoples within that society".
The Canadian television broadcasting industry is split between public and private ownership. Canada currently has 130 originating television stations, which broadcast on 1,456 transmitters across the country, on both the VHF and UHF bands.
In addition to the public Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Société Radio-Canada, which operates both English (CBC Television) and French (Ici Radio-Canada Télé) television networks, there are five major private TV networks. CTV, Global, and City broadcast in English, and are available throughout the country. TVA and V broadcast in French and operate over-the-air in French-language markets (including Quebec and parts of Ontario and New Brunswick), although are also available across Canada via pay television. Ici Radio-Canada Télé, TVA and V function in the particular cultural context of Quebec television. Most network stations are owned and operated by the networks themselves, although all networks have some affiliates with different ownership.
In addition, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, a service devoted mainly to programming of interest to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, is considered a network by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, although the network airs terrestrially only in the three Canadian territories, and must be carried by all television providers in the rest of Canada. There are, as well, a number of smaller television systems, such as CTV Two (a compliment to the main CTV network in smaller and secondary markets), and Omni Television—a group of Rogers-owned ethnic broadcasters.
Several provinces maintain provincial public broadcasting networks in addition to the CBC, including Télé-Québec, TVOntario, TFO, and Knowledge (British Columbia). City Saskatchewan and CTV Two Alberta were formerly provincial public broadcasters (SCN and Access), but both have since been privatized and amalgamated into commercial networks operated by their current owners (Rogers and Bell). While both outlets devote a portion of their schedules to their networks' respective, advertising-supported entertainment programming, both networks are still required to adhere to an educational remit in the majority of their programming. Unlike in the United States, where a statewide public network is usually the state's primary PBS member station, the provincially owned public systems in Canada are independent of each other and have their own programming..
Only CBC/Radio-Canada, TVA and APTN are officially considered national networks by the CRTC, while V is a provincial network in Quebec. City, CTV and Global are legally considered "television services" even though they operate as networks for all practical purposes. As well, there are a few independent stations, including CFTU in Montreal, CJON in St. John's and CJIL in Lethbridge. However, most of these are not general entertainment stations like independent stations in the United States, but are instead specialty community channels or educational services. CJON is the only independent commercial station currently operating in Canada, although CJON sublicenses a mix of programming from Global, CTV and other sources rather than purchasing program rights independently.
TV station callsigns in Canada are usually made up of four letters, although two stations have three call letters (CKX in Brandon and CKY in Winnipeg) and some (primarily CBC-owned Radio-Canada stations) have five. The first call letter is always C, and callsigns of privately owned television stations start with the two-letter combinations of CF, CH, CI, CJ, or CK. The combinations CG, CY, CZ and several combinations beginning with V and X are also assigned to Canada, but to date no Canadian television station has ever been licensed to take a call sign within those ranges. There is no clear rule for the call letters of rebroadcasters—some are labelled by the call-letters of the originating station, followed by a number, while others have their own distinct call letters. Low-power repeater transmitters (LPRTs) have their own unique callsign format, which consists of the letters CH followed by four numbers. Some rebroadcast transmitters are licensed as semi-satellites, which are licensed to air separate commercials (and, on rarer occasions, a limited amount of distinct programming) targeted to their community of license.
CBC-owned stations use call letters beginning with the combination CB (through a special agreement with the government of Chile); private affiliates of the CBC use the same combinations as other private stations. The CBC has also sometimes directly acquired former private affiliate stations; these usually (although not always) retain their historic call sign rather than changing to a CB call. While Canadian TV stations are technically required to identify themselves over the air by their call letters, the rule is rarely enforced by the CRTC. As a result, most TV stations never use their call letters for any purpose other than official CRTC business, and instead brand under regional names such as CTV Northern Ontario or Global Regina. Even then, most network-owned stations may only use these brands for station identification and newscasts, and promote the majority of their programming under the network brand without any disambiguation.
Due to their proximity to American media markets, a number of Canadian cities and regions receive US broadcasters as part of their local media. This has required special dispensation for Canadian content for broadcasters in the Windsor, Ontario region (due to it falling within the Detroit media footprint), and there has also been a case of a US-based broadcaster (KCND-TV of Pembina, North Dakota, now CKND-DT of Winnipeg) targeting its programming and advertising at Canadian viewers.
Although all broadcast networks in Canada are required to produce and air some Canadian content, only the English and French networks of the CBC run predominantly Canadian-produced schedules. (The English network does run some imported programming, such as Coronation Street and Grand Designs) Both CTV and Global have at times faced criticism over their level of commitment to producing and airing Canadian programming. Both networks often find it easier to purchase rights to hit American series than to invest in Canadian productions, which are often prohibitively costly for the comparatively small size of the Canadian market. The French-language networks traditionally have had less difficulty meeting their Canadian content obligations, as the language difference makes Francophone audiences much more readily receptive to home-grown programming than to dubbed American imports.
Digital television is an emerging technology in Canada. Although some TV stations have begun broadcasting digital signals in addition to their regular VHF or UHF broadcasts, this is not yet as widespread as in the United States. Although most markets have digital channel assignments already in place, to date digital broadcasts have only launched in the largest metropolitan areas. Digital television sets are available in Canadian stores, but are not widely owned by consumers at this time.
Several broadcasters, including the CBC, have argued that there is no viable business case for a comprehensive digital conversion strategy in Canada. At CRTC hearings in 2007 on the future direction of regulatory policy for television, broadcasters proposed a number of strategies, including funding digital conversion by eliminating restrictions on the amount of advertising that television broadcasters are permitted to air, allowing terrestrial broadcasters to charge cable viewers a subscription fee similar to that already charged by cable specialty channels, permitting license fees similar to those which fund the BBC in the United Kingdom, or eliminating terrestrial television broadcasting entirely and moving to an exclusively cable-based distribution model.
In May 2007, the CRTC set August 31, 2011 as the deadline for digital conversion in Canada. This is approximately two years later than the cutoff date in the United States. The CRTC ultimately decided to relax restrictions on advertising as the funding mechanism. However, a CRTC statement issued in June 2008 indicated that as of that date, only 22 digital transmitters had been fully installed across the entire country, and expressed the regulator's concern that Canada's television broadcasters were not adequately preparing for the shift to digital broadcasting.
Cable television is a very common method of television programming delivery in Canada. Many Canadian cities have cable penetration rates of 90 per cent or more of television households.
There are currently 739 licensed cable distributors in Canada. This significant decline from over 2000 just a few years ago is attributable both to major cable companies acquiring smaller distributors and to a recent change in CRTC rules by which independent cable operators with fewer than 2,000 subscribers are no longer required to operate under full CRTC licences. (However, the CRTC does retain some regulatory authority over these operators. This is an exemption granted by the CRTC to previously licensed companies that continue to meet certain conditions, and does not mean that anybody can simply set up their own small cable company without CRTC approval.)
Major Canadian cable companies include Rogers, Shaw, Cogeco, Vidéotron and EastLink/Persona. Most Canadian cities are served by only one cable company per market; in the few cities that are served by more than one cable company, each company is restricted to a specific geographical division within the market. For instance, in Hamilton, Cogeco Cable, Mountain Cablevision and Source Cable are all licensed operators, but each has a monopoly in a specific area of the city.
However, two major companies offer direct broadcast satellite delivery as an alternative to cable: Bell TV, which is a division of BCE Inc., and Shaw Direct, which is a division of Shaw. Grey market DBS dishes can also be obtained from American services such as DirecTV and Dish Network, but as these are not licensed Canadian providers, stores that sell those packages—and users who buy them—are at risk of criminal charges.
In some remote communities in the Territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut), cable delivery is prohibitively costly, so similar services are offered through MMDS technology.
A basic cable package in English Canada traditionally includes:the major English-language Canadian commercial networks (CTV, CTV Two, Global, City),
CBC Television and Ici Radio-Canada Télé, the English- and French-language CBC networks
a provincial educational broadcast undertaking (e.g. TVO in Ontario) (if one is available, as not all provinces have one),
a community channel produced by the cable company which usually includes public affairs and information programming and community events listings),
APTN, a network devoted to Aboriginal programming,
TVA, one of the two private French-language broadcasters in Quebec1,
nearby independent channels or channels from smaller television systems such as Omni Television or Yes TV
CPAC, which broadcasts parliamentary sessions and committee meetings, along with some political public affairs programming,
a similar channel broadcasting the proceedings of the provincial legislature,
network affiliates, typically from the nearest major American city, of ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and PBS2,
a mixture of Canadian and American special interest channels such as TSN, MuchMusic, CNN, CTV News Channel and Showcase3.
A further set of Canadian and American special interest channels are offered as extended cable packages, which are available for additional fees. In the past, cable companies have engaged in the controversial practice of negative option billing, in which a subscriber is automatically given and billed for the new services unless he or she specifically declines them, but this is now illegal.
As well, a package of pay TV channels is also available for further fees, including movie networks such as The Movie Network, Movie Central, Super Channel and Super Écran, and American superstations such as WSBK, WPIX, WGN and KTLA (which are often affiliated with The CW and MyNetworkTV.) These services, however, require a descrambler box.
A study in 2006 said the CRTC had licensed five ethnic specialty and pay-television services, and 44 digital specialty services across the country.
Cable companies now offer digital cable packages in most Canadian cities, including a number of channels which have been licensed exclusively for digital package distribution. Digital cable also typically includes a range of audio broadcast services such as Galaxie and Max Trax. In some markets, digital cable service may also include local radio stations; where this is offered, it has largely replaced the availability of cable FM service. Digital cable, however, is provided only if a customer chooses to subscribe to that package. As of 2016, cable companies are also now required to offer a "skinny basic" option, whereby a small selection of channels — typically the main over-the-air networks, along with "public service" channels such as The Weather Network and CPAC — are packaged for a maximum fee of $25 with additional channels available on a pick and pay basis at the subcriber's discretion. Although this package has had some popularity, the traditional larger and more expensive cable packages remain the dominant subscription mode.
Although this is sometimes controversial, Canadian cable companies are required by the CRTC to practise simultaneous substitution when a Canadian channel and a non-Canadian channel (which is usually American) are airing the same program at the same time. Programming on an American service may also be blocked if it has significant bearing on a Canadian legal matter (one episode of Law & Order, inspired by the trials of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, was blocked in Canada) or if it interferes with a Canadian channel's broadcast rights (such as James Bond movies airing on Spike TV; the Canadian broadcast rights are held by Bell Media.)
Many cable companies also offer high speed cable Internet service.
- The other French-language broadcaster in Quebec, V, does not have mandatory national carriage rights, although some cable companies in Ontario and New Brunswick offer the network on a discretionary basis, and the network does have mandatory carriage in Quebec.
- Under CRTC rules, American networks are offered on a "4 + 1" basis, meaning that a cable company may offer any four American commercial networks and PBS on basic cable; other American networks can only be offered on a pay tier. In most cities, this means that The CW and MyNetwork TV are not available on basic cable because of lower demand for those networks. However, cable providers in border cities have been allowed to offer all American networks on basic cable that are available over the air in that market, even if that means more than four commercial networks are provided. American network affiliates are usually provided from the nearest available American market. However, signals distributed by Shaw Broadcast Services (particularly affiliates from Detroit and Rochester) are frequently substituted where cost or technical limitations prevent use of a closer signal.
- Under CRTC rules, cable companies cannot offer a new American service if a comparable Canadian service already exists. However, if a Canadian equivalent begins operations after an American service has already been added to cable packages, the cable company is not required to discontinue the American service. (For example, Canadian cable companies cannot offer MTV, as the station was not yet available in Canada when MuchMusic began broadcasting in 1984. However, cable companies can offer CNN, as they were already offering that service when CBC Newsworld first aired in 1989.) The rules formerly required that the American service be removed if a Canadian equivalent is launched; this caused controversy when the US version of CMT was removed from the lineup when a new Canadian country music channel called the New Country Network launched. CMT had contested that this was a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Ultimately, Viacom purchased a minority share in the network, and rebranded it under the CMT name.
Canada is served by approximately 2,000 radio stations, on both the AM and FM bands.
As with television stations, radio callsigns in Canada are made up of four letters beginning with the two-letter combinations of CF, CH, CI, CJ, or CK, although a few stations use three-letter callsigns. In addition to private stations CKX and CKY, some CBC stations have three-letter callsigns, generally in major cities where the stations first aired in the 1930s. Newer CBC stations have normal four-letter callsigns, however. As with CBC television, CBC radio uses callsigns beginning with CB, through a special arrangement with the government of Chile. A few exceptions, such as CKSB in Winnipeg and CJBC in Toronto, exist where the CBC acquired an existing station with a historically significant callsign.
The combinations CG, CY, CZ and several combinations beginning with V and X are also assigned to Canada. Only four Canadian radio stations, all in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, have taken call signs in those ranges. Three of these stations, VOAR, VOWR and VOCM, began broadcasting before Newfoundland was a Canadian province, and retained their VO call letters when Newfoundland joined Canadian Confederation in 1949. The other station, VOCM-FM, adopted the callsign in 1981 because of its ownership association with VOCM. With the exception of VOCM-FM, radio stations licensed in Newfoundland after 1949 use the same CF-CK range as other Canadian stations.
The future of VO callsigns in Canada is unknown. It would not be at all unusual for Industry Canada to simplify all callsigns used in Canada as part of the ongoing modernization and simplification of domestic telecom regulations.
There is no clear rule for the call letters of repeater stations—some repeaters are labelled by the call-letters of the originating station, followed by a number, while others have their own distinct call letters. Low-power repeater transmitters (LPRTs) have their own unique callsign format, which consists of the letters VE or VF followed by four numbers.
As of 2014, the four largest major commercial radio broadcast groups in Canada are Newcap Broadcasting, Rogers Communications, Corus Entertainment, and Bell Media. However, many smaller broadcasters operate radio stations as well. Most genres of music are represented on the Canadian commercial radio spectrum, including pop, rock, hip hop, country, jazz and classical. News, sports, talk radio and religious stations are also available in many cities. In addition, many Canadian universities and colleges have licensed campus radio stations, and some communities also have community radio stations or Christian radio stations licensed to non-profit groups or co-operatives. Canada has approximately 14 full-time ethnic radio stations.
As well, the publicly owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation operates four national radio networks, two each in English and French. The English Radio One and the French Première Chaîne provide news and information programming to most communities in Canada, regardless of size, on either the AM or FM band. The English Radio 2 and French Espace musique provide arts and culture programming, including classical music and opera, and are always on FM, generally serving larger communities only.
Music-based commercial radio stations in Canada are mandated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to reserve at least 35 per cent of their playlists for Canadian content, although exemptions are granted in some border cities (e.g. Windsor, Ontario) where the competition from American stations threatens the survival of Canadian broadcasters, and for stations whose formats may not have enough Canadian recordings available to meet the 35 per cent target (e.g. classical, jazz or pop standards).
In recent years, a notable trend in Canadian radio has been the gradual abandonment of the AM band, with many AM stations applying for and receiving authorization from the CRTC to convert to the FM band. In some Canadian cities, in fact, the AM band is now either nearly or entirely vacant. Because Canada is more sparsely populated than the United States, the limitations of AM broadcasting (particularly at night, when the AM dial is often overwhelmed by distant signals) have a much more pronounced effect on Canadian broadcasters. AM radio stations have the additional protection that cable companies which offer cable FM services are required by the CRTC to distribute all locally available AM stations through conversion to a cable FM signal, but cable FM only accounts for a small percentage of radio listeners in Canada.
Digital audio broadcasting, or DAB, is an emerging technology in Canada. Although there are currently 73 licensed digital audio broadcasters in Canada, not many consumers yet own digital radios, and the existing digital audio broadcast signals duplicate AM or FM broadcasts. No Canadian radio broadcaster currently offers an exclusively DAB signal.
On November 1, 2004, the CRTC began hearing applications for satellite radio services. Three applications were filed: one by XM Radio Canada, one by Sirius Canada, and one by the partnership of CHUM Limited and Astral Media. These services, which were approved by the CRTC on June 16, 2005, were Canada's first official satellite radio services, although a small grey market already existed for American satellite radio receivers. Sirius and XM both launched in December 2005. The CHUM-Astral service, however, was never launched, and its license expired on June 16, 2007; CHUM stated that its business plan was based in part on the expectation that in the interests of Canadian content, the CRTC would have rejected the Sirius and XM applications, approving only the CHUM-Astral service. The two active services, XM and Sirius, merged into Sirius XM Canada in 2011, several months after a similar merger between their American counterparts.
Almost all Canadian cities are served by at least one daily newspaper, along with community and neighbourhood weeklies. In large cities which have more than one daily newspaper, usually at least one daily is a tabloid format. Bilingual cities like Montreal and Ottawa have important papers in both French and English.
Canada currently has two major "national" newspapers, The Globe and Mail and the National Post. Le Devoir, though not widely read outside Quebec, is the French-language counterpart to the national newspapers.
The newspaper with the highest circulation overall is the Toronto Star, while the newspaper with the highest readership per capita is the Windsor Star (with the Calgary Herald running a very close second).
Canadian newspapers are mostly owned by large chains. The largest of these is the CanWest News Service chain, owned by CanWest. Quebecor owns many tabloid newspapers through its Sun Media subsidiary, including Le Journal de Montréal and the Toronto Sun.
At various times there have been concerns about concentration of newspaper ownership, notably in 1970 and 1980 with two commissions, the Davey Committee on combines and the Kent Royal Commission on Newspapers respectively, and most recently when Conrad Black's Hollinger acquired the Southam newspapers in the late 1990s. When Hollinger sold its Canadian properties, however, many of their smaller-market newspapers were in fact purchased by a variety of new ownership groups such as Osprey Media, increasing the diversity of newspaper ownership for the first time in many years.
The 1980s and 1990s have seen the emergence of city-based alternative weekly newspapers, geared toward a younger audience with coverage of the arts and alternative news. In recent years, many of these weeklies have also been acquired or driven out of business by conglomerates like Canwest, Quebecor and Brunswick News. Smaller newspapers like The Dominion, publishing primarily online but in a newspaper format, have attempted to fill gaps in Canada's journalistic coverage while avoiding the vulnerabilities of the previous generation of alternative media. Canada has over 250 ethnic newspapers.
In the 2000s, a number of online news and culture magazines have launched to provide alternative sources of journalism. Some important online publications include rabble.ca, The Tyee, The Vancouver Observer, CBC Radio 3/Bande à part and SooToday.com.
Most of Canada's film (and television) industry produces output geared towards mainstream North American audiences, with Alliance Atlantis and Lions Gate Entertainment in particular enjoying significant successes in recent years. Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are major production centres, with Vancouver being the second largest film and television production centre in North America (after Los Angeles). The Toronto International Film Festival is considered one of the most important events in North American film, showcasing both Canadian talent and Hollywood films.
Alliance Atlantis has become by far the largest and most successful Canadian film studio, both as a film and television production house (the company's television properties include Due South, This Hour Has 22 Minutes and C.S.I.), and as the major Canadian distributor of independent American and international films. Lions Gate Entertainment has also become a major player in recent years.
Canada also produces films of a characteristically "Canadian" nature, and of all Canadian cultural industries, this segment of the film industry has the hardest time escaping the shadow of its (North) American counterpart. Between the marketing budgets of mainstream films, and the largely American-controlled film distribution networks, it has been nearly impossible for most distinctively Canadian films to break through to a wide audience. In many Canadian cities, in fact, moviegoers don't even have the option of seeing such films, as there aren't any theatres showing them. As a result, a Canadian film is usually considered a runaway hit if it makes as little as $1 million at the box office.
French Canadian films, on the other hand, are often more successful—as with French-language television, the language difference makes Quebec audiences much more receptive to Canadian-produced film. In many years, the top-grossing Canadian film is a French-language film from Quebec.
As a result of the economic challenges involved in Canadian film production, film funding is often provided by government bodies such as Telefilm Canada, and CBC television is often a Canadian film's most lucrative potential market. However, there is an established network of film festivals which also provide important marketing and audience opportunities for Canadian films. In addition to Toronto's film festival, the smaller Vancouver International Film Festival features films from around the world, and festivals in Montreal, Quebec and Greater Sudbury, Ontario—among other cities—are also important opportunities for Canadian filmmakers to gain exposure among more populist film audiences.
One particular film production house, the National Film Board of Canada, has become internationally famous for its animation and documentary production.
Canada's most famous book publisher is McClelland and Stewart, which made its name in the 1970s as the leading publisher of English language Canadian literature. English Canada also has many smaller publishing houses, including Coach House Press, the Porcupine's Quill, House of Anansi, Key Porter Books, Hidden Brook Press, and Douglas & McIntyre. Numerous American and British publishers, including Random House, HarperCollins, Alfred A. Knopf and Penguin Books, also have Canadian divisions.
Major francophone publishers in Quebec include Bibliothèque québécoise, Alire, Québec-Amérique, Éditions Guérin and Groupe Beauchemin. Several small francophone publishers also operate outside of Quebec, including Éditions Le Nordir and Prise de parole.
Canada's largest English science fiction genre publisher is EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, which now also owns the Tesseract Books imprint, well known for producing excellent Canadian speculative fiction.
Magazines published in Canada include:L'Actualité
Auto Atlantic - East Coast Auto magazine
Chatelaine - Women's magazine
Dress To Kill - Fashion
DTK Men Magazine- Lifestyle
Flare - Fashion
Frank - Satirical
Literary Review of Canada
A notable controversy in Canadian magazine publishing in recent years has been the existence of split run magazines, where a title published in another country, such as TIME or Sports Illustrated, is republished in Canada with a few pages of special Canadian content, in order to take advantage of Canadian advertising sales revenues. The government of Canada imposed a special excise tax on split run publications in 1995 to discourage the practice, although this continues to be controversial.