Canada’s Great Branded Content Battle

If the world has learned anything about advertising in the past year, it’s that content marketing is blurring all sorts of lines between marketing and journalism. Well, apparently not the entire world. In Canada, all of those lines remain clear, strictly guarded by regulators. And some Canucks are not happy about it.

It’s a veritable battle of Canadian acronyms. On one side is the CMPA (Canadian Media Production Association), which has partnered with the OMDC (Ontario Media Development Corporation) and the CMF (Canada Media Fund).

That trio is trying to shine a light on how regulations maintained by CAVCO (Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office) and CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) are holding back branded entertainment.

Got it?

“Canada can be the petri dish for creating and exporting content formats,” Tony Chapman, CEO of Toronto’s Capital C said in a CMPA study. “The market is as complex and competitive as any, yet the cost and risks to experiment are arguably less. All that is holding us back are our legacy beliefs.”

The CMPA recently outlined the potential perils of those legacy beliefs in the second part of the three-part study, Branded Entertainment: A New Production Financing Paradigm. In short, when it comes to broadcasting, Canadian regulators want content to be clearly marked as either advertising or entertainment-—no room for blur.

If, for example, a video includes “a call to action or solicitation to make a purchase,” it’s advertising. However, if the intent is “weighted towards information more broadly and where the viewer is enabled to make an informed choice,” that’s considered unbiased programming. What happens when The Lego Movie tries to fit those parameters? Or Chipotle’s new Hulu series, Farmed and Dangerous?

According to the study, the result of such ambiguities are onerous complications and delays. The numbers seem to support CMPA’s claim. While American marketers are dedicating an average of 40% of their budgets to content marketing, only a third of Canadian marketers are spending more than 20% on content marketing. But innovation is a robust force, and those numbers are on the rise.

To speed up that innovation, the CMPA suggests that the industry should defer to their experts, who can decide what qualifies as entertainment or advertising.

Despite the regulations, marketers are still finding ways to prove the demand for more Canadian content entertainment is alive. The Canada’s Best Beauty Talent web series, reality television show Recipe to Riches, and The Movie Out Here were hailed as success stories in Canadian branded entertainment. What the CMPA found, however, is that despite positive reception and even critical acclaim, these pieces of content were “rare and complicated to replicate.”

“Until such time as the regulator and CAVCO redefine or further refine eligibility rules,” said the study, “producers are advised to consult early and frequently with officials when developing and moving forward on branded entertainment properties.”

Who wants to hold hands with the government for the entirety of a project? Even though the CAVCO plans to update the guidelines differentiating ads and entertainment, there doesn’t seem to be any indication of what those updates may look like. The CMPA, which has a long history of intervening on behalf of Canadian producers, has certainly aimed their study at influencing the decision.

And perhaps the regulatory agencies are listening. In a recent CTRC survey of Canadian television viewers, the agency learned “the quality of programming is more important than its origin,” meaning a) they asked, and b) viewers responded exactly the way the CMPA hoped.

The third part of CMPA’s report is due in April and promises to outline the future of Canada’s push for content marketing. But whether or not the country’s broadcast industry keeps up with that vision ultimately depends on how their acronymed opponents choose to respond.

Let’s see who will GFTW.

What’s the deal with the Content Strategist? At Contently, storytelling is the only marketing we do, and it works wonders. It could for you, too. Learn more.

Image by Jamie in Bytown
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