The Audience for Canadian Shows is Tiny

It doesn't take many viewers to make a show #1 on the CBC in Canada. The series THE BORDER was the highest rated "off-ice" Canadian series last week with 765,000 viewers. The guest appearance of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA's Grace Park is credited with the spike in viewership. According to the TV Feeds My Family blog, there are YouTube videos that are getting bigger audiences than most Canadian series.

The rest of CBC's week went like this: Air Farce Final Flight: 710,000, Dr. Who: 701,000, Rick Mercer Report (repeat): 637,000, Heartland: 625,000, The Tudors: 567,000, Fifth Estate: 526,000, Nature of Things 486,000, Little Mosque on the Prairie: 464,000, This Hour Has 22 Minutes (repeat): 428,000 and, dwindling well below sustainability, Sophie: 280,000.

Among the other Canadian-produced fare last week, CTV's So You Think You Can Dance Canada waltzed off with 1,160,000 viewers (another 888,000 watched the results show Thursday night). Next was ol' reliable Corner Gas at 1,066,000. Global's The Guard was down to 385,000. Well back, making Sophie look like CSI, was Degrassi: The Lost Generation at 222,000 viewers–across Canada. There are more people in Saskatoon!

UPDATE: The previous headline on this post ("The TV Audience in Canada is Tiny") was miss-leading so I have changed it to more accurately reflect what I was trying to say. American shows draw the lion's share of episodic TV viewers in Canada as they do in many European countries.

7 thoughts on “The Audience for Canadian Shows is Tiny”

  1. Lee, you leave out one small bit o’verra important context in your post.
    CANADA itself is tiny.
    In fact, the best rule of thumb is a rule of 10. The USA has roughly 330 million people. Canada has about 32, 33 million people.
    So, an absolute smash hit in Canada like HOUSE (which does better here than in the USA) draws about 2 million viewers. Which would be about 20 million in the states.
    That BORDER number would be 7 600 000. Not a great number by any means, but the CBC has had a huge problem building audiences in the last while. And most of the numbers for U.S. programs in Canada are inflated because they add together the people watching it on the Canadian channel with the people watching it on the U.S. channel. (U.S. nets are available in Canada on cable.)

  2. “The TV Audience in Canada is Tiny”
    The TV audience in Canada isn’t tiny. There are 33+million people in Canada, and the vast majority of homes have TVs and TV watchers. The TV Audience in Canada is primarily watching American shows.
    The issue for Canadian shows is similar to what Canadian publishers face: insufficient financing to do a lot of promotion to build the viewing (or in the publisher’s case, reading) audience. Everyone and their Uncle Bob and all six dogs on their dogsled team have heard of CSI and 24 and highly successful shows. Canadian TV suffers from the fact that it’s often out of touch with the interests of viewers (and one needs only to look at pressure in the movie industry to pull funding from “certain types” of films because snooty government official types didn’t like the subject matter to understand that there’s a reason the most commercially viable projects don’t always get the green light) and Canada is dwarfed by an enormous neighbour that exports its culture via the airwaves. That contributes to the dilemma – should the government invest in TV production, in book publishing? If it didn’t, Canada would probably have no domestic product at all, and shows like Cold Case (which featured guest stars such as Clark Johnson in year one, near the end of his run on Homicide) came well ahead of Cold Case.
    Canadian shows reached new heights in popularity during the writers’ strike months back.

  3. You’re right — my headline is miss-leading. What I should have said is that the audience for CANADIAN shows is tiny, much like the audience for German series in Germany.

  4. The numbers are true: Canadians don’t watch dramas produced by Canadians although they read books written by Canadians (some of which are world class).
    But DRAMA is a funny kind of animal. The best drama in any age, I would argue, always comes from the LEADING COUNTRY. For instance, when the Greeks were the most advanced they produced great drama, but once the power shifted to Rome, it was Roman voices that gave the age its expression. Similarly, in the 19th century, the best novels were written by the English writers (except for a notable foreign few) and this is because Great Britain was the leading power. Drama is ACTION, and the action of any age occurs within the country that is leading the world at the time.
    Clearly, the U.S. is the leading country of our era. The people of the U.S. are the ones who are confronting the most vital issues of our age. Therefore, world wide interest will be centered on what actions the Americans are taking, and why, and how. And so the shows that present stories in the major power centers of the U.S. are the ones that will garner the most attention.
    Toronto has become a world-class city in terms of how it looks: the buildings are numerous and beautiful. But who wants to watch a cop show set in Toronto? Why? What can the audience learn about life there? But put the show in New York, written and acted by Americans, and who WOULDN’T want to watch it? This is where LIFE is happening. Saskatoon is nice place but New York is where the action is.

  5. Dan, due respect, but that’s silly. HOMICIDE was the best cop show I’ve ever seen. And THE WIRE was even better. Two shows set and shot in a third rate city like Baltimore. DaVinci’s Inquest, a superior Canadian show, is probably the only show ever shot in Vancouver that was part and parcel in and of Vancouver.
    Setting something in NY or LA is easy. I for one would love to see something real set in Austin, Texas. CRACKER was great because it was set in Manchester, a third rate British city. A few shows set in places like, oh, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, and yup, even Toronto, that showcased the specific and different in those towns would be a welcome change from TV’s numbing sameness.
    And I’d watch the hell out of an American show that somehow was set in Berlin.
    To argue otherwise is to show a very standard, and very tiresome, Canadian inferiority complex.

  6. Lee, I don’t know what the television dial in Germany is like. But the numbers you read for the U.S. shows in Canada are numbers that add together the showing on the U.S. net, and the Canadian channel that airs it in “simulcast” — where they get to replace the signal of the US net with a 2nd shot at the Canadian channel.
    Strangely, when big U.S. shows air in Canada at a time other than the U.S. originating network, numbers that are 2 million plus are rare. HOUSE broadcasts pull about 900 000, 800 000, etc.
    When you compare apples and apples, the difference is nowhere near as large. Especially considering the promotion is about 1/10th for Canadian shows.
    If I got two kicks at the can to goose my ratings, I’d be laughing too.
    Meanwhile, a little Canadian show called Corner Gas outdraws the comedies that follow and precede it — and has since it started.

  7. Denis, there are the facts and then there are opinions, right?
    The facts are that U.S. shows are viewed by far more Canadians than Canadian shows, so the question is, “Why?”
    The answer is something like this: U.S. shows are on the frontier of the issues and our human struggle with them, whereas Canadian shows deal with regional or local issues. Therefore, they garner less viewers and are less comnpelling to home country audiences, in Canada and around the world. It has nothing to do with a Canadian inferiority complex. It has to do with objectively assessing who is the world leader in this era.
    But the U.S. is not the world leader in all fields. Iceland is leading the world in switching to a hydrogen economy, so documentaries on this process are riveting whereas not much is being done in the U.S. so there’s no U.S. stories to tell.
    The U.S. shows can be set in any city in the U.S. — even Mayberry! — and they will be more compelling and go deeper into the issues of our times than any other nation can produce in scripted drama. If you personally have the opinion that Manchester or Berlin would be great settings and have their unique issues, I say that’s great for you, but to me they are still cultural backwaters compared to N.Y.C.
    Anyway, it’s just how I see it. I loved, “Street Legal,” which was a Canadian lawyer show set in Toronto. But these shows are very, very rare, as you know.


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