U.S. Streamers, Networks Dominate Canadian TV Production, Study Finds

U.S. Streamers, Networks Dominate Canadian TV Production, Study Finds

The growing number of American series headed to Canada for production has been underlined by a report from the Directors Guild of Canada that found 75 percent of all episodic TV work in English-speaking Canada was financed by American studios and networks in 2021.

As linear TV viewership by Canadian increasingly gives way to streaming platforms, local broadcasters only made up 25 percent of TV shot nationwide outside of French-speaking Quebec, the guild said in a report from the DGC National Directors Division.  

As a measure of the expanding U.S. dominance, Warner Bros. Discovery and Netflix shot more TV locally than all Canadian networks combined. “This highlights the importance of having strong relationships with U.S.-based investment, and encouraging U.S.-based studios and networks to hire Canadian directors,” the DGC said in its report as it looks to get more of its member directors hired onto local American shoots.

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Last year, British Columbia on the West coast hosted production for around 43 percent of the 1,256 TV episodes shot in English Canada, as American players looked to take advantage of currency savings and tax credit incentives. In 2021, series shot in Vancouver included Netflix’s Firefly Lane, Syfy’s Reginald the Vampire and CW’s Riverdale, The Flash, Charmed and Nancy Drew.

Ontario accounted for another 40 percent of American TV episodes produced north of the border last year, as major U.S. media giants mostly keep to production hubs in Vancouver and Toronto, according to the DGC report. In 2021, American series shot in Toronto included Paramount+’s Star Trek Discovery, Prime Video’s Reacher, HBO Max’s Titans, Netflix’s Locke & Key and Syfy’s Chucky.

After shutting down in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis, American filming activity reopened and rebounded to record levels in 2021 north of the border as streaming giants looked for originals to engage and sign up new subscribers.

At the same time, the DGC report found only 4 percent of all productions in and around Vancouver were funded by a Canadian studio or network. That compares to 38 percent of TV work in Ontario being financed last year by local networks, and mainly by the public broadcaster CBC, which has a mandate to focus on homegrown series.

That imbalance will be worrying for the Canadian production sector as it has long looked to local film and TV series shooting on local stages to provide a buffer should footloose American producers go elsewhere than Canada for foreign location destinations.

Last year, then WarnerMedia, later merged into Warner Bros. Discovery, shot the most TV episodes in Canada, 190 in all, with much of it going to the CW network before its recent sale to Nexstar. Pubcaster CBC came in second with 169 episodes.

American streamers and networks dominate the rest of the financing studio league table for TV work, with Netflix having produced 148 episodes locally, Disney another 142 episodes and ViacomCBS at 140 episodes, according to the DGC.

In answer to that expanding American production activity north of the border, studio operators have been enlarging existing facilities or planning to build new soundstages nationwide to take advantage of Hollywood players looking for cheaper, tax credit-driven locales to shoot originals.

The American dominance in Canada leaves private local broadcasters with a shrinking presence on nationwide soundstages, according to the DGC report. Bell Media, which shoots series for its main CTV network, cable channels and Crave streaming service, shot in all 52 TV episodes, while Corus Entertainment, which operates the Global network domestically, produced 26 episodes, and Rogers with its CityTV network shot 16 episodes last year.

The DGC with its report on U.S. dominance of the Canadian production sector sounded the alarm when it comes to hiring local directors. The guild said low-budget TV work – or below $2 million per-episode – by studios like Cloud Co. and Crown Media tend to hire the most Canadian directors.

By contrast, ViacomCBS, Legendary, Sony and Disney on average hired local directors on around 25 percent of their TV episodes shot locally, while HBO, HBO Max and USA hired no Canadian directors, the DGC report found.

“We continue to see medium and high budget series take more and more of the market as streamers compete for eyeballs. This is important to track, as higher-budget shows are less likely to hire Canadian directors,” the report stated.

On the film side, the guild found only 39 percent of the features shot in English Canada were directed by Canadians, with Netflix and Lionsgate dominating big screen production last year.