Canadians tune out homegrown Genie Awards


TORONTO -- Imagine a country that televises its national film awards and barely anyone watches.

That's the Genies, Canada's film awards, which were handed out Feb. 13 on a string of cable channels and drew a paltry audience of 8,000 TV viewers in Toronto, or a 0.2% household share.

That's only a fraction of the 1.1 million viewers who tuned in Feb. 18 to view the Jutra Awards, the made-in-Quebec film awards, on Radio-Canada.

Worse, Quebec films received most of the trophies during the Geniecast, with Charles Biname's hockey biopic "Maurice Richard" taking nine trophies and Erik Canuel's bilingual comedy "Bon Cop, Bad Cop" winning as best picture.

English-Canadian movies were largely overlooked by Genie jury members, with the Ivan Reitman-produced "Trailer Park Boys: The Movie" going home empty-handed.

Of course, the Genies and Jutras were dwarfed on Sunday when it's believed that 5 million-plus Canadians tuned in to watch the 79th annual Academy Awards telecast. Last year, 1.5 million TV viewers in Toronto, or a 32.5% household share, tuned in to CTV's Oscar simulcast, which peaked nationally with about 6 million viewers.

Not surprisingly, raw audience numbers for Genie, Jutra and Oscar telecasts correlate with Canadian boxoffice receipts.

The Genies ratings were as dismal as the current share of domestic cinema screen time for English-Canadian homegrown movies: just over 1%.

Quebec directors, by contrast, enjoy an impressive 20% of screen time in French-speaking Quebec. That leaves Hollywood movies dominating with about 88% of screen time across Canada.

So, if Canadians hardly view homegrown English-language films at local cinemas, while Quebecers embrace their own French-language movies and everyone enjoys Hollywood movies, the hesitation of Canadians to watch the Genies while they gather in droves to watch the Oscars is easy to understand.

Genie apologists insist Canada lacks a star system to rival Hollywood's marketing machine, forgetting, of course, that Quebec has its own star system enabling saturation marketing for its fare.

The greater problem is the Genies are annually served up as TV broccoli: Watch it because Canadian films are good for you, as opposed to Hollywood fast-food fare. The Jutras, on the other hand, honor and celebrate movies Canadians have actually seen and enjoyed. At least in Quebec.

All of which offers the Genies a lesson: Quebec directors engage and entertain French-speaking audiences, and are rewarded with trophies and a loyal TV audience.

Rather than similarly bring audiences along with them by entertaining and enlightening with profound statements, English-Canadian auteur directors often lauded by the Genies succeed at the boxoffice only in turning audiences off and away.

That boxoffice drought is reflected in equally dismal TV ratings.