On September 28th, for the first time in more than 25 years (when the 1991 Broadcasting Act was launched), Heritage Canada delivered a new set of policies designed to govern for some years to come, how Canadian media stories get made and discovered in this era of digital disruption. The broth cooked from some 18 months of cross Canada consultations with artists and story tellers, floats more money for CMF, offers new money for ideas and scripts, gives a promise to re-examine both the Telco and broadcast Acts, and of course unveiled a $500 million Netflix Cancon deal, amongst other things.
Joly was adamant throughout the consultation period that everything would be on the table and that there would be no bail outs for old media. Storytellers and creators, innovation and export would be front and centre. But does it boldly turn to the future, as Minister Joly promised?
Yes and no. The good news: there is new money for writers and creators to get funded to develop their scripts and pitches. This is a relief for those who are increasingly pressed to write that first script or detailed pitch for free just to get in the proverbial producer, distributor or broadcaster door. This should be good, one hopes, for documentary filmmakers who often toil for a long time to prepare their researched treatments and pitches on their own dime, just to compete for attention. We don’t know the nitty-gritty details yet of how the CMF will manage this – and hopefully no broadcaster triggers will be involved. That would be as disastrous as it would be contradictory. More good news is the reinstatement of export and discoverability funds and mechanisms that were gutted under Harper. Topping up the CMF to fill the gap by failing cable revenues is surely a transitional move to help stabilize a $54 billion industry. Still, it’s a bit of a head scratcher given Joly’s repeated position that bail outs were not going to happen.
The big disappointment, the missed opportunity to do the right and difficult thing, is three fold. One, the Liberals failed to create a level playing field regime of taxing globalized internet and internet media companies (Amazon, Netflix, Google) from which they could have leveraged new money into a robust Canadian system. I have written extensively on this, and I’m not alone. In fairness, this could happen with a new Media Act, but any new legislation for broadcast and telco industries will take several years of consultation, hearings, and drafting. If the Liberals survive the next election, we might get a new regulatory regime.
Two, the Liberals failed to tap the huge broadband revenues in this country to help fund the CMF and all of Heritage’s other new initiatives. Again, are they waiting for new legislation? It’s hard to say, but they certainly heard this request, time and again on the road. Finally, their CBC/SRC vision was short on specifics and amounted to tinkering with the board. This surely came as a disappointment to Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, who undoubtedly hoped for signals that the CBC/SRC main nets would finally be commercial free. No dice.
As for that seemingly fat Netflix multi-million dollar, 5-year production deal — I find it curious how every pundit in the land and a few politicians too, have trashed Joly et al, for it. We don’t know the specifics, we don’t know how Cancon will be defined, we don’t know if Netflix will be able to leverage for producers both tax credits and other investments, we don’t know what Francophone commitments there will be, nor do we know where their bricks and mortar shop will be. Unlike the pundits’ withering predictions, I am hopeful that this deal will be quite different than how they are dealing with Canadian creators right now (which is currently fairly shadowy).
I’m mystified too why pundits have failed to connect the basic dots about why this deal is so attractive to creators and producers: Our three large private ‘casters have increasingly seen Cancon investment as a tax, and now, thanks to CRTC sanctions over the last few years, ‘casters have pretty much dropped their Cancon commitments dramatically and are increasingly competing directly with producers by ramping up their own in-house production. Our broadcasters have dumped us, so for me, it’s hopefully bye bye bad boyfriend time. Why not fully anoint Netflix as a competitor, and cut a deal with a giant actually willing to work with us (and of course avoid paying a “Netflix tax”)? It’s not like they’re going away any time soon, and it’s not like the CRTC has done the independent production community and its creators any favors. This too may change, as Joly also committed, in the most vague terms possible, to delivering new marching orders to the regulator.
So is the CCP on the level of Francis Fox’s 1983 creation of Telefilm Canada and the Broadcast Fund? No, but it is a good first step.