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Pointed View: Leveraging the Crumbs

Barri Cohen responds to Rob King’s call to regulate Netflix

Photo by Knoell8504 (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this year, Barri Cohen stated that filmmakers “should be fighting any attempt to impose regulation on the Netflixes of the world.” (Read the full article here.)

In response, Rob King argued in favour of regulating Netflix, stating, “Never accept the argument that we artists should just be glad for what we are given.” (Read the full article here.)

Cohen has taken the time to continue this dialogue below.

Rob makes a number of excellent points and I have no quarrel whatsoever with his call to arms. Morally, of course we should demand regulation! Nor do I want to just be grateful for our crumbs.

I guess the difference between us is a question of tactics: I’ve been involved in various calls for regulation, and in recent years, they just haven’t worked that well with our own broadcasters, in spite of their equally huge profits, so what chance do we have of regulating an internet service/platform like Netflix?

I think my larger point is that at this juncture, the broadcast model of content regulation is on the edge of collapse. To wit, in spite of calling for a thorough review of group license regimes, the CRTC has just rolled over and kept it going with a few ‘warnings’ about how they spend their money on CanCon across their channels (see recent Rogers group license renewal). The CRTC has not opened up the ways in which CanCon is being cynically thwarted in US style format shows (Big Brother Canada, et al).

And on it goes.

Thus, with little leverage remaining in our own marketplace, we have no leverage with Netflix. We can’t cut off their Canadian subscribers, though I suppose CRA could impose a huge tax levy on the end users to deter them from signing up. The risk of market manipulation in this way would be crafty but a bit queasy making.

Since the CRTC is prevented, based on court rulings, from regulating the internet or internet based content services, and can’t police how and when folks use the net to view content, what hope do we have and what techno-policy strategy can we effect to make them pony up?

If regulation was imposed, Netflix could just fold up their tent, or impose much higher fees on Canadian customers. Somehow, the CRTC has failed to really protect these customers, along with us, the filmmakers and producers. That’s why I think taking their “crumbs” for now and using them to leverage more money from tax credits and CMF might be the provisional way to go here.

We’re in a sea-change moment that demands new ways of thinking. I just fear that more calls for regulation will prove us to be not as strategically smart as we need to be.

Barri Cohen is a Toronto-based award-winning director, producer and writer. She recently co-produced the CBC ‘firsthand’ POV doc, Girls’ Night Out from director Phyllis Ellis for White Pine Pictures.

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