The age of abundant consultation

Originally published in the summer 2016 issue of Reel West magazine:

We live in an age of abundance. So says the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and apparently they don’t mean an abundance of public consultations that have little hope of engaging the public.

From 2014’s Talk TV hearing to this year’s Discoverability Summit by the CRTC, plus the federal government review on how to bring Canada’s cultural industries into the digital age, everyone wants to know how best to get Canadian content in front of consumers. The task would be easier if the CRTC and the government could speak the same language as consumers.

Talk TV proved to be a disastrous miscommunication between what the public wanted and what the CRTC mandated in terms of skinny basic, for example. Cable companies are offering packages that conform to the letter of the law, with extra fees that go beyond the $25 irate consumers feel they were promised. Now the CRTC is examining the offerings prior to renewing broadcaster licenses, but given the regulations specify a very limited number of channels and did not specify that cable boxes or package discounts needed to be part of the deal, the result will likely be a public relations exercise that has no hope of placating the public.

Recent CRTC/National Film Board Discoverability Summit events aimed to find ways to help consumers discover Canadian content in this “age of abundance.” Even though I created a website 10 years ago to help Canadians hear about Canadian content, I didn’t manage to hear about the event taking place here in Vancouver. The main event took place in Toronto in mid-May and looking at the list of speakers, seems to have been another example of industry people talking to industry people about how to reach the audience, the same kind of groupthink that has led to futile branding exercises ignored by the public such as Eye on Canada.

Now, Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly is leading public, stakeholder and online consultations on “Strengthening Canadian Content Creation, Discovery and Export in a Digital World.” If you work in the television and film industry, hopefully you completed the pre-consultation questionnaire which will be used to frame the consultations on possibly overhauling the Broadcast Act and the CRTC, among others. Important work, long overdue. But …

The first question was whether you were a consumer or a stakeholder. If you answered as a consumer, the questions were in many cases identical to those asked of stakeholders, including “What are the most urgent challenges facing the culture sector in the creation, discovery and export of Canadian content in a digital world?” and “What are the most significant barriers facing the culture sector in the creation, discovery and export of Canadian content in a digital world?”

I have a question: in governmentese, what is the difference between “urgent challenges” and “significant barriers”? In any case, the provided responses assume a level of knowledge of the industry the average Canadian doesn’t have – tax credits, how funding is allocated, co-production treaties — leading me to believe the government is not actually trying to get the opinions of average Canadians.

One of the response choices was “dealing with disruptive digital intermediaries.” If anyone can even parse what they’re talking about (hi Netflix), how is that not a biased way to describe the concept? Two questions asked what other countries are doing that could help with content creation and discovery, and two of my answers had to be “I have no idea.” If you have the attention of Canadian consumers, why would you waste it on questions better answered through a competitive analysis?

Not that anyone has asked, but I discover new shows through recommendations by real-life and social media friends, newspaper and web-based critics, and Netflix’s recommendation engine. I have ideas on how those might be leveraged to better serve Canadian content, and I sent them to the Discoverability Summit blog, where they entered the black hole that is the Canadian television and film industry public consultation process.

The focus of these consultations is important. The outcomes could change the definition of Canadian content, the funding models, the mandates of the CBC and the CRTC. It could create new laws and agencies governing our cultural industries. Done right, it could strengthen our industries and job market and make it easier for audiences to watch our content. Done wrong, it could put the Canadian industry further behind in a Netflix world.

Given the last major overhaul of Canadian content regulations was in 1991, the dawn of the world wide web, it’s time. But if public consultation is just lip service – with those lips speaking jargon – there’s little hope that the needs of the industry will meet the needs of the public.


5 thoughts on “The age of abundant consultation”

  1. The CRTC heard what consumers wanted. They simply ignored what consumers were saying. The CRTC proved once more that it walks in the shadow of the regulated industries. The “BIG BOYS” dictated the terms and conditions of their “surrender” to consumer demands for a skinny cable package. The CRTC dutifully responded by making these the terms and conditions of their package. It did not take long for consumers to realize that after all of the CRTC’s hype about Choice they had been had. Once more the CRTC proved to the Public that they are not a credible regulatory agency who will place the interest of consumers above those of the “BIG BOYS”. JPO Blais is largely responsible for this outcome.

  2. Well said Diane. I suspect your words are a vague clue why you weren’t invited to attend let alone participate.

    What’s wrong in Canada ? I offer a radio experience I’ve recently had in St Catharines. A local RR station does actually play quite a few Canadian bands but as all others most played are not. And it is chock full of ‘American’ newsbites. I challenged one of the hosts to do some Canadian ‘newsbites, and the next day he did. — One — then it was right back to all ‘American’.

    I suspected why, and recently had that confirmed when I heard him talking to an American about an upcoming local concert of an American band, and they were yaking about foods they miss, and the host said he used to get such and such as a kid in – Pennsylvania – where he grew up.

    I could write for years of all the exact same experiences I’ve had. A library would not be big enough to contain the list.

    There are too damn many Americans in Canada making all the decisions and that includes at the CRTC, and everywhere else too in Canada.

  3. Years ago I noticed what I thought to be a real sneaky trick played by DJs– they would play 4 or 5 songs uninterrupted and then announce what they played– ‘conveniently’ leaving out mentioning that they played a Canadian song– e.g., any song by AC/DC (all sound the same to me– bleagh!) then “Chest Fever” by The Band, “Rocky Mountain Way” by Joe Walsh, and maybe something by Tom Petty… (“and that was “…..” by AC/DC, “Rocky Mountain Way” by Joe Walsh and “….” by Tom Petty.”) EXCUSE ME! What About “Chest Fever”? It’s like the DJs (and radio programmers) and TV programmers, etc… can’t believe that there are fans of Canadian content. Another story– I read the movie listings one day (back when I was living in Edmonton) and I noticed — just a tiny little line in the theatre’s listings (and this was for one of the three (at the time) theatres in West Edmonton Mall) — Mina Shum’s “Long Life, Happiness, & Prosperity” playing at that theatre. I go to the screening, there’s a handful of people there to see this film, less than 10 people– I asked the manager why they didn’t advertise the film better. Turns out they only screened the film to then say it qualified for an award because it had been shown in a movie theatre. They did the absolute minimum in terms of advertising and still an audience showed up! Imagine if they had put more effort into advertising–
    One of the biggest problems IS the industry’s attitude that they don’t realize people actually want Canadian Content. You might think that the industry executives had woken up (at least at CTV) if you remember Corner Gas and Corner Gas: The Movie — in Corner Gas (the Movie) they kinda overplayed the fact that the theme song was a nation-wide cultural touchstone– but it is (er, was). Corner Gas was, I think, for a while, a goose that lay golden eggs for CTV, and they just didn’t know how to sustain the goose. (In terms of the shows they aired in the wake of CG’s demise– e.g. “Dan for Mayor”, etc..) but then along comes Orphan Black…. and it seems (to me) CTV has another ‘winner’ on their hands (just remembered “Flashpoint” between CG and OB!)
    So, the industry doesn’t know that they have an audience for CanCon, and they don’t know how to sustain the audience for CanCon, so where does the audience go for CanCon? Take “Motive” for example. — what (in terms of CanCon) is replacing “Motive”? It seems to me that “Bosch” took over from Motive, and not only that– but did CTV start running “Bosch” with the fourth episode? I see CTV’s advertising their “must-watch” fall line-up of shows and don’t see one Canadian show in that line-up, so I’m not watching CTV this fall. Oops — rant running out of steam. Later!

  4. I’m been a cheerleader for Cancon for years but I can’t help but notice a few things. The other day I had a conversation with my dad who is 62 and of a generation that thinks Canada is inferior to the U.S. That day he began spouting off about how much a waste of money the CBC is and when I tried to speak up about how good some of the Canadian shows were nowadays he refused to believe me. To him, it is unnecessary to make Canadian content and an hour and a half of trying to convince him went nowhere. I am of a generation different in opinion than his. I’m 33 and I was raised in a very pro-Canadian cultural climate. I’m also very Anti-American (by this I don’t mean that I hate Americans, I just hate American-ness). Actually, I’m not sure if any of you watched it, but there’s a documentary by Rob Cohen called Being Canadian that I caught on Movie Central this past summer that kind of talks about this, you should really give it a watch.

Comments are closed.