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.