As you may remember, last year Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly conducted a broad public consultation toward developing a strategy for Canadian content in the digital world. “Everything” was on the table. At long last, on September 28, 2017, Minister Joly announced the government’s strategy for Canadian content in the digital world. This strategy, as contained in her speech and a ‘framework’ document is called “Creative Canada”. Catchy.
There are a lot of great messages in Creative Canada. It talks about growing the creative economy, which reflects this government’s understanding that culture is not a frill but an economic driver. It talks about investing in our talent so that they can flourish at home while being financially successful around the world. It cites three pillars for the strategy:
- Investing in creators and cultural entrepreneurs
- Promoting discovery and distribution
- Strengthening public broadcasting and local news
This is a terrific preamble, but what makes up this strategy? We were presented with a number of initiatives, including several already in place, which on their face all sound good. The big problem is that there is not a lot of detail on these programs and policies so it is difficult to assess their impact. Here are a few highlights:
The government deal to get Netflix to agree to set up shop in Canada and spend $500 million on production here has made headlines. However, it raises many questions. Will these be Canadian certified productions (i.e. they invest in Canadian producers’ productions) or service work produced by a non-Canadian controlled Netflix Canada? Will it be incremental money to what they already spend on production in Canada? What happens if they don’t spend what they promise? What we do know for sure is that it is not regulation and it does not apply to any other streaming services operating in Canada. The government did not choose to level the playing field between Netflix and the regulated broadcasters through any kind of regulated contribution or quota system. It also did not choose to impose a sales tax on streaming services, which would have generated significant revenue. It did however commit to seeking more commitments and agreements with new digital platforms (i.e. Amazon Prime, Hulu, maybe Google).
UPDATE: As soon as I hit Publish on this post I saw a tweet from the Minister with a press release providing more info on the Netflix deal. The most important clarification is that the deal includes: “Investing at least CAD $500 million over the next five years in original productions in Canada that will be distributed across Netflix’s global platform. As part of this investment, Netflix will continue to work with Canadian producers, production houses, broadcasters, creators and other partners to produce original Canadian content in both English and French.” [emphasis mine]
The Canada Media Fund, which funds Canadian television and digital media, has been slowly losing some of its revenue generated by mandated contributions from cable and satellite companies as Canadians cut or reduce their subscriptions. Canadian Heritage announced that it will provide additional funding to allow the CMF to maintain the level of funding that it has. The exact amount to be provided is not set out but the concept is a great one. In fact, as Canadian Heritage has not increased its level of funding to the CMF since it was created as the CTF in 1998 (it re-allocated money from other funds but no new money), even a small increase is something to celebrate.
In Budget 2017 the government had previously promised that the Broadcasting Act and Telecommunications Act would be reviewed. Creative Canada confirms this and provides a bit more info on timing. Last Friday Cabinet quietly instructed the CRTC to issue what is called a s. 15 report on well, a lot of the things that were part of the DigiCanCon consultation:
- the distribution model or models of programming that are likely to exist in the future;
- how and through whom Canadians will access that programming;
- the extent to which these models will ensure a vibrant domestic market that is capable of supporting the continued creation, production and distribution of Canadian programming, in both official languages, including original entertainment and information programming.
The CRTC is to provide this report to the government by June 1, 2018 and this report will inform the government’s review of the Broadcasting Act and Telecommunications Act. So we won’t see a new act until some time late 2018 or 2019. We wait to hear from the CRTC on whether the s. 15 report will trigger a public consultation and whether the report will even be public.
Creative Canada announced a Creative Export Strategy Fund of $125 million to be spent over 5 years starting some time in 2018. Details on this fund will be released in 2018. I expect that this fulfills the Liberal campaign promise to reinstate the PromArts and Trade Routes programs cut by the Conservatives and the Liberal government’s promise to modernize them and not just reinstate them. There is a lot of potential for this fund to help producers export their Canadian Content but we will have to wait and see.
The commitment to modernize and streamline the administration of the federal Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit will be welcome to many producers. The tax credit is an essential part of any television financing but it takes up a great deal of time and money to apply for it and interim finance it for production. An easier and faster tax credit frees up resources to go into content production.
Previous announcements which are now incorporated in Creative Canada include: review of the Copyright Act, new appointment process for CBC board and CBC President, review of the CBC’s mandate, new audio-visual co-production treaties, Indigenous Screen Office, programs to improve gender parity (the priority in improving diversity and inclusion) and recommitment to cultural diversity under the UNESCO convention and to the cultural exemptions under NAFTA.
The bottom line is that Creative Canada sounds good but we will have to wait and see if these bundles of policies, strategies and programs will actually help support Canadian programming in this changing media landscape.
Or as I said on Twitter: