National Canadian Film Day 150, described as the world’s largest film festival, was held yesterday with events that showcased Canadian feature films at hundreds of venues from coast to coast. The event had a large number of sponsors (the Prime Minister promoted it) that helped place the spotlight on Canadian film. Yet a day devoted to Canadian feature film might also have called attention to the struggles of the Canadian feature film category and considered whether significant policy reforms are needed. This year’s Canadian Media Producers Association Profile 2016, which chronicles the industry (I used it earlier this year to discuss how foreign financing – not regulated contributions – is the now the top source of English-language television production in Canada), tells a story of a feature film industry that relies on public dollars to finance the majority of its costs, has hit a decade low in the number of films produced, and is experiencing declining budgets.
In the last reported year, the average English-language feature film budget declined to $2.2 million and the percentage of films with budgets over $10 million dropped to just 2%. There were a total of 94 feature films made, the lowest figure in the past decade. The average budget for a Canadian English-language fiction feature film was also its lowest in the past ten years.
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Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly travels to California this week with an agenda that includes meetings with Internet giants such as Google and Facebook. Given the recent announcement in the budget that the government plans to “review and modernize” the Broadcasting Act and Telecommunications Act, the discussions may help shape an issue that could have a profound impact on the Internet in Canada as there are concerns the government may attempt to shoehorn Canadian cultural policies into telecommunications law.
My Globe and Mail column notes that Ms. Joly’s consultation last year on Cancon in a digital world revealed there is a strong appetite within the traditional Canadian culture lobby for bringing policies such as cultural taxes and mandated Cancon requirements to the Internet. The groups claim the Internet is rapidly replacing the conventional broadcast system as a means of distributing cultural content and that the longstanding analog rules should be shifted into the digital environment.
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As Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly’s consultation on Canadian content in a digital world nears its conclusion – comments are due by November 25th – the big issue remains how to pay for an ambitious culture agenda. Joly has emphasized the benefits of expanding exports, which she hopes will bring foreign dollars and more foreign investment in the sector. While a stronger global presence makes sense, many of the established cultural groups have voiced opposition to measures designed to attract greater foreign participation if it risks reducing the guaranteed Canadian role in productions.
For example, the CRTC’s decision to loosen some Cancon rules has elicited ongoing anger, despite the fact that the change would likely make productions with foreign entities more attractive, thereby enlarging the overall size of the industry in Canada. With similar opposition to market-based reforms designed to reduce dependence on the current system (pick-and-pay television channels, gradual reduction of simultaneous substitution), there is little reason to believe that Joly can count on support for expanded exports to pay the bills.
This post unpacks some of the cultural policy options that have surfaced in recent weeks. The post stems from a panel discussion at the University of Ottawa featuring a paper by Richard Stursberg and commentary from myself, the Globe’s Kate Taylor (who covered the panel here), and ACTRA’s Ferne Downey (Stursberg’s paper is here, full video of the event here).
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The prospect of new digital taxes and regulation to fund the creation of Canadian content continues to attract attention with cultural groups leading the charge. For example, the Canadian Independent Music Association recently called for the regulation of digital services and ISPs including mandated contributions to support the development of Canadian content, while ADISQ has previously lobbied for a similar policy approach.
With mounting coverage of the issue, Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly appeared last weekend on CTV’s Question Period, spending most of the nine minutes dodging questions from host Evan Solomon. Joly started by clearly stating that “there will be no new Netflix tax”, but spent the rest of the interview making the case for one. The discussion featured speaking points that seemed to contradict the no Netflix tax approach, emphasizing that everything is on the policy table and that the government is looking at all scenarios. Solomon noted the inconsistency of the comments and Joly struggled to respond.
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