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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Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau released his government’s 2017 budget today and while the spending promises may be underwhelming for some, the documents sets out an ambitious agenda for digital policy review. In fact, with changes to copyright, patent, broadcast, telecom, net neutrality, digital taxes, fintech, Canadian media, and Cancon all under consideration, the coming year will have enormous implications for the future of Canada’s digital policies.
The budget does include several spending promises, including $13.2 million over five years to support an affordable Internet access program, $50 million for kids coding programs, $29.5 million over five years for digital literacy, and $14.9 million for digitization of Indigenous language and materials. There is also new money for the growth of artificial intelligence sector and the much-anticipated revamping of innovation funding programs.
Yet the biggest digital implications may ultimately come from the policy reforms. First up may be new digital sales taxes. The budget includes a commitment to extend sales taxes to ride sharing companies such as Uber, a move that seems likely to ultimately lead to a broader extension of sales taxes to digital services such as Netflix.
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The Canadian Media Producers Association recently released its annual report on the state of screen-based media production in Canada. Despite the doomsayers who fear that the emergence of Netflix will result in less money for production in Canada, the report confirms that financing of Canadian television production continues to grow, reaching its highest point in the last five years. With $2.6 billion spent on Canadian television production, the sector remains healthy with support from licensing fees, tax credits and funding from a variety of sources.
More notable, however, is the growth of English-language Canadian television production, which has been backed with a major increase of foreign funding over the past three years. Foreign financing of Canadian English-language television production now exceeds all other sources of funding, with the exception of the combination of all provincial tax credits (both represent 18% of total financing). In other words, foreign financing now contributes more toward English-language television production than the licensing fees paid by private or public broadcasters, federal tax credits, Canadian distributors, and the Canadian Media Fund.
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