The Motion Picture Association – Canada this week promoted the Canadian link to Sonic the Hedgehog movie, the top grossing movie in the world at the moment. Much of the movie was filmed in British Columbia, generating millions in production spending and creating nearly 1,500 jobs. Normally, this would be viewed as a good news story and indicative of the global competitiveness of film and production in Canada. Yet the Broadcast and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel report downplays the importance of this production, crafting policy recommendations that emphasizes the importance of supporting Canadian stories as a critical aspect of its approach.
Indeed, the willingness to violate net neutrality norms, impose discoverability requirements, and establish a global levy system for websites and services around the world is primarily based on the argument that Canadian policy must work to promote the production of Canadian content. This policy goal is framed as the need for Canada “to continue to assert its cultural sovereignty and Canadians can continue to express their identity and culture through content.”
The report acknowledges the record breaking film and television production in Canada (driven by Netflix, which CRTC chair Ian Scott has called “probably the biggest single contributor to the [Canadian] production sector today), but argues that such production does not contribute to Canadian stories and Canadian content. Instead, it suggests that only Cancon certified production can do so:
The support for Canadian drama has led to the growth of the independent production sector in Canada. In 2017-2018, Canadian productions accounted for over $3 billion in Canadian film and TV production, half of this amount in the drama genre. That is an important economic driver in the Canadian economy. But more important is the fact that these producers can create stories rooted in Canada and with a unique Canadian perspective that all Canadians will be able to enjoy.
Despite the emphasis on Canadian stories, the panel does not grapple with the question of whether the Canadian system for certifying Cancon actually produces Canadian stories. Instead, it states “it is time to review the model for supporting Canadian content, but not the definition of Canadian content.” In other words, it is prepared to overhaul the regulatory rules for creating and delivering Canadian content, but not even consider the rules that determine what qualifies as Canadian content.
In fact, the not-so-secret reality of the Canadian system is that foreign location and service production and Canadian content are frequently indistinguishable. Qualifying as Canadian requires having a Canadian producer along with meeting a strict point system that rewards granting roles such as the director, screenwriter, lead actors, and music composer to Canadians. Yet this is a poor proxy for “telling our stories”.
Just how poor of a proxy? Take this quiz of 20 film and television programs, all of which are either Cancon certified, based on works written by Canadians, feature Canadian performers, or (in the words of the panel) are rooted in Canada.
Is it bad that I guessed “No” based on whether I had heard of it and it didn’t suck and ended up doing fairly well?
A lot of these examples make the cancon distinction seem ridiculous. I’m sure that was the point…
The Americans are coming, the Americans are coming has been the battle-cry of the cultural nationalists for over 100 years. It started with movies, then radio, then TV and now the internet. Despite all the warnings and the numerous programs to fund Canadian content, American content is what most Canadians watch. And guess what Canadian sovereignty hasn’t been threatened. So just stop with the fearmongering and Orwellian proposals and go watch the Big Bang Theory.
Obviously, job creation is not the primary objective of Canadian cultural policy. Nor should it be. The Canadian government has many policy instruments to promote job creation and the Broadcasting Act is not one of them. Overall, the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel report took a balanced approach to broadcasting legislation, adopting essentially one of continuity with existing legislation. This was also the approach adopted by the Caplan-Sauvageau review leading up to the previous revision of the Broadcasting Act in 1991.
As I have demonstrated in my previous comments on Michael Geist’s posts concerning the review panel report, the report recommends maintaining net neutrality norms, opens the door to some form of discoverability requirements, and recommends bringing giant Internet-based corporations available in Canada into the ambit of Canadian law and regulation, with appropriate exemptions for small- and medium-sized entities.
The rules that determine what qualifies as Canadian content have been reviewed over and over again, and the review panel was right to address other issues. Michael Geist has said that Canadians representing key creative personnel “has nothing to do with Canadian cultural sovereignty”. This is nonsense. The least effective way to certify the huge annual volume of Canadian programs would be to mandate civil servants to rely on subjective, arbitrary, discretionary or qualitative criteria to identify a Canadian story. The existing approach to Canadian program certification is relatively objective because it rests on quantitative measures of Canadian production elements for which there is a large consensus. Quoting Ian Scott’s outburst on Netflix’s supposed contribution (which is completely undocumented) does not change any of this. No, First Blood, the first installment in the Rambo series does not qualify as Canadian content, even though it was adapted from a novel by a Canadian and shot in British Columbia. Nor do the myriad of other American movies and television series that use Canada as a shooting location because of federal and provincial tax credits that are designed to create employment.
You didn’t demonstrate that the report supports net neutrality. The reports says it supports net neutrality and then contradicts itself by recommending that Canadian content get preferential treatment.
The report also doesn’t provide any evidence that discoverability is a problem or that Canadians spend much time trying to find Canadian content and can’t find it.
There is a much simpler way of promoting Canadian content than the Orwellian proposals in this report. Set up a service/website that promotes Canadian content. It can send out weekly releases on new Canadian content to newspapers and website, like Mobilesyrup, that list new shows. It can have summaries of Canadian content on its website that also lists where the show is available, and imdb and rotten tomato ratings. It can buy internet ads and suggested viewing ads on streaming devices, like Fire TV, Android TV, Roku and Apple TV. If Canadians really care about Canadian content then the site will be successful (If it promotes Norwegian shows as Canadian content then Canadians might not take it seriously).
Another way to improve discoverability is to increase the number of platforms that Canadian media apps are available on. Currently only Global is on Roku. TSN, Discovery, History and others aren’t on Fire TV or Android TV.
The point system works well in a system designed to support Canadian employment in the media sector, but it does a lousy job if the system is meant to support Canadian stories – which is what this report and numerous others claim. If the Canadian content rules are really about job creation then say so and stop claiming they are about culture.
That’s great, thanks for the management