Creative Canada – Sounds Good So Far

You can see my summary of the relevant (to primarily tv) parts of the Creative Canada strategy at TV, Eh here.

For my interactive digital media people there are a couple of other interesting points to make.

If the s. 15 report from the CRTC triggers a public consultation, the terms of reference give producers the opportunity to explain how affiliated digital media are essential for discoverability of television programs.  That could potentially lead to changes in the Certified Independent Production Fund framework.  It’s a long shot but if the door is open you might as well try.  [more to follow in a future blog post about the new Bell Fund programs]

Heritage created a Creative Industries Council to be run jointly by Heritage and ISED, which will advise both departments on how to enhance collaboration between industries and allow the creative industries to grow.  IDM is all about collaboration and often straddles culture and innovation so there are opportunities there to influence policy to support IDM industries, depending on who is appointed to the Creative Industries Council and what it’s specific mandate is.

Creative Hubs will receive funding to support creative startups to help them create, collaborate and innovate.  There’s a lot of potential here for hubs that will support IDM startups.

As IDM could not access the old PromArts and Trade Routes programs, IDM producers should be eagerly waiting to see the details of the new Creative Export Strategy Fund to ensure that it covers IDM and the kinds of export activities that will enhance their success.

I guess we’ll just have to stay tuned.

P.S. Oh and a rant is required.  Phrases like ‘many of Canada’s federal cultural institutions and funding programs will have implemented concrete measures to make our creative industries more inclusive, by increasing opportunities for women’ drive me mental.  Diversity and inclusion is not synonymous with gender parity.  Could the government please get working on programs that encourage a wider diversity of talent, stories and decision makers so that our media is more reflective of our audience?

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CRTC’s GLR Decision

I gave a fairly polite run down of the Group Licence Renewal decision over at TV, Eh!  Here I want to focus on one particularly wonky part of the decision – data reporting – and why it matters.

For their GLR submissions, the CMPA, ACTRA, DGC and WGC commissioned Mario Mota of Boon Dog Professional Services to review the annual reports of the broadcasters and the applications and assess how the broadcasters had met their CPE and PNI CPE obligations and what it would mean for Canadian programming in general and PNI in particular if the broadcasters were granted their requested changes.  Mario did the best that he could but was stymied by inconsistent and inaccurate reporting.  The CRTC requires the reports but doesn’t review them.

The GLR decision includes requirements for more detailed reporting on a number of categories including original programming, Indigenous programming, Official Language Minority Community programming and women in key creative roles.  There will also be information bulletins to help broadcasters fill out the forms correctly.  There was no mention of a review or compliance regime.

The question, and why this matters, is will these new reporting requirements make it easier for stakeholders to assess broadcasters performance in spending money on and broadcasting Canadian programming?  As long as there is no review process the answer is no.  It looks like broadcasters will still be able to fill out (or not fill out with sections left intentionally blank) the forms any way they want.  When it comes time to review broadcaster performance again in four years and compare it to their promises, the independent production sector may still be doing it with one hand tied behind their back.

That leads me to ask: does the current Commission appreciate the role of the independent production sector in public hearings?  This I wonder.

The independent production sector pointed out that the broadcasters proposals on PNI CPE would allow them to spend less money on PNI.  That was dismissed.  The independent production sector argued that the definition of independent production was being eroded by broadcaster behaviour and as the need for an independent production sector is enshrined in the Broadcasting Act it needed to be protected.  That was ignored.  It pointed out that exhibition requirements in prime time are still relevant as that is still when most people watch television.  That was ignored.  It argued for some kind of protection for children’s programming since Corus is the major children’s broadcaster in Canada but with the removal of genre protection it can walk away at any time.  It argued variously for protections for Canadian feature film, documentaries, development and ensuring that CPE is spent on original programming.

None of these issues were mentioned.  Not reviewed and dismissed.  Nothing.  It comes across as if the Commission thinks that it has all the necessary information and does not need to hear the perspectives of those who create the content that is broadcast.  If this was true, it would undermine the public hearing process where all stakeholders have the opportunity to present evidence.  It is the independent production sector’s job to provide a different perspective than the broadcasters, based on different priorities.  It is the Commission’s job to weigh those different priorities and make decisions based on the public interest as defined in the Broadcasting Act.

I know that the Commission understand what its job is, but by not ensuring that the independent production sector has the tools that they need to do their job well (i.e. the data) and ignoring many of their concerns, it appears as if the Commission has taken sides.  It feels like engaging with the Commission at a public hearing is as useful as hitting your head against a wall.  After a while it hurts too much and you just stop.

The CRTC’s Differential Pricing Practice Decision – for us content people

I posted the following over on TV, Eh!’s Wonk Report today:

Over here on the content side of things most of us are not familiar with phrases such as ‘zero rating’ and ‘differential pricing practices’ so might tune out of a CRTC decision titled “Framework for Assessing the Differential Pricing Practices of Internet Service Providers” but we shouldn’t.  Net neutrality is an increasingly important concept for content creators.

Let’s go through a few definitions first.

Net neutrality is the principle that all data on the Internet should be treated the same.  It costs the same to the user, it is regulated (or not) the same and it is delivered the same (i.e. no throttling of certain kinds of data).  So the video or the game that you create is not treated any differently from email or music or apps etc.

Differential pricing is the practice of offering the same content or services to consumers at different prices.  Examples are:

Zero rating:  the practice of not charging consumers for certain kinds of data.  That could be sports or all video or gaming.  That data would then not be counted towards the consumers data cap and would make that service more competitive.

Sponsored data:  an application provider arranges with an ISP to discount the data associated with its app.

The CRTC’s decision is to disallow these differential pricing practices (and any others that arise, based on a framework that has been developed to assess the practices) in order to maintain net neutrality.

In practical terms this means that immediately Vidéotron’s Unlimited Music Service, which excluded the data used by that music streaming service from certain mobile plans, was offside.  What it means for content creators is that ISPs cannot distinguish themselves on the basis of what content they have to offer – no exclusive access or zero-rated access to Netflix, or CraveTV or gaming.  No fast lane for CanCon (an idea that has been floated from time to time).   They can compete on price and speed and size of the data caps but not content.  Look at this quote from the decision:

“The Commission considers that any short-term benefits of differential pricing practices would be greatly outweighed by the negative long-term impacts on consumer choice if ISPs were to act as gatekeepers of content through their use of such practices.”

Gatekeepers.  Does that sound familiar?  This is why the decision should be of interest to content creators, particularly those who are moving away from broadcasters as gatekeepers to offer their content directly to consumers.  The Differential Pricing Practices decision means that you will not be moving from broadcaster to ISP as gatekeeper.  For digital content creators it means that the ISP cannot insert itself between you and your audience.

 

 

The Diversity Issue – Are We Doing Enough?

Are we doing enough on diversity in Canadian film, television and digital media?  OK, we all know that the answer is no because you can look around any production office or an industry event and see that it is not reflective of the audience that the industry is trying to entertain. In other industries there are stats that demonstrate that diverse boards or diverse employees result in higher revenues and larger market penetration.  This is likely true for the screen-based industries too but since our purpose is entertainment we have to also ask ourselves how can we reach audiences with our stories when we don’t reflect those audiences?

What is the actual extent of the non-diversity of our Canadian screen-based industries?  That’s hard to say because there are no stats that can answer that question.  There is no agreement even on how to define diversity.  Is it a set of checkboxes pulled from the Employment Equity Act or the broader Charter of Rights or a way of looking at employees and talent to ensure that you are pulling from the largest possible talent pool to get the most creative talent (yeah, I think it’s the latter).

Broadcasters have to track women, visible minorities, disabled and indigenous employees under employment equity legislation and CRTC requirements.  Think about the categories that legislation leaves out though like sexual orientation or identity, marital status, religion, age, country of origin, economic status, neurological differences and more.  There is no requirement by anyone to track the employees at production companies or on sets.  Women in View has published studies of the number of women in key creative positions in film, television and web series but those studies are not a comprehensive look at all job categories nor do they look at other forms of diversity.   Lights, Camera, Access! commissioned a report on employment patterns for people with disabilities in the screen-based industries, but again it was a snapshot of the problem rather than a comprehensive statistical analysis.

If we do not know the full extent of the problem then it will be impossible to measure progress.  In the absence of stats, but recognizing that something has to be done, Telefilm, CMF and others are now factoring gender parity into their evaluation process.  Why are they focused on gender parity rather than full diversity?  My theory is that it is significantly easier to measure the existing gender balance and any improvements and it is easier to put in place measures to improve that balance, than to do the same for any other underserved groups.  One of the greatest obstacles to measuring diversity is the reluctance of marginalized people to self-identify for fear that the identification will be used against them.  With a few exceptions, it is relatively easy to identify gender even if people do not wish to self-identify.

Will a focus on gender parity naturally lead to greater diversity?  I have heard this argument made on more than one occasion and I can’t follow it.  More women means more women.  Even worse, without systemic change it is likely that those additional women will all be white, straight, able-bodied etc. women.

Any systemic change will be more difficult to enact and will take more than a new line on an evaluation form.  We need to ask ourselves how we are recruiting talent, where we are looking, are our job descriptions reflecting bias, do we even understand our own biases.  We need to educate leaders, managers who do the hiring and even funders on what diversity and inclusion means.

In my opinion it is never a bad thing to try to make a difference so I do applaud everyone who is trying, even if it is only to impact the gender balance.  I just ask that we keep working on this problem.  Let’s get the stats we need.  Let’s train more people on diversity and inclusion.  Let’s figure out where to best put our efforts to create long lasting change.  As screenwriter Denis McGrath had been known to say, and put on a button, ‘Best Idea Wins’, but the industry needs to be more inclusive and reflective of our audience if it is going to have the best pool of ideas to pick from.

[At Denis McGrath’s Celebration of Life today, Mark Ellis reminded me that I had promised Denis that I would blog more.  So, after wiping away the tears, I started planning this post.  This is my oh so small effort to ensure that his impact will be long lasting.]

Best Idea Wins button

Prime Time in Ottawa 2017

For a blow by blow feel for this year’s Prime Time in Ottawa, check out my Storify of the top tweets.  Yes, a lot of them were from me, Cynthia Lynch and Marcia Douglas but not out of favouritism on behalf of fellow wonks but we three do tend to be the most consistent tweeters at a conference.

Here’s a little overview thought on the conference.

No matter what the programming is, Prime Time in Ottawa is still a must attend event for the networking if you’re in the business of film and television or are a digital media producer who works with film and television producers.  There are official and unofficial networking events, meetings, coffees, lunches and serendipity.  Both mornings I sat myself at a back table so that I would not distract people with the bright light of my laptop screen during sessions.  Random people sat down at my table and I had the most interesting conversations.  I highly recommend it rather than travelling in a pod of co-workers.

As for the programming, there was a good mix of traditional panels (Exports, Selling to the U.S., Merchandising and Licensing) and more current panels (Financing Digital First Production, Mobile Rising, VR).  The IdeaBlast’s were all technology related and some of them were quite interesting.   I particularly enjoyed Kevin Keane of Brainsights, a company that measures brain activity in response to advertising and entertainment programming.  He had some fascinating insights to offer on how different demographics react to content themes and why.

There were recurring themes from the panels.  There wasn’t a big difference between the Mobile Rising panel and the Digital First panel so they did bring up a number of the same issues.  What was interesting was when those same issues were echoed in other panels.  Things to keep in mind:

  • Think about the content that you want to create and then decide the length that you need for it and the platform(s) where it can find its audience.
  • Understand your audience. Research, research, research.  This is relevant for all audiences whether through Canadian broadcasters, digital platforms, U.S. services or international buyers.  It even came up in the Merchandising and Licensing panel.
  • Be flexible and learn to pivot quickly as new audiences and new platforms come out of nowhere with little warning. One key piece of advice was to get good at all the platforms because you can’t know which ones will be the most successful at any given time.  The VR panel talked about developing skills in VR storytelling now so that you will be ready when the market takes off.

Now, if you’re a policy wonk you may be interested in these themes:

  • The need to do something to create gender balance in production, provided it doesn’t just help white women.
  • What can we or should we be doing to help reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous peoples. Reynolds Mastin, CEO of the CMPA suggested an Indigenous Film Office and Jesse Wente suggested that we as an industry need to help indigenous people tell their own stories (which I think means being more active than just funding an Indigenous Film Office).
  • And of course the recurring (and will keep recurring until a solution is found for the growing shortfall from the regulated system) call to require all the participants in the broadcasting eco-system to contribute to the creation of Canadian programming (i.e. OTT and ISPs too).

In all, I would say that the vibe was hopeful.  Some years it has been downright suicidal but I think more producers are experimenting with new content forms, distribution methods and business models and finding some success.  There is a lot of production and a lot of great Canadian programming on TV, at least right now.

So, another successful Prime Time in Ottawa.  Next year will be January 31 – Feb 2, 2018.

Why Do I Do What I Do

I know, I’m a little behind in my blogging.  I wrote up a little summary of some of the highlights of the Group Licence Renewal hearing for TV, Eh!.  I thought long and hard about saying a bit more about my personal reaction to the hearing and decided that yes, some things deserve to be said, over here on my own blog.

I feel that I play a role in media policy discourse.  It is a role that has not existed in the past and some players in this world may not understand it.  Here’s what I think it is.  Media policy, whether it is from the CRTC, Heritage, provincial agencies or other policy makers, can be a dense, convoluted world full of laws, policies, rules, regulations and acronyms that need to be translated and decoded.  This byzantine world affects each and every member of the independent production community.  It also affects everyone working at the broadcasters and BDUs but I have spent my entire career on the production side of the industry and that is my perspective.

I know that while many in the independent production community know that media policy affects them, and quite a few try to follow it and understand it, very few actually have the time to read decisions, listen to hearings and put it all into the necessary context.  That’s what I do.  I translate, decode and put it into context.  I started doing this as an employee of the Writers Guild of Canada as a service to its members.  I continued after leaving because, well, I enjoy it and it forces me to stay up to date so that I can offer my clients the best service possible.  You guys benefit.

Am I a reporter?  No.  I make no attempt to provide even-handed coverage but to share the things that I think other people in the independent production community would find interesting.  I comment on what I see and read so the most appropriate analogy in mainstream media is columnist.  Each tweet or blog post is an opinion piece meant to inform and enlighten and maybe even amuse a little bit.

I also write submissions for clients, under their names.  When I think my clients might impact my blogging I will disclose it (see my CIPF – Digital Media post) but I am not a spokesperson for them.  I try very hard to amplify the message without bias while acknowledging that as a human being I do have biases.  I do not see myself as sitting on the sidelines but as an active participant in the process ensuring that there is a wider audience and greater participation by those impacted by media policy deliberations and decisions.

You guys keep telling me you like it so I will continue.

The CIPFs and Digital Media

In my last post I went over the ‘permissions’ and ‘requirements’ of the CRTC’s new regulatory framework for Certified Independent Production Funds (“CIPFs”).  Since then you have heard a lot about the decision to reduce eligibility for Canadian productions from 8 points to 6 points. However, there is another issue that has been quietly bubbling away and now is generating a great deal of concern.

First, a little context.  In CRTC 2010-833, the CRTC amended the existing regulatory framework for CIPFs to formally allow CIPFs to fund digital media associated with television programming and to allow funding of standalone digital media provided that it was limited by a cap of 10% of the revenues received by a CIPF from a BDU.

“the Commission is of the view that there is little cause for concern over permitting the funding of new media projects linked to television programs as any new media content created as a result of such funding would still serve to support traditional television production. The Commission also concludes that the existence of a link to a television program will create a self-limiting process in that the producers and broadcasters will want to ensure that sufficient amounts remain for television production and development and will therefore make decisions in their own best interest. It will also be at the discretion of the funds whether they choose to fund program-related new media projects. As such, the Commission considers that a cap on such new media projects is not necessary.” [para 17]

So it was very confusing to read the new framework and see the phrase “the Commission will maintain a 10% limit on funding that can be allocated to non-programming digital content” [para 45] when there had been no cap on associated ‘new media’ to maintain.  Now, the definitions have been updated so that digital no longer includes digital-first linear video, but the result of the new wording is that all other digital media associated with a television program is now limited to 10% of BDU revenues.

Given the seriousness of this change, various organizations have been in touch with the CRTC to confirm that indeed this interpretation is correct. The potential consequence is significant as it would mean that most of the CIPF funding for digital media that both digital media and television producers have relied on will have to be re-allocated to  only television programming.  At a time when digital media is an essential element in discoverability this is a puzzling development.  Affiliated digital media drives audiences to the television, extends their experience with the television program and the broadcaster, builds both brands, and helps to sell the television show internationally.  Digital media can help documentaries extend their reach and their impact.  In some genres, most notably children’s, international buyers rarely license the television program unless there is associated digital media.

A few years ago I authored a study on co-production opportunities in digital media and in that study I learned that few countries around the world have any funding for digital media associated with television programming.  With the funding that we have, Canadians have become leaders in the field and are sought after for co-productions not just for their potential access to funding but also for the expertise that they have now developed.  Companies like Shaftesbury, Breakthrough, Secret Location, DEEP, DHX Media and Xenophile have developed international reputations as talented television and digital media producers and been able to compete in international markets because of the early and consistent support of the Bell Fund.  Is this not what the CRTC said it wanted?

Moreover, at a time when Minister Mélanie Joly is in the middle of the #digicancon consultation, the timing of limiting the ability of the Canadian broadcast system to leverage digital media to drive audiences to the broadcast platforms and to make foreign sales is hard to understand.  The CRTC seems to be taking two steps back while Heritage is trying to take one step forward.

The Bell Fund has asked for a transition period to be able to react to the new rules, as the decision was effective September 1, 2016.  They have also asked for an increase to the 10% cap, given the significant potential damage of such a small cap.  The CRTC has said that it cannot make amendments to an existing decision but instead it turned the request into a Part 1 application which is now a public consultation.  If you wish to comment on the Bell Fund’s request you can do so through the link on that page.  The deadline is November 28, 2016.   There is no guarantee that any changes will be made but at least there is a forum for industry feedback.

Full disclosure – I have a working relationship with both the Bell Fund and Interactive Ontario, the trade association representing interactive digital media producers in Ontario.  I am not speaking for either of them with this post but trying to explain for you guys what is going on – as I do.  If you would like more information you can reach out to either of those organizations.