The Corus hearing for these transactions, and the licence renewal of the services, was November 5-6, 2013. There wasn’t a lot of traffic on social media so it looks like few people were paying attention (I did the buik of the tweeting when I wasn’t restarting my computer and downloading plugins – the CRTC doesn’t like Macs and I’d lost the plugins that worked when I updated to Mavericks – argh!), but there were a few issues raised that are worthy of mention.
As a reminder, Corus is buying these services because the Commission told Bell Media that they needed to divest of them in order to prevent dominance in the marketplace. English creator stakeholders (CMPA, DGC, WGC, On Screen Manitoba) expressed concern that the resulting company will dominate the children’s market because Corus already has YTV and Treehouse. Conflicting stats were submitted to show Corus dominated the children’s market (CMPA’s stats as also used by DGC and WGC) or did not (Corus’ stats). Methodology wasn’t clear – was CMPA talking about percentage of programming or audience? If audience, is it a percentage of all viewing by children or just of viewing on children’s services. Corus kept saying that they had not included children’s viewing of Netflix. While Netflix Kids is definitely competition it is exempt from the regulated system so clearly does not apply. But what is the right measurement? I hope that the CRTC addresses this in their decision as it can come up again when dealing with market dominance in a genre.
Fear of market dominance also led some stakeholders to recommend safeguards against programming being spread across all Corus stations to the detriment of each service. The Commission pointed out that there were nature of service definitions that should prevent that as well as existing overlap limits between YTV and Treehouse but stakeholders looked for more. In its reply phase Corus agreed to a limit of 10% overlap between Teletoon and YTV, the two services with the greatest potential of overlap given their respective natures of service.
An allocation of the benefits package to an Export Initiative was quite controversial. It got a lot of air time at the hearing because both Corus and the CRTC seemed genuinely puzzled that the creative community in both languages was not interested in the program. On the surface the objection was that as described (funding things like attendance at markets in order to solicit foreign sales) the program would not directly fund new production. Stakeholders were repeatedly asked how they would amend the program so that it would be an onscreen benefit but they refused to respond. They wanted the money allocated to production (or in the case of the WGC – development) instead. Discussion got a little heated between the Chair and Michael Hennessy of the CMPA on this topic. Hennessy kept saying that promotion was a broadcaster’s job and benefits should go to production so that there is something to promote. That’s a fine argument except right now there are a lot of benefits monies in the system so it’s a bit harder to argue need (let’s revisit this in 2017 when benefits have been spent and BDU contributions to the CMF have plummeted due to OTT). It also fails to take into account that the producer (and often the talent) share responsibility with the broadcaster to promote the show. This isn’t service work where you just produce it and walk away. Remember that Blais has said that under his watch the Commission would not be protectionist but ‘promotionist’ so this kind of a program that would promote Canadian programs outside the country and leverage foreign financing for domestic production is the sort of thing that he is looking to do.
Commissioner Raj Shoan asked Corus if they would consider tweaking the Export fund so that it would finance presales or subsequent season sales to directly link to production (and be more clearly an onscreen benefit) and Corus was fine with that. We’ll see where this one goes.
Part of the transaction involves Corus buying Shaw’s half of Historia and Séries+ along with Astral’s half. Corus does not want to pay benefits on the Shaw half because they are related companies and Corus says no control is being transferred. There was a fair bit of discussion of this as this transaction could be nothing more than a litmus test to see if the argument flies before Shaw purchases Corus and consolidates operations. It prompted a reference to St. Augustine from JP Blais and I have to say that’s the first time I’ve heard such a reference at the CRTC and definitely the first time that I’ve ever heard Shaw-Corus compared to the Holy Trinity. It’s a tricky issue indeed though as Shaw and Corus want to be treated as the same company for some purposes but not for others. I’m looking forward to the decision on this one.
After Corus submitted their application for these transactions, and before the hearing, the CRTC released its proposal for a new benefits policy for comment. It is open for comment till December 5, 2013. Part of the proposed new benefits policy is that 80% of benefits would be allocated to third party funds (80% to CMF and 20% to the independent funds). While the proposed benefits do not comply with this proposal they do not have to as there is no policy yet. The Commission clearly telegraphed its interest in going down that route though so Corus advised that if the Export Initiative does not comply as an onscreen benefit, rather than wrap it in with self-administered programming benefits, it would transfer them to Telefilm or CMF and it would be up to one of those parties to figure out how to arrange a program that supported export and was still an onscreen benefit.
There were other issues but these are my favourite. There is one other point to mention though. In his opening speech, Blais reminded everyone of the Commission’s Talk TV public consultation and specifically encouraged content creators to participate. Many of us think of public consultations as something that our non-industry friends and neighbours participate in but Blais is specifically asking us industry types to get involved too so that the CRTC has “access to the broadest diversity of views possible”. [which can be read as ‘we don’t want to hear from just the trolls’ – reading the online forum can be painful!] So go to the online forum, join a Flash! Conference, send in your views. Start by checking out my previous blog post. If you are member of an organization, ask if they will be running a Flash! Conference. [The Academy of Canadian CInema and Television is running one November 21, 2013]. This is your chance.
Update: The CRTC’s twitter account has informed me that the stream for their next hearing will be Mac-friendly. Yay!!!