Category Archives: CBC

Imperialism Explained

I was thinking about the British Empire and how, if you were there and you were the viceroy of India, you would feel that you were doing only good for the people of India. Or similar, if you were in French Africa, you would think, ‘I’m educating them, I’m bringing their resources to the world, and I’m helping them. There was a time when cultural imperialism was absolutely accepted.” Catherine Tait at Prime Time in Ottawa conference, January 31, 2019

By now most of you have read or heard Catherine Tait’s comment comparing Netflix to imperial Britain and France in their ‘cultural imperialism’.  I was immediately shocked but then surprised that there wasn’t much of a reaction in the room to the comment. Then I saw a growing reaction to it on my twitter feed and then in mainstream media.  It became a topic of conversation in the halls for the rest of Prime Time with some people admitting to having been speechless in shock while others, well, didn’t understand or think it was that bad. So for the benefit of the confused, this why her statement didn’t go over very well for some of us.

Imperialism in India and Africa killed a lot of people.  A lot. Here’s are a few examples. In 1943 approximately 3 million people died in Bengal from famine caused by British imperial policies and exacerbated by British war time policies that prioritized sending relief to Europe over India. From 500,000 to 1 million Algerians were killed or died from famine when France conquered Algeria from 1830s to 1860s. In 1898 the Voulet-Chanoine Mission was mandated to conquer the area now known as Chad to bring it under French control.  They did it by looting, raping, killing and burning entire villages as they marched.

These are just a few examples of the impact of imperialism in India and Africa. I did a bit of googling to make sure that I had the numbers right but it wasn’t hard to find this info.  Many, many books have been written about it. Imperialism’s goal was the economic success of the Empire in question, in disregard of the life and liberty of the local residents. Millions died as a result.  You can’t separate ‘cultural imperialism’ from actual imperialism as the Empires never did. The valuing of the Empire’s culture over that of the local culture was just one of the tools used to subjugate the local population and maintain control.  

So, in my mind, to compare policies that resulted in the deaths of millions to an OTT service that wants to offer Canadians another choice for the delivery of content and to provide Canadian content with a pathway to a global audience trivializes those deaths.  Yes there are (very good) arguments to be made for Netflix to contribute into the system that it participates in and to ensure that it is spending a portion of its money on Canadian production (and not just production in Canada) but is talk like this helpful or disturbing.  For me, it is disturbing.

I write this not to slam Ms. Tait but to try to use this as a teachable moment for anyone in a public position, those who advise those in public positions and well, everyone else who was confused by the reaction.  We can do better.

 

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Dueling Industry Conferences

It’s hard not to compare industry forums when they are back to back.  Thursday the Banff Media Festival held its “Content Industries Connect” conference at the Ritz Carlton.  Swanky.  It was a paid event.  In the past it had been part of the Academy’s Screen Week but this year while during Screen Week it wasn’t affiliated with the Academy (there’s a story there somewhere but I don’t know it).  Friday the official Industry Forum took place, hosted by the Academy, CMPA and DGC.  It was free for members of those three associations and took place at the TIFF Lightbox.  Not quite as swanky but the seats were more comfortable.

I don’t know if anyone went to all of both.  I was signed up for both but came late to Banff and skipped out of one of the Industry Forum panels.  It’s just too much of a time commitment to do both.  Most people seemed to pick one or the other.  The topics were quite similar but Banff was the only one with a Media Leaders panel so my impression is that the senior executives chose to pop in to the end of the Banff day to attend the Media Leaders panel and bypassed the Industry Forum.  The Industry Forum was more grassroots given the free admission for members of those organizations.  The speakers seemed to be aware of that and targeted the production community rather than the executives with their discussion.    So while the topics were the same, they ended up being quite different days (I’m not going to compare the cocktail parties though for me the food at the Industry Forum won – quinoa battered shrimp and lamb chops!).

As someone who attends a lot of conferences I didn’t think I’d miss much by skipping the Banff panel on The Future of Content in a Multiplatform World and based on the tweets and what I heard, it was the same talk we’ve been hearing for the past year from Vice, Shomi, Blue Ant and CBC. I don’t know anyone who attended the panel on brand engagement with speakers from Hyundai, Microsoft and Kraft and the tweets don’t tell me much either.  Honestly, it seemed an odd choice for the content crowd.  I finally made it to the conference in time for the “Letterkenny” panel.  Full disclosure – I haven’t seen it all (I don’t have CraveTV) but every second of “Letterkenny” that I’ve seen makes me laugh.  I enjoyed the clips, hearing about the process, learning about its success (more views on CraveTV than any other show in its catalogue including Seinfeld and South Park) and its renewal announced during the panel.

Then there was the Media Leaders panel.  Banff has it every year that they have done this event.  This year there were only two leaders after consolidation (and CBC cancelled) – Mary Ann Turcke from Bell Media and Doug Murphy from Corus.  Talking to people afterwards there was one word that seemed to sum up the panel and it’s not a polite word.  It starts with a b.  There was a very negative reaction to Doug Murphy’s discussion of the CRTC’s decision to not require Terms of Trade as part of broadcast licences – they’re now free to treat every deal like a snowflake.  Yes, a snowflake.  Which ignores the very real imbalance in bargaining power between the mega-broadcasters and most independent producers.  There was a marked contrast between this Media Leaders panel and the one last month at Prime Time – this one was channeling ‘sunny ways’.  Everything is going to be great.  Netflix isn’t a threat as they’re now starting to partner with it, get high profile casting because of its involvement and negotiate windows.  It’ll be interesting to see if they go back to ‘Netflix is heralding the end of the world as we know it if you don’t deregulate us’ mantra next time they’re in front of the CRTC.    They were also pretty positive about pick and pay.  Sure a few of their services will die but producers shouldn’t worry because the remaining ones will only be bigger and better.  Since the jury is still out on this big shift in consumer behaviour due to pick and pay that has been predicted by some, this could mean that pick and pay is going to be used as an excuse to close up some of the underperformers. Again – we’ll have to wait and see what happens in front of the CRTC.

Now off to the Industry Forum.  The first panel was on discoverability.  I’m still not sure we’re all talking about the same thing (push vs. pull) but this panel was a lot more about new techniques to find audiences and provide them with what they want than the discoverability panel at Prime Time which talked more about traditional marketing using digital platforms (and I believe that it was also programmed by the CMPA since it was branded Prime Time Any Time).  In particular, it was useful to hear about Richard Kanee (CBC) and Ramona Pringle (interactive digital media producer) experimenting in finding and engaging audiences.  I appreciated Kanee’s admission that the CBC had missed social media engagement opportunities in promoting “Strange Empire” (you can’t expect him to take responsibility for the whole marketing mess) and his admonition that producers and broadcasters shouldn’t always chase the latest new thing.  Some of the tried and true engagement methods, like email newsletters, still work and should remain part of your strategy instead of running after all the riskier new methods.  Final favourite bit of wisdom from the panel was that the studios (and broadcasters and producers) should be learning audience engagement from the YouTubers who have learned how to find, support and grow their audiences.  Casting them in a mainstream television show isn’t enough to migrate their audience, but if the YouTubers develop their own television show their audience will recognize the authenticity and watch.

The next panel was on co-production featuring three Canadian majority copros:  “Book of Negroes”, “Born to be Blue” and “Room”.  There was a good discussion of why go copro – the added money allowed them all to afford higher profile talent which generated more sales.  It also allowed them to access government funding rather than distributor advances which meant casting the best person for the part rather than for international sales.  Unfortunately, that government funding helped those stars become international hits and now it’s unlikely that anyone in Canada can afford them so for me there is a flaw in that system.

I have to admit that I stepped out and missed the “Orphan Black” panel not because I don’t love the show (I do!) but because I’ve seen a few “Orphan Black” panels over the years.  I ran into a few others doing the same thing so we did our own networking.  We went back in for the keynote speech from Colin Brown, who among other things is a professor of film and economics at NYU.  He gave a very insightful presentation on the international markets for feature films and how they differ between markets and between films and the business case for investing in a mid-size studio producing a slate of mid-range budget films.  His add-on bit about Canada was less insightful as the audience did not need to be told who are the Canadians in Hollywood or that we should be prouder of all the great talent who have left.  As someone who has spent their entire career in the domestic film and television industry I was not impressed.   But I am thinking about what Canadian stories might be naturals for the Chinese and Egyptian markets.  Hmm.

So did we need two such conferences in two days?  Nope.  They could have been merged and been one great day – as long as they kept the quinoa-battered shrimp.

Old White Guy TV – The Senate on the CBC

I thought of this more irreverent title after I posted the following to TV, Eh! after reading the Senate Committee’s report on the CBC released yesterday (July 20, 2015):

Yesterday the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications released its report on the CBC: The CBC/Radio-Canada in the Twenty-first Century. Despite its title, it seemed mired in the Nineteenth Century.

Well, maybe the mid-Twentieth.

The report described the current challenges that the CBC and all of Canadian broadcasting is facing with the advent of services like Netflix and YouTube but offered no suggestions for how the CBC could better embrace the digital age. There were some good suggestions on eliminating waste, reducing salaries and selling off real estate (which at times came very close to micromanaging) and a worthwhile discussion of governance which correctly objected to the CEO of the CBC reporting to the PMO and not the Board (though it failed to point out that under the Conservative government the CBC’s Board has become a patronage appointment so does not have the expertise to oversee a broadcaster).

However, the core message was that the CBC should be broadcasting what the private broadcasters will not – Canadian historical dramas, nature documentaries, amateur sports such as university athletics, performing arts with an emphasis on symphonies and Reach For The Top. Yes, it specifically suggested Reach For The Top, a show that the CBC broadcast from 1966 to 1989. Old White Guy TV*.

Before you get up in arms, I love Canadian historical dramas and nature documentaries but broadcasts of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Reach For The Top are not going to increase CBC’s market share nor will it engage younger, diverse, urban audiences. The CBC needs to be relevant to a wide range of Canadians.

There is no vision in this report. The Committee complained that the Broadcasting Act mandate for the CBC was too broad but its only recommendation for amendment was to include a specific reference to airing more historical drama and Canadian feature film. It did not explain why only those two genres needed to be singled out. It complained that the Broadcasting Act did not contemplate the 21st Century and needed to be updated but gave no guidance on what revisions needed to be made. It complained that witnesses kept saying that the CBC was underfunded, demonstrated that in inflation-adjusted dollars government funding is at its lowest in the past 25 years, but then suggested that new funding models including telethons and corporate sponsorship, should replace the shortfall.

Over the years there have been many studies of the CBC. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage conducted a study in 2008 on the CBC that contained a number of very good recommendations including a memorandum of understanding between the government and the CBC that would set out specific goals and make sure that the CBC was sufficiently funded to meet those goals. The study also looked at digital media, diversity, Canadian programming, governance and accountability. The government declined to implement any of the recommendations.

Is the Senate report more in line with the Conservative government’s position on the CBC. Likely. Should we be worried? I don’t think so. For one thing, we do have an election this Fall and nothing will be done before then or, if a minority government is elected, after then. As well, there is very little in this report that Conservative MPs have not said before (except maybe Reach For The Top, that’s new). For example, they have been advocating for a PBS-style funding model for years. The reality is that many of these recommendations would not be popular with their constituents, who do not want to sit through a telethon to be able to watch Coronation Street.

Yes, it was a wasted opportunity but honestly do we need another study that the government will ignore? Or do we need political will and vision at both the government and the CBC to work together to provide Canadians with the public broadcaster that we need and deserve. Yeah, that.

*With apologies to Senator Betty Unger, the one woman on the Senate Committee.

Digital Canada 150 2.0 – Have They Gotten It Right Yet? Not so much.

I was going to break down the differences between Digital Canada 150 (released April 4, 2014) and Digital Canada 150 2.0 (released today) but it’s kind of ridiculous. Very little has changed in the past year. It is still more of a ‘look what we did including a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with a national digital strategy but sounds good’ than a plan for ensuring that Canada and all Canadians are digitally literate, part of the digital economy, using the tools and enjoying the content.

Yay – the government connected more rural Canadians to broadband but still no mention of ensuring affordable access to broadband for Canadians regardless of where they live. Increasingly, digital literacy and access are essential elements to exercise of Canadian citizenship and this continued omission supports the digital divide between those who can exercise their citizenship and those who cannot.  [Note – contrast that with the Digital Argentina law of 2014 that, among other things, is aimed at ensuring fair access of all citizens to telecommunications including the Internet.  Under that law the government of Argentina can set the rates for Internet access to ensure affordable access for all.  Just saying.]

Yay – the CRTC (which is an arm’s length tribunal so can’t really be part of the government’s strategy unless it isn’t that arm’s length) has instituted unbundling like the government said it would. No mention of the fact that we really won’t know the consequences of that decision for consumers and for broadcasters until it is implemented in 2016 or explanation of how that relates to a digital strategy.

Yay – the @Canada twitter handle exercises digital diplomacy. I dare you – go check out that twitter handle.

Screenshot 2015-07-15 14.22.22

Yay – the government created digital content through the NFB, funding the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Music Fund and digitizing publications for Library and Archives Canada. They actually have funded a great deal of digital content through the Canada Media Fund and their budget cuts have forced the CBC to be more innovative in using digital platforms but for some reason these are accomplishments the government does not want to brag about. I get the CBC point (it’s hard to brag about what someone has had to do when you slashed their budget) but CMF?? [They do describe Telefilm Canada as an audio-visual industry success story so I do wonder if someone at Industry Canada got confused and thinks Telefilm and the CMF are the same thing and doesn’t realize that Telefilm only funds features.]

The report does cover a number of other issues (I’m not going to even touch the reference to Bill C-51 as an example of Internet Safety) but those are of greatest relevance to an audio-visual industry. BUT. What the audio-visual industry called for in the 2010 consultations was vision and a plan to ensure that all Canadians had access to digital platforms and the choice to enjoy Canadian content when they got there. It asked for an overhaul of the various silo’d funding programs to have a coordinated strategy to fund single platform and multi-platform content in a digital world. It asked for funding mechanisms to ensure that Canadian content continued to be created even as business models and technology evolved.  It asked for training programs that ensured that emerging and more established talent had the skills needed to create and exploit content.

For a quick refresher on the agonizing pace of waiting for a National Digital Strategy that included content, see my post on the release of Digital Canada 150 on April 4, 2014 in response to the Industry Canada consultation in 2010.

So, we’re still waiting for some vision.

Self-Promotion – CMF Blog Post on CBC’s Punchline

I just wanted to let you guys know that I wrote another blog post for CMF’s Watch Squad, this one on CBC’s new online comedy channel (do not call it a portal) – Punchline.  It’s an interesting new venture that I’ll be watching both from the perspective of content creators (a new distribution channel that doesn’t require broadcast, a new way from a broadcaster to develop and test out material and talent) and as a solution to CBC’s funding woes as they move some of their content to the less expensive digital platforms.  It also plays into the CBC’s role as a public broadcaster and the constantly shifting perspective of what that means for those inside the CBC.  There are policy implications as that platform is unregulated.  That doesn’t mean much for Canadian content concerns since it is the public broadcaster and their focus is Canadian comedy but what about the other policy goals of the Broadcasting Act like accessibility, diversity and regional reflection.  What about accountability?  It may not be an issue now but it certainly should be monitored. 

I think Punchline is a great opportunity for comedy in Canada and I’ll be watching it’s development.  And I loved that I got to meet with comedy people at the CBC and pitch them on revisiting my fave CBC comedy show, “Michael Tuesdays and Thursday” – I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that!

Is Primetime Still Important – You Betcha!

The Canada Media Fund (CMF) has asked me to write the occasional blog post of television issues and my first one was released today. I just want to give a little more context to why I thought it was a necessary topic – space and tone were limited there (I had to sound more pro and less convo as I do here).

If you were listening to the Rogers licence renewal hearing last week you would have heard a reminder as to why a discussion about the continued importance of prime time is important. Or if you read Andrew Coyne today, you would get another reminder. Everyone seems to think that prime time is out the door or has one foot in the doorway. The stats say otherwise.

In the Rogers licence renewal hearing, Rogers argued that they did not need to broadcast ethnic news in prime time because their audience is going digital and can pick up all their news online. They would rather air reruns of US programming in that time slot and make more money. In a unscientific but illustrative poll, Commissioner Raj Shoan asked many of the intervenors if they or their stakeholders watched Omni and particularly the ethnic news online. Very few admitted to watching online and in fact most were adamant that they and their stakeholders wanted to watch their news on broadcast and in the evening. This was what they were used to. I’m sure that this was no surprise to Rogers. Though BBM data is notoriously difficult when it comes to capturing ethnic audiences (not large enough sample sizes) they must know from feedback from their audience that the broadcast schedule is important to them. Rogers still tried to make the argument that we are in an on demand world as a way of trying to reduce regulation and increase revenues. It sounded to me like the CRTC wasn’t buying it but we’ll see.

Today’s piece by Andrew Coyne puts the on demand world a little further out at ‘a few years, maybe two’ as part of his argument that we no longer need the CBC, CanCon, the CRTC and the Broadcasting Act. His argument ignores the facts, such as those quoted in my CMF blog post, which demonstrate that tv viewing is not actually dropping. The growth of on demand, currently at least, means that we are watching more video entertainment in total given the opportunities of digital platforms. So yes, for the foreseeable future we do still need the CBC, CanCon, the CRTC and the Broadcasting Act.  And regulation that ensures that there is the choice of Canadian programming in primetime when most Canadians are watching.

Content is Missing from Digital Canada 150

First, let’s have a quick refresher course on our long wait for a National Digital Strategy. In the summer of 2010, then Minister of Industry Tony Clement launched a public consultation (together with the Ministers of Heritage and Human Resources) on what should be included in a National Digital Strategy though the government called it a Digital Economy Strategy and put a clear emphasis on infrastructure and economy.  [Note – I would link to the consultation but as of writing all those public documents are offline. I will update when I can.]. We were promised a strategy document in the fall, then spring of 2011 and then pretty much annually we’d be told that it would be coming ‘soon’. There were those of us who thought there would never be a National Digital Strategy.

Why do we need one? Other countries such as Australia, the UK, the European Union, and even the US, have created National Digital Strategies to set a plan and measurable goals. What are we going to do to move into the future, make sure that every citizen has the tools that they need, has the protections and can fully enjoy the benefits of the new digital world? How will Canada make sure that it is competitive internationally? How are we going to measure our progress? Where will we put our emphasis – economy, skills training, infrastructure, privacy, content?

Today the government released Digital Canada 150. It’s an odd document. It has five pillars: Connecting Canadians, Protecting Canadians, Economic Opportunities, Open Government and Canadian Content. [Note that Skills Training or anything else to do with the Department of Human Resources, one of the sponsors of the original consultation, is absent.] In each pillar it sets out a few items that are forward thinking and celebrates the government’s past achievements. I think we were hoping for a more forward thinking document. I was. As with a lot of the government’s activities these days, it seems to have been written with an eye on the next election. How else do you explain unbundling of TV channels as a Digital Canada topic? It’s a nice sound bite aimed at getting votes when the reality is that providing Canadians with more choice while still living up to the goals of the Broadcasting Act is a very complex exercise and is unlikely to result in both more choice and less cost for consumers.

There is a goal to extend broadband coverage to 98% of the population by providing $305 million to extend 5mbps to rural areas. This is a reasonable target speed (though some jurisdictions have set faster speeds as their goal) but is only about coverage. Universal broadband as a concept is about coverage and affordable access. Citizenship in today’s digital world means that every Canadian should have affordable access to broadband. This goal does nothing to achieve that. But the rural voters probably will love it.

Back to content though. What does the Digital Canada 150 promise us as tools to give Canadians ‘easy access to Canadian content that will allow us to celebrate our history, arts and culture’ (Digital Canada 150 pg. 21)? Two Heritage Minutes per year every year until 2017. The Canada Book Fund and the Canada Music Fund will become permanent funds. There will be continued support of the Virtual Museum, the Memory Project (veterans stories), digitization by Library and Archives Canada and the NFB. Nice, but we asked for a lot more fundamental changes to be able to provide Canadians with access to Canadian content in the digital age and beyond.

What is missing? Canada Media Fund, Canada Book Fund, Canada Music Fund and more have all had digital content or distribution tacked on to their existing mandates, generally with no increase to their funding. Consumers are no longer accessing or engaging with content through silos. For example, magazines and books are read on iPads with hyperlinks to video. There needs to be a comprehensive overhaul of the funding mechanisms for Canadian content to ensure that they meet the social policy goals of the Department of Canadian Heritage and are structured appropriately.

The government did make the Canada Media Fund permanent and that was a great thing. But it did not increase the CMF’s funding when it extended its mandate to digital media. As Canadians shift to digital platforms and cut or reduce their cable packages, the CMF’s revenue from the BDUs is starting to shrink. Additional revenue sources need to be found if Canadians are going to continue to have access to the excellent Canadian programming choices that they have now. This could be additional funding from the government or a contribution from the ISPs or the OTT services, both of which are benefitting from the consumer shift to digital platforms.

The Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act should be merged into a Communications Act. New technologies and distribution models have frequently left the CRTC unsure as to which Act applies or whether either does, leaving it to the Courts to determine. Vertically integrated companies like Shaw, Rogers, and Bell are governed by both Acts at different times. These companies are able to shift revenues to divisions, such as the ISP divisions, with no or less regulation. A Communications Act would ensure that the Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications system was, where necessary, Canadian-owned and regardless of platform made the appropriate contribution to the production and exhibition of Canadian programming on that system.

The CBC has always had a mandate to provide information and entertainment to all Canadian across the country in both languages. Digital platforms make it easier for it to meet that mandate but at the same time repeated budget cuts have made it harder for the CBC to fulfill that mandate. There should be a review of the CBC’s mandate in light of the opportunities of digital platforms and a clear provision of sufficient funds so that the CBC can meet that mandate.

Another ask was for more support for original digital media through labour-based tax credits. Extending the film and video tax credit to web series and creating an interactive media tax credit would help develop a labour market of skilled talent in these newer digital content areas.

The government reformed the Copyright Act recently but it is up for review as of 2017. At that time, the Copyright Act should be amended to ensure that creators and owners are appropriately compensated when their works are exploited on digital platforms. The last amendment did not appropriately address that issue.

Skills training is a subject that was completely left out of Digital Canada 150, which is odd considering that it was a prominent aspect of the consultation. The content sector has called for improvements in training both at university and for mid-career training so that creators can take full advantage of innovations in digital content creation and distribution. There are gaps in the labour market that need to be filled if the sector is going to be internationally competitive.

Despite a full pillar titled Canadian Content, there isn’t much in Digital Canada 150 for the film, television and interactive digital media sectors.