Category Archives: Digital

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.

 

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CMF 2013 Consultation Process

Yesterday the Canada Media Fund kicked off its industry consultation process leading up to the release of new guidelines for the next two-year period starting April 2014.  The consultation process informs CMF staff and board of industry issues, reacts to proposals from the CMF for changes to the guidelines and offers a forum to air grievances.  I went on a twitter rant earlier this week about the structure of the consultation process, which I will summarize here before getting into how the first Focus Group went.

I ranted because the CMF has been doing this consultation process for a few years now but there seems to be confusion about how it works.  Of all of the funding bodies, in my opinion the CMF has the most structured, open and comprehensive consultation process.  But there are a few levels with different purposes and it seems that people are getting confused.

Starting with Toronto yesterday, the CMF are going across Canada conducting Focus Groups.  The schedule is here.  Focus Groups are an opportunity for stakeholders to raise issues from their personal experience with the past guidelines and talk about local or regional issues.  CMF staff are there to listen rather than solve problems.  CMF staff also present statistics on recent performance and raise topics that they would like feedback on.  I found in yesterday’s meeting, the CMF were much more focused on what questions they would like feedback on from stakeholders than in past years.

If you can’t make it to a Focus Group then you can address the questions or raise your own issues in the online forum after reading the deck from the Focus Group presentation.  [At this point there does not seem to be an online forum – I couldn’t find it.  I’m waiting to hear back from CMF on its location and will update this when I hear]

The issues raised and the questions answered inform the Working Groups which meet in October and November.  While the Focus Groups are open to anyone, the Working Groups are invitation only.  Representatives of the producer organizations, other funders, guilds and unions and broadcasters meet with CMF staff and usually one or two CMF board members on themed meetings (e.g. Regional Incentives, Documentaries, Broadcaster Performance Envelope calculations, Funding Mechanisms).  At these meetings CMF present proposals for change, modeling on the impact of proposed changes, stats on the impact of previous guidelines and they solicit feedback.   These are roll up the sleeves and try to solve problems meetings.  Feeding into that process are Advisory Committees with subject matter experts who advise CMF staff on technical issues.  Currently there is an Advisory Committee that meets to provide expertise on digital media metrics.

Once the Working Groups have all met then there is a National Focus Group.  This is also invitation only and is comprised of many of the same people as the Working Groups but summarizes the whole process for those who may have missed a meeting or two and presents conclusions and recommendations that will go to the CMF Board.  The Board works with staff to make decisions and we then see the results in the spring before the new guidelines go into effect April 1, 2014.

It is a complicated and time-consuming process but it gets work done.

If you want to know the issues being addressed during the process then I suggest you read the deck.  There are a lot of them.  Many are being presented to see IF people care and are not serious proposed changes.  Some are presented because the CMF wants to know if they are on the right track or not.  And you can always raise new ideas.  I Storify’d tweets from the Toronto session yesterday so if you weren’t following along on Twitter you can get a recap there.  I hope that in future sessions people use the #cmfconsults hashtag so the rest of us can follow along and see if there are regional differences in opinion (I assume so).

There was a good crowd out for the Toronto Focus Group though I had the feeling that there were more videogame producers there than tv producers, or even other digital producers.  That may be because those other producers were also being represented there by the CMPA and Interactive Ontario but it is important for CMF to hear from individual producers who have had direct experience with the CMF.  I was pleased to see a contingent from the new kid on the block, the Independent Web Series Creators of Canada (IWCC) who have not previously had specific support from the CMF though it sounds like that may change in the future.  The usual guilds and unions were out in force as well as most of the broadcasters.

There were long discussions about how the Experimental Fund doesn’t work for videogame producers who just want start up money for their commercial titles.  I have to admit to only half listening because I’ve heard this one every year and it ignores the fact that the mandate of the fund is innovation first.  But CMF seemed willing to discuss ways to tweak the Experimental Fund, including a pilot program to work with incubators and VCs, provided that they do not lose sight of their mandate.

A line of discussion that I was much more interested in was the declining BDU revenues and the growth of new digital platforms.  There’s a real push-pull there.  Producers want to be able to trigger CMF funding through digital broadcasters (particularly but not limited to independent web content creators) because increasingly Canadians are choosing to enjoy their content through these new channels and they have become viable business models.  But if those digital broadcasters are not also contributing to the system then they will be benefitting from an ever-shrinking pool of BDU money while leaving less for the traditional broadcasters.  To make it worse, those digital broadcasters are in part the cause of the shrinking pool of BDU money.  The CRTC has previously said that it will not regulate OTT (ie digital broadcasters) as the business models were still evolving and they saw OTT as complimentary to traditional media.  A review of the Digital Media Exemption Order isn’t even in the current CRTC 3 Year Plan though the Order suggested that it would be up for review in 2014 when it was renewed in 2009.   The CMF has started to see a decline in BDU revenues so it seems pretty clear that OTT is having a negative impact on mainstream broadcasters and the CMF’s ability to fund its programs.  It was good to hear CMF say that something needs to be done and CMF alone cannot make the necessary changes.  CRTC we’re going to be looking to you.

A Toronto-specific concern raised was about how regional incentives might be negatively impacting Toronto.  There was an interest in keeping analysis to the quality of the project and away from postal code but the CMF has a mandate to promote the regions and the Convergent Fund is not a subjective fund.  Film Ontario questioned whether CMF stats were able to identify if Toronto-developed television is being regionally produced in order to take advantage of the regional incentives.  Pre-development was introduced for regional producers only last year so it does skew the charts and make that analysis difficult.  And someone at the back of the room raised the question few are willing to say out loud – ‘does every jurisdiction in Canada need to be a production centre?’  That wasn’t up to the room to decide as support for the regions is within the CMF Contribution Agreement with Heritage and the CRTC has come down hard on broadcasters to support regional production.  Regional incentives aren’t going away.

There was much more discussed in the over 3 hour meeting – check out the Storify.  I’m also hoping that Sasha Boersma does a blog post about the consultations from the perspective of a wonky digital producer as she has promised (poke!).  If you are not in Toronto then I encourage you to participate in an upcoming Focus Group near you.  Even if you are not a client or potential client, the meetings are a great way to hear what’s going on in the tv and digital media industries – pretty good schmoozing too!

CRTC S.9(1)(h) Hearing (Mandatory Carriage) Decision

For background, last March I wrote a post that explained what mandatory carriage means and talked about the applications that I was most interested in.  The hearing took place the week of April 23, 2013 and the decision was released today.  13 of the 22 applications for mandatory carriage were denied as the CRTC reiterated that mandatory carriage was reserved for services that ‘make exceptional contributions to meeting the objectives of the (Broadcasting) Act’.  See Fagstein’s blog for a good chart form summary.

Most of the mainstream media and social media focus has been on the Sun TV application for mandatory carriage (which was denied) – see Simon Houpt and Steve Ladurantaye of the Globe and Mail for excellent coverage of the topic) but I have always been much more interested in the other applications which had the potential to impact the Canadian content part of the broadcasting sector – APTN, VisionTV, Starlight.  There were also several licence renewal applications of interest, particularly Superchannel and Blue Ant, but those have not been released.  There was however, one aspect of the Sun TV decision that I think is worth noting (in addition to the upcoming policy hearing on Canadian news services which will address the bigger picture of whether all Canadian news services need regulatory assistance).  The Commission noted that not only did Sun TV not demonstrate how its service would make an ‘exceptional’ contribution to the objectives of the Act – it never referenced the Act in its application.  #duh (sorry – couldn’t resist).  Further, the service didn’t make ‘exceptional’ expenditure and exhibition commitments to Canadian programming beyond what other Canadian news services, which do not have mandatory carriage, make.

But enough about Sun TV.  APTN received a renewal of their mandatory distribution order on the basis that its service was consistent with the objectives of the Act, it was important that the service be widely available across the country and that APTN is ‘exceptional in its contribution to Canadian expression and reflects attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity that would not otherwise be seen on television’.  As well, should the BDUs only carry the service where concentrations of aboriginal populations warranted it, then many who were spread out around the country would not have access.  This is a good description of the bar required for a service to be entitled to mandatory distribution – exceptional contribution to the objectives of the Act, and anticipation that the market would not provide the service consistently across the country.

However, APTN also asked for an increase in their subscriber rate from $0.25 per sub to $0.40.  It requested the increase to keep up with inflation, improve programming and make more programming available on multiple platforms.  The Commission accepted that an increase was warranted but given that an increase in the subscriber rate will mean an increase in the cost of the basic package, decided that a $0.06 increase would be a good balance between APTN’s need and the consumer’s reluctance to pay more for basic cable.

The Commission used the same balance language when it agreed to an increase for CPAC.  The $0.01 increase ‘represents a good balance between the impact on the price of the basic service for Canadian consumers and the ability of CPAC to improve its programming’.  This is the consumer filter that we have been told will be applied to all decisions clearly at work.

There were two proposed youth-focused services that applied for mandatory distribution – Fusion and Dolobox.  It was interesting that both had significant user-generated content and online components and both were denied at least in part on the basis that there were enough existing alternatives in the online world that the Commission did not see a need to issue mandatory distribution and broadcasting licences.  I heard both presentations and I could not understand why they were at the CRTC as it seemed like a backwards looking business model for forward-looking services.

Speaking of which, then there’s Starlight.  While I strongly support the idea of finding a way to make it easier for Canadians to find and watch Canadian feature films, I was part of the camp who thought that Starlight for all of its good intentions, was not the solution because of its reliance on mandatory carriage in its business model (See also Denis McGrath’s Facebook post on the subject –- sometimes a former blogger has a relapse).  As you can see from those services that received or maintained mandatory carriage, the Commission looked very closely at whether a service was exceptional enough to warrant increasing the cost of basic.

The Commission did not feel that the proposed service was exceptional enough because Canadian VOD and pay services are required to licence all Canadian services that are available so Canadian films are not unavailable.  [Now, as Mario Mota pointed out in a tweet, pay is about $20/month on top of basic, which is not very accessible to Canadians so there is a flaw in that argument.]  Starlight would to some extent duplicate the offering on pay and VOD so would not provide additional diversity to the system.  I would agree except to the extent that Starlight was planning to reach into the back catalogue to films not currently or rarely available (some rightly so of course).

Part of Starlight’s strategy was to show general support for the service and it conducted a survey to demonstrate a high level of interest.  Unfortunately that strategy seems to have backfired as the Commission felt that the high level of interest demonstrated that Starlight could be successful as a discretionary service.   However, Starlight applied for mandatory distribution because it not only wanted to be sure that it was available in every home but also it needed the revenue to fund its original feature film financing plan.  This plan could not be financed without a mandatory distribution order.  The Commission felt that Starlight had not demonstrated that the existing funding for feature films was insufficient.  I think that another way of putting that is ‘don’t force consumers to solve the problem of insufficient feature film financing’.

Over the years Vision has applied for mandatory carriage several times on the basis that its multifaith programming and its focus on its 55+ audience offers needed diversity in the broadcasting system.  Vision expressed concern that as an independent service it runs the risk of vertically integrated companies moving it from a basic package to a discretionary package in order to make room for their own services.  A move like that would draw fewer subscribers and therefore reduce Vision’s revenue.  The Commission accepted the arguments of BDUs that the BDUs would not want to risk the wrath of Vision’s audience if they moved Vision out of basic (and warned the BDUs that the Commission would need to see good reasons if they ever did so).  Vision also has recourse to the Commission should the BDUs treat Vision unfairly.  The Commission also pointed out that Vision is no longer the only other faith programming service so there is no extraordinary need for Vision’s particular service.  Or in other words – it’s all good so there’s no need to regulate.

One of the few new mandatory orders granted is worth mentioning.  It went to The Legislative Assemblies of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories for a geographically limited broadcast of recorded and live coverage of proceedings in their Assemblies in aboriginal languages, English and French.  The service clearly supports the objectives of the Act, there was a demonstrated demand and a demonstrated market failure.  Bell ExpressVu stated no plans to carry the service and Shaw agreed to but without any time commitment.  And possibly most importantly, the service did not ask for a subscriber fee.

The general feeling about this hearing was that the Commission would not grant many or possibly any new mandatory orders but would maintain the existing ones in order to keep a lid on the cost of basic cable and this is pretty much what they have done.  The decisions were clear so if any service seeks to apply for a mandatory order in the future they will definitely know what issues to address in their application.  There will be an increase to the basic cable rate but it should not be significant (Fagstein came up with wholesale increases of $0.31 per subscriber per month in English and $0.63 in French, which Mario suggests may be used by the BDUs to justify $1 increases in your bill).

In many ways those of us who watched the hearing felt that it was a throw back to an earlier era when broadcast television was the only way that you could reach an audience.  That is so not the case any more.  Now the question is whether the rejected applicants, and those contemplating new services in the future, turn to digital platforms to reach audiences and whether the CRTC needs to be there to ensure that the objectives of the Broadcasting Act aren’t being undercut by these new platforms.  Yeah, I went there.

Funding Application Tips – Partnerships

I probably should have done this post on Partnerships before last week’s post on how not to screw up your funding application but there you go.  I’m doing it now.

One of the biggest ways that a project can fail (in general, not just with funding applications) is in picking the right partners to work on the project.  This is co-producers or digital media and television producers or creative partners.  The same rules/guidelines apply.

Audio-visual media is a collective work.  None of us can create (high quality commercial) film, television and digital media on our own.  We need to work with other people to bring complimentary skills together to get the end product completed.  I think that we all understand that a screenwriter, producers, director, actors and crew are needed to produce but this also applies to the producer.  Sometimes it is skills that are needed, for example when a smaller production company or series creators partner with a more experienced production company to take on a bigger challenge.  Sometimes it is financing as when a Canadian production company partners with a treaty co-production partner.  And then there are the partnerships between formats when a tv producer partners with a digital media producer to create affiliated digital media content for a television program.

Early on in my career I learned a few key rules on partnerships from a tv producer who became a broadcaster and then a winemaker and is back to being a broadcaster.  I like to sum them up as ‘can you get drunk with your intended partner?’  It may seem frivolous but bear with me.   You get drunk with people you like (most of us do anyway).  Production is hard and you should only do such hard work with people you like and trust, can talk to and feel that you can rely on.  This means spending time with people and getting to know them before signing an agreement.  Put the relationship ahead of the deal.

How do you do that?  Meet lots of people and companies before decided which one you want to work with.  Attend markets and conferences where you can meet a lot of people (and socialize with them!).  Talk to your friends and colleagues about their experiences with those companies.  Yesterday I told a story about the reactions of two different companies to an event that I was trying to set up and the person I told it to heard the story as more evidence that one company was a better potential partner for her than the other company.  It wasn’t the point of my story but it definitely informed her opinion about which one she would rather work with.

It is more than likeability and ethics though.  What you look for in a partner depends on what you need but you need to be certain that your partner has it and isn’t just BS’ing you or entertaining magical thinking about their abilities.  That’s the due diligence part that you have to do.   Can they bring that financing to the table – check out their past projects.  Can they produce the digital media component – check out their past projects.  Do they have the distribution skills or marketing skills that you lack – check out their team.  Right now possibly the biggest problem in convergent media production is tv producers partnering with digital media companies who do not have the skills and experience to produce what the tv producers are looking for.   For example, if a convergent project is going to be about developing and supporting the television audience with content then a digital media shop that has only created websites that sell products will not have the necessary skills.   The result, if it can be funded, just may be garbage.

If you don’t know the sector that you’re exploring for a partner then consider hiring a consultant who works in that area to help you find potential partners.  Yes, it does sound like hiring a matchmaker but it can work.  Some organizations are partnering with other organizations to facilitate matchmaking, for example WIFT’s Digiscape in partnership with CMPA, CWC and Interactive Ontario.   Go to funders’ websites and check out what they’ve funded and who produced it.

OK, so you’ve found your dream date, now what?  An effective partnership comes out of both parties clearly understanding the strengths that each bring to the partnership, the roles they will each perform and being completely on the same page about what is being produced.  You can do this in a co-production or services agreement but you also need one or more meetings where you can talk about the big picture and all the little details that it will take to get there.  I cannot tell you how often I have been able to see in a funding application that partners appear to have completely different ideas about what they are producing.   An effective partnership involves constant communication – which of course isn’t difficult because you do like each other, right?  [see above re getting drunk together]   You do not carve up the responsibilities and go off and do your thing, assuming that your partner is off in their corner doing their thing and somehow magically it will all get put together and end up being fantastic!

Ideally you want to have such a fantastic working relationship with your partner that you can work with them again and avoid all of this hard finding your partner work.

Project Funding Application Tips

I have been evaluating project funding applications for various funds for many years. You may find this an odd thing for a policy wonk to do but I’ve also been a producer of websites, was active in children’s television and was the business manager for a fund so have a wide-ranging set of skills that allow me to assess creative, business and marketing potential for projects. I’ve seen a lot of applications in my day and have a few tips that I’d like to share to make my life and yours easier. They apply to applications for television and digital funding applications.

  1. Read the guidelines. Read them again. Prepare your application and then double check the guidelines again. If you’re not sure about something, call the funder. They almost always are happy to talk to you though perhaps not on the deadline date.
  2. Every application requires a synopsis. This is a brief, one paragraph description. Forget the blah blah and focus on writing a tight, accurate description of the project that will set the stage for the rest of the material in the application. A properly written synopsis will set the tone for the rest of the application and strongly influence an evaluator’s attitude as they set out to read the rest of the application. Often the synopsis is the only creative that a jury or board member will read before they make a decision based on the evaluator’s recommendation.
  3. Do a search for exclamation marks and delete same. This didn’t used to be an issue but is increasing. I blame Twitter and texting. My daughter tells me that all adults overuse exclamation marks in texts and tweets. It may be becoming a bad habit. Don’t use them in funding applications but put your emphasis in your words! Otherwise it feels like you’re shouting at us! See what I did there?
  4. Spell check. Seriously. You have no idea how often the phrase ‘and I was irritated by all the typos’ comes up in an evaluation.
  5. If you are referring to past work as being ‘landmark’ or ‘groundbreaking’ or using other such ‘never been done before’ adjectives then it better be. Describing previous work as hugely innovative when it isn’t will just undermine your current application.
  6. Make sure that your budget reflects the work proposed. If the budget preparer is fully informed of the creative then this should not be a problem but sadly often is.
  7. If you haven’t figured out your story or your project then you are not ready to apply yet. Do not rush the application and try the ‘trust us, we’ll figure it out’ argument. If the words aren’t there on paper then the funder has no idea what it is being asked to fund and won’t.
  8. You need a business model, marketing plan, distribution plan. The funder needs to know that there is audience demand and a way to make money, even if the funder doesn’t take an equity position. If there is no international market or revenue potential but there are other goals then explain that. The goal of a funding agency is to build the industry and not just fund good ideas.
  9. Try very hard to avoid buzzwords. First, a buzzword has a limited lifespan and if you are new in the sector you could easily be using a buzzword that is no longer in use (e.g. mobisode) or has negative connotations often because of overuse (e.g. transmedia). If you must use a buzzword, use it properly and only when necessary.
  10. Make sure that the bios of your team show that you can do what you propose. If your main team is new or new at what you propose, hire a consultant with relevant experience. If you partner with a company to provide more experience make sure that your partner really can do what they say they can do. Include examples of relevant past work in your bios. Do not make the evaluators use google.
  11. Describe exactly what you plan to do with social media. Mentioning Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are not enough. You actually need a strategy and each strategy is different depending on the program and the audience.
  12. Use pictures, sketches, illustrations and mockups. You know, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words. The evaluator knows that they are just sketches, illustrations etc. to help communicate the idea but pictures do help communicate that visual idea. That means character sketches for animation, mockups and wireframes for websites but also stock images for live action characters and photos of possible locations or sets.

Hmm. I could go on but I think 12 are a good number for you to digest and think about. Most of these points are not going to make the difference between funding or no funding but they each in their own way can influence the evaluator’s assessment.

CBC Licence Renewal – More Than Just Ads on Radio

The CRTC issued its CBC licence renewal decision today and I of course have a few thoughts about it.  But first – my context.  While at the WGC I spent a lot of time over two years (due to hearing postponements) working on a submission and presentation to the CRTC on CBC’s licence renewal.  My thoughts here are informed by that thought and analysis but not limited by it.  I’m also in no way representing the WGC.  Remember – it’s just my own somewhat informed personal opinion.

Renewal was never at issue but just the terms of that renewal.  The decision to allow limited ads on Espace Musique and Radio 2 for three years has received most of the attention and will be the headline in the news but there’s an awful lot more in the 124 page decision.   As an English TV content person I have very specific interests – nothing about French tv or radio and little about radio.  With that in mind, here are a few comments.

The whole CBC Licence Renewal process was very belaboured and it was what I think of now as the ‘old’ style of broadcaster application.  As broadcasters have done for years, the CBC submitted an application that asked for a great deal of deregulation and included lots of  ‘trust us’ language.  Stakeholders objected and provided evidence that trust was a questionable strategy.  The CBC countered at the hearing and during the reply stage with compromises – often as a result of clear messages from the CRTC during the hearing.  This is the  ‘public hearing by negotiation’ that the Chair, Jean-Pierre Blais, has objected to on more than one occasion.  [This may be the last time that we see this strategy as in the Bell-Astral2 hearing Bell certainly heard the warning and came to the CRTC with its bottom line rather than an opening bid.]

In the meantime though, when assessing the decision you really need to look at both the original proposal and the final proposal when looking at the decision.  In several instances the Commission seems to have felt that the CBC made enough of a concession in their final proposal that it didn’t need to push it further.   You may not agree.

The crux of the matter though was how to balance ensuring that the CBC met its regulated mandate with the clear reductions in its parliamentary appropriation.  While the government has said that the CBC has a record high appropriation, the CRTC crunched the numbers and started the decision by saying that the 2011-12 appropriation was comparable in adjusted dollars to the 2002 appropriation though $180 million higher in actual dollars.  By the end of the next term in 2019, the appropriation will actually be $160 million less than 2002 in adjusted dollars.  So how does the CBC manage to meet its mandate with fewer resources?  The CBC argued that it needed flexibility to figure out on its own how to meets its mandate with fewer resources but the Commission definitely didn’t buy the blanket ‘trust us’ argument.  The CRTC decided that there had to be a few ground rules but they are going to allow more trust than most of the content creators are going to be happy with.  Here are a few highlights from the English TV perspective.

In a number of places the CBC had expectations and they are now conditions of licence.  There is no negative consequence to not meeting an expectation.  It’s a suggestion that may or may not be met.  As part of the licence renewal application for the next term, CBC will have to report on whether it met its expectations but not before.  A condition of licence however is enforceable and the CRTC can bring  the CBC back before it in a ‘show cause’ hearing or with a mandatory order (See the OWN hearing for a recent example of a show cause hearing and the resulting decision as an example of a mandatory order).

CBC had asked for a condition of licence (“COL”) of 7 hours of PNI per week when they historically had been commissioning 10 hours.   By the end of the hearing they moved to 9 hours of PNI and the CRTC has accepted that.  That doesn’t sound like a big difference and the CRTC made the point that quota should be less than historical commitments because going forward the funding would be less than historically received (despite CBC’s very positive revenue projections in the application).   But the decision also accepted the proposal that only 75% of PNI (or 5.25 hours) would be independent and that a minimum of 2 hours would be drama and 2 hours would be documentary.  Content creators and especially DOC fear that CBC would only do the minimum of 2 hours of documentary (down from current levels of 3 hours per week) and increase the amount of in-house production that they are currently doing.  The CRTC’s argument is that these are minimums, they ‘expect’ the CBC to exceed those minimums and they believe that the CMF guidelines and the CBC’s need to build audience and generate revenues will be enough incentive that additional regulation is not necessary.

Respectfully to the CRTC, I see some holes in that argument.  CMF broadcaster envelopes are based in large part on audience success (way complicated).  The CBC is not and cannot be all about chasing large audiences to increase their CMF envelope or their ad revenues because then it stops being a public broadcaster.   Its mandate includes offering a variety of programming so that all Canadians can find programming on CBC, not the same program to each and every Canadian.  This is why even at 3 hours a week, the CBC offers more documentary programming than the private broadcasters.  Any push for larger audiences in order to increase CMF or ad revenue is likely to mean fewer documentaries as they just do not have the same level of audience as prime time dramas such as “Republic of Doyle” or “The Rick Mercer Report”.   Regulation was needed to ensure that the CBC did not ignore its mandate in search of revenue.

Then there is the issue of the CBC’s excessive use of minority co-productions (“Tudors”, “Pillars of the Earth” etc.) to meet its Canadian content obligations.   The WGC proposed excluding them from calculation of PNI as they use few Canadian resources.   The goal was to find a solution to an imbalance in broadcasting co-productions that meant fewer opportunities for Canadian talent on Canada’s broadcaster.  Well, the Chair of the CRTC is well-versed in co-production policy from his previous employment at Heritage and the decision refers to the biggest policy hurdle to addressing the imbalance – the policy of ‘national treatment’ means that were the CRTC to agree to that exclusion, there could possibly be international trade repercussions.  However, at the hearing the Chair had countered that a possible solution was requiring an overall balance of co-productions within PNI so it was disappointing not to see that in the decision.

The CBC’s previous expectation that it broadcast Canadian programming for 75% of its day and 80% of its prime time period has now been entrenched as an enforceable condition of licence.  While some parties, such as ACTRA, wanted the CBC to move to 100% Canadian programming in prime time, the CRTC agreed to what I think of as the ‘Coronation Street exception’.  There would be riots in the streets if the CBC had to get rid of it, riots in the streets.

Now for kids – a subject near and dear to my heart ever since my earlier time with Owl Television.  CBC has stated that they want to move away from school age and youth programming and concentrate on preschool programming.  They stated this made sense because these age groups were leaving broadcast television and going online, where their needs will be met by CBC.ca.  No evidence was presented to support the departure of kids and youth from tv and Youth Media Alliance presented stats to the contrary.  However, the CBC had also not presented any evidence about what it is doing and how much it is spending on CBC.ca.  Many stakeholders, and particularly the Youth Media Alliance, presented arguments and evidence to demonstrate a need and a want for quality school age and youth programming for Canadians on CBC.  The CBC revised its proposal to a condition of licence of 15 hours of programming for children up to 12 years of age and an expectation of 5 hours for youth 12 to 17.  The CRTC ‘expects’ a reasonable allocation between preschool and school age programming.  There is a new requirement of 1 hour of original programming per week.

The good news in this is that the children’s obligations have moved from expectation to COL but the bad news is that youth programming hasn’t and there is no protection of school age programming within the allocation of 0 – 12.  Given that in the last licence term there was an expectation of 5 hours of youth programming that was completely ignored I don’t understand why the CRTC thinks that an expectation is good enough for the coming licence term.  The CRTC’s logic is that 1 hour of original programming is more of a commitment to original programming than zero but that still will not prevent the CBC from meeting its commitment as it does now through airing a lot of very old repeats.  At the hearing there were many passionate arguments about the obligation of Canada’s public broadcasters to meet the needs of its youngest citizens and I am afraid that we will be hearing these arguments again in 5 years.

There was one little part that I did enjoy in the kids part of the decision.  This Commission isn’t buying the argument that the last Commission agreed with – that families should just pay for YTV, Treehouse and Family Channel if they want kids programming.   The Commission stated clearly that as private conventional broadcasters have moved out of kids programming, it is even more important that the CBC as Canada’s public broadcaster support the kids and youth audience.  We just don’t agree on how that will happen.

During the hearing the CBC committed to broadcast one Canadian feature film per month but would not commit to when they would air them.  They wanted the flexibility to air them on Saturday afternoon or late in the evening.  Really late.  As most audiences are still watching tv during prime time, there were calls for a commitment to air Canadian feature films in prime time and not let the CBC dump them in off hours.  As I recall the DGC was pretty insistent on this point.  The CRTC has instead ‘encouraged’ the CBC to air Canadian feature films in prime time and in a regular slot in the summer (ie when there is no hockey).  I think an encouragement is even less than an expectation.

A really wonky request was for more detailed reporting to be able to assess whether CBC is meeting its expectations and COLs and encouragements (is that a word?) while the CBC was arguing for less reporting.  One in particular that interests me is the call for reporting on the CBC’s digital expenditures and revenues.  On the one hand the CBC is saying that it can get out of kids and youth programming because it is doing a lot for that age group online while on the other hand they are not reporting any of that activity because there is no requirement.  The CRTC reiterated that as a Digital Media Broadcasting Undertaking (DMBU – successor to the much loved NMBU) is exempt from licensing, there is no requirement to report other than the vague reporting that is currently reported to the public in an industry aggregated way.  Any greater reporting could somehow harm developing business models.  I hope then that the CBC will not be allowed to make the claim again at the next licence renewal hearing that these unreported activities can take the place of regulated activities.

The final piece of interest to me is on terms of trade.  The Commission declined to wade into the competing stories about why no agreement had been concluded (this had taken up a lot of hearing time) but was very firm and clear about its jurisdiction to impose a terms of trade agreement if it wants to, regardless of the CBC’s legal opinion to the contrary.  While it won’t at this time impose Terms of Trade, the CRTC gave the parties one year to conclude an agreement or risk a show cause hearing or a mandatory order (see above).  Will that be enough to break the log jam?  We can only wait and see and hope that it happens.     Terms of Trade are important to provide stability and certainty in negotiations and create a level playing field between parties so we do all need the CBC and CMPA to conclude Terms of Trade.

Oh, that’s a lot of stuff.  I congratulate you if you made it to the end.  Just imagine if I was interested in French TV and radio!

Prime Time 2013

I won’t go through the whole two days – that’s what the tweets are for (search #PTiO).  I just want to share some impressions of the CMPA Prime Time 2013 conference with you.

First, I think this was the most tweeted Prime Time.  Sure, I was tweeting up a storm and so were a number of the usual suspects but there were a lot more newbies including, I was pleased to see, a number of producers.  (Self-promotion aside – if you would like to become active in social media yourself, I have developed a Social Media for Media Executives workshop that I am currently making available to companies.  Contact me if you are interested.) So you may be thinking – is it possible to just stay home and read the tweets?  In my opinion, no.

Tweets are good if you can’t make it to Prime Time but you miss out on a lot if you’re not there.  Prime Time is half panel discussions and half networking.  There is no facilitation of the networking (see my earlier CrossmediaTO post) but it is a great place to build relationships with most of the top television producers, broadcast executives, funders, guilds and associations and a smattering of government people in attendance.  And of course a number of independent consultants such as myself.  There also seems to be a growing number of digital producers.  One year soon, there will be no such distinction and we’ll be talking only about screens.  (And on a personal note, if you’re going through another transition in a fairly long career, Prime Time is a great place to spread the word and feel the love.)

There were two big buzzwords from this year’s conference – disruption and destruction.  Disruption of business models (is international licensing dead?) and outright destruction of markets (video game rental certainly is).  Panelists sometimes disagreed (is it a disruption or just a challenge – does that distinction matter?) but the theme of the conference was that the world has changed and we all – from cable companies to broadcasters to producers to talent – better start thinking creatively if we hope to ride the wave.  Some in attendance already know this and are out in front but there were plenty in the room who need to hear this message oh, a few more times probably, before it sinks in.

Jean-Pierre Blais, Chair of the CRTC, continued the theme with his keynote speech.  It was quite a surprising speech.  Blais told producers that they need to be creative  in their business approach.  He told them to be discontented with the status quo in order to be truly entrepreneurial.  Find new partners and new markets.  He coined a new word when he told the room that under his watch the CRTC would not be ‘protectionist but promotionist’.

There were some key messages here that I think we all should keep in mind over the next little while.  The Canadian independent production industry is very well funded right now with the BDU contribution to the CMF,  the hard won CPE (Canadian Programming Expenditure) requirement and a rather large amount of benefits money.  Benefits will expire and the walled garden that is regulated broadcasting is being disrupted.  I think Blais is telling us here that we need to find new business models and new partners or five years from now we will wake up and find ourselves without CPE or CMF or benefits and there will be no way to finance Canadian television.

The other key message revolved around another buzzword of the conference – discoverability.  In a regulated world with scheduled programs and a TV guide, the audience can find our programs, if they aren’t moved around too much.  But when content is available on multiple platforms without regulation to protect and ensure access then ways to enable the audience to discover Canadian content becomes key.  I am not sure what tools are at the CRTC’s disposal to allow it to be ‘promotionist’ but the message is an important one, and one that carried through to several other panels that day.

‘So think big.  Give us WOW.  Help us discover what we want to watch.’ – Jean-Pierre Blais

P.S. I’ve been asked to finish my Bell-Astral2 post now that the PNI is out and I will get on that shortly.  There’s also a request for a post on the new co-pro policy framework and I’ll get on that one too soon.  But first – some work that pays the bills!!