Category Archives: Funding

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.

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New CIPF Regulatory Framework – But What Does It Mean?

Yesterday, August 25, 2016, the CRTC released its new Broadcasting Regulatory Policy (2016-343) – a Policy Framework for Certified Independent Production Funds (“CIPFs”).  There are some minor and major changes to how CIPFs will be managed and the kinds of productions they will be able to fund going forward.

First, the framework sets the rules for how a CIPF has to be set up in order to be certified by the CRTC.  A fund needs to be certified to allow BDUs to allocate some of their mandated contribution to it.  A fund does not need to be certified if it does not need or want those contributions.  For example, while the Independent Production Fund is certified as a CIPF, its funding is based on an endowment so its management is outside of this framework.  However, most of the CIPFs do rely on BDU contributions so will need to abide by the new framework.

There are two types of changes to the framework:  1) new requirements in order to be certified and 2) new permissions which a CIPF may wish to take advantage of.  With that in mind, let’s look at each of the changes in turn.

Requirement: Eliminate Licensed Broadcaster Commitment

Going forward, CIPFs must no longer require a broadcast licence or development commitment from a licensed broadcaster as a condition of funding.  This is to allow greater flexibility in funding by producers as they can access OTT services provided that those services are accessible to Canadians (so yes to Netflix Canada but no to Hulu).  However, tax credits still require a licensed broadcaster so there will not be many productions that will be able to take advantage of this new flexibility at the moment.  It may provide more opportunities for web series, however.  Additionally, CIPF funding is awarded as part of a subjective assessment and each one may decide that in its assessment it will reward a licensed broadcaster commitment with more points as evidence of greater potential audience.  It may be difficult, though not impossible, for a project with a non-traditional broadcaster to be competitive with projects with traditional broadcasters.

Requirement:  Redefining “new media project”

I find this one odd.  “New Media Project” has now been re-categorized as “non-programming digital content” by removing programming content such as webisodes from the definition.  While the Notice of Consultation asked intervenors to consider whether the current definition of “new media project” needed to be updated and many said that it did (mobisode anyone?), the CRTC makes no reference to any intervenor asking for “new media project” to be redefined in that way.

It is more troubling because those who work in interactive digital media (“IDM”) know that most IDM associated with television includes video content either as clips or even within the IDM.  Walls between forms of content are breaking down and this redefinition feels like a belated attempt to put up a wall that the industry does not need or want.  Those in Ontario are currently experiencing a similar challenge with changes to the Ontario Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit draft regulations which attempt to remove streaming sites from eligibility but went too far and remove digital media with any form of video from eligibility.  Standalone web series may still be financed through the change to the broadcaster requirement (and because IPF is outside this framework) but as the new definition (‘innovative projects such as story-driven videogames, interactive or customizable web content, apps and all other similar types of non-programming content’) is very brief it is not clear whether the inclusion of video within ‘non-programming digital content’ will exclude it from eligibility.

Requirement: Maintain cap of 10% on non-programming digital content

CIPFs were limited to spending no more than 10% of their fund on ‘new media projects’ or now ‘non-programming digital content’.  A number of the CIPFs wanted greater flexibility to allocate more or less of their funds to digital media while on the other side the broadcasters wanted to keep the cap to ensure that most of the funds stayed within the licensed system.  The cap is being maintained, though for the more restricted definition of non-programming content.

Permission:  Canadian content certification points

Sigh.  How many times do we have to talk about this?  OK, so the CIPFs can now fund projects with a minimum of 6 CAVCO points.  But will they?  The decision says, without evidence, that the current limit of 8 points ‘excludes many productions that could otherwise be of high quality and qualify as Canadian’.  What exactly isn’t getting funded?   Bueller?

For those of you who were around during the Canada Media Fund review in 2008 (which excludes all of this current Commission), you will recall that when parties argued that CMF needed to lower its point count because lower point count shows would sell better, lots of evidence was presented to show that in fact 10/10 point Canadian programs sell better than 6 point (what we used to call ‘industrial’) programming.  It is hard to get more Canadian these days than “Murdoch Mysteries” and it sells all around the world.  When we used to produce a lot of 6 point productions there was a market internationally for “Andromeda” and “Mutant X” but it has pretty much dried up as international markets focus more on domestic production.  A high quality production that reflects a distinct domestic voice such as “Murdoch Mysteries” or “Motive” but also “Doctor Who” or “The Bridge” or “Wentworth” sells better internationally. It just does.

On a more practical note, how will these 6 point projects get financed?  For one, CMF still requires 8 points. Will the 6 point projects be competitive in the selection process with 8 and 10 point projects with greater sales potential?  A key sentence in the decision is “CIPFs will continue to have the discretion to finance the productions of their choice, based on their expertise and measurements of success”.  So only time will tell as to whether this change will have any real impact.

Permission:  Eligibility of Co-Ventures and Co-Productions

While the discussion in the decision is about treaty co-productions and co-ventures, the actual decision is only about co-ventures, this current Commission’s pet project.  This is probably because treaty co-productions are not actually ineligible for CIPF funding, though the CIPFs have rules to ensure that only majority Canadian co-productions benefit from Canadian funding.  Co-ventures have not been eligible.  Few productions use co-ventures (a system that allows Canadian producers to partner with non-treaty producers, i.e. from the U.S.) because they are too hard to finance. As well, the control that is then given over to the U.S. partner is not that attractive.  The Canadian partner must have 50% of creative control and profits but realistically co-ventures are U.S.-driven projects.

Time will tell whether CIPFs will actually allocate more funds to co-ventures or whether this is flexibility they really did not want or need.

Permission: Script and Concept Development

Previously, the requirement for a broadcast licence prevented CIPFs from funding early stage development except through non-BDU funds (i.e. endowments).  The removal of the requirement for a broadcast licence automatically frees up CIPFs to allocate more funds to early stage development, or even slate development, if they so wish.

Permission:  Promotion Funding

CIPFs have not been able to specifically fund promotion, an increasingly important part of any production in the crowded marketplace.  However, the CIPFs have limited funds and many stakeholders are concerned about money being reallocated from production to promotion.  It is therefore up to each CIPF as to whether it wants to reallocate any of its limited resources specifically to promotion.

Requirement:  Measurement of Audience Success

CIPFs each make subjective assessments of projects and decide to fund the ones that meet their criteria, including the greatest potential for success.  CIPFs were concerned that any formalization of that process would impede the subjective analysis but also attempt to standardize what are inherently non-standard funds which cover many different niches of programming and audience.  The CIPFs are likely relieved that the decision is instead to require the CIPFs to report on the audience success criteria used rather than to change them in any way.

Requirement:  Accessibility

CIPFs will now have to ensure that all programming that they fund is closed captioned and includes described video.  They are not required to fund it but to disclose it.  While broadcasters require closed captioning and described video, by requiring CIPFs to ensure that a project has it before it is funded, the theory is that this rule will ensure that productions are developed with accessibility guidelines in place rather than dealt with after the fact in post-production.  This will have little effect on CIPFs except as a check box on their application form but may have a positive effect on production planning for accessibility.

Requirement:  Reflection of OLMCs

There are no requirements currently to reflect in any way Official Language Minority Communities (OLMCs).  The new framework will require that one person on the selection committee for a CIPF will be responsible for ensuring that OLMCs are properly reflected in decision making.  Annual reports will now have to track OLMC projects.  There is no quota system so it is not clear how the Commission will define ‘properly reflect’ and what penalty there might be.  Many CIPFs already fund OLMC projects on a regular basis so this may only be an added reporting requirement.

Requirement:  Governance

The Notice of Consultation hinted at possible major changes to the governance of the CIPFs, which worried many intervenors who could not see any problems that needed to be fixed.  However, with vertical integration there were some concerns about how the Boards of the CIPFs were constituted in order to ensure that they remain independent of their contributors.  Two thirds of Board members must now be independent, rather than previously no more than one-third could be members representing BDUs.  The definition of independent excludes employees, officers, directors etc. of a contributor or its affiliates.  For example, an employee of CTV would be independent of Bell under the old rules but not under the new rules.

Additional wording was also added to the conflict of interest language to require that decisions are made ‘absent of actual or perceived conflicts of interest’ but without setting any specific criteria to abide by.

Requirement:  Reporting

While most CIPFs publish annual reports there was no requirement to do so nor any criteria for those reports.  This is now standardized with few additional criteria beyond what most CIPFs already report on.  They will also have to submit audited financial statements.  The Commission understands that this could be an administrative burden for smaller funds which might not be able to cover the cost of an audit, particularly with the cap of 5% on administration costs.  These smaller funds can apply for an exemption from the audit if they can prove it would be unduly burdensome.

 

This revised policy framework will go into effect September 1, 2016 however it will take time for the funds to review and implement the changes into their guidelines, and have those changes approved by their boards.  There are no transition rules so it is not clear how quickly the CIPFs will have to change those parts of their guidelines that must change, before the Commission declares them offside of the new policy framework.  The only real penalty is being de-certified so hopefully the Commission will give the CIPFs at least one fiscal year to implement all the necessary guideline changes and possibly even board changes.

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.

CMF Consultations – Should You Care? Yes.

The CMF Consultation Tour for 2015 launched yesterday with the ‘focus group’ in Toronto.  There will be a road show across Canada as well as topic-specific Working Groups for representatives of industry stakeholder groups. You can see the tour schedule and a copy of the presentation deck here.   As well as in person feedback you can send in your thoughts in a letter or more formal submission or you can tweet feedback using the hashtag #cmfconsults.

Why should you care?

Every two years CMF has a major consultation to inform any necessary changes to their two-year guidelines.  The consultation tour and the Working Groups are a great opportunity for the various stakeholders to get into a room, air their issues and hear the perspectives and explanations of both other stakeholders and CMF staff.  It is also the best opportunity for CMF staff to hear about how their programs are working or might need to be tweaked.

This year though, the CMF is taking on an additional task.  We all know change is coming to how Canadian programming will be funded brought about by changing audience behaviour, technology, business models and regulation (i.e. Talk TV), which will likely all lead to reduced revenues to Canada Media Fund and possibly to broadcasters as well.  Rather than wait for these changes to have a major impact (they have already started) CMF has started thinking about what changes they need to make to stay relevant.  This started with an internal visioning exercise which has resulted in a few new concepts which they would like feedback on from the industry.  Word of warning though – major changes cannot be implemented without the agreement of Heritage because of the limitations contained in the Contribution Agreement between Heritage and CMF, limitations such as requiring broadcast triggers for funding.  It is unlikely that Heritage will agree to major changes in CMF during an election year or during what we all expect to be a minority government.

If little can be done now, then why have this process?  It is actually rare in our world for a funder to look ahead, think about how they need to adapt, and ask for stakeholder input on their ideas.  Even if CMF might only be able to make minor changes this year, if they have a strategy they can make those changes consistent with that strategy.  What a concept! [Oh, for a National Digital Strategy!]

I encourage you therefore to check out the presentation deck and either through your organization or individually share your thoughts with the CMF.  To get you started, here are a few of the highlights from yesterday’s consultation.

The top goals that the CMF sees for this exercise are that the CMF should:

  • support a wider array of linear and interactive content;
  • increase the focus on supporting landmark content; and
  • implement an approach based on supporting content along a continuum, from emergence to growth to sustainability.

Right away I know you are reacting to some of those words but hang on.  The next step in the exercise is to look at those outcomes through the CMF’s three activities:  foster and develop, finance and promote.  The result is a very dense slide (slide 35) of program verticals, targets, project types and objectives.  I’ll try to summarize it.

Going forward, expecting less revenue, the CMF would like to focus on ‘landmark content’ to maximize their resources where they will have the greatest impact now with audiences and with ongoing revenues.  They want to support production companies through the three stages of emergence, growth and sustainability so move beyond just project-specific financing to help the industry reach sustainability.  Project-specific funding should eventually be regardless of platform.  CMF has a role to play in promoting Canadian programming and financing the increased need for promotion in the crowded media landscape.

A lot of time during the consultation was spent on this new concept of ‘landmark content’ and how it differed from what CMF currently funds (i.e. who is going to lose out) and how the definition might need to be adapted depending on genre (i.e. kids or documentary) or platform (i.e. television or videogames).  It wasn’t clear to anyone there who would determine what is ‘landmark’, particularly since ‘high potential for success’ is a rather subjective concept.  Someone in the audience suggested that ‘landmark’ should mean popular like “Big Bang Theory” but the CMF seems to be going in the direction that it means much more than just audience size but also critical acclaim, international sales, longevity and as well popularity within a niche audience.   Feature film, documentary and interactive producers in the room were particularly concerned about what this definition might mean for their sectors.  Even the drama producers, who probably have a better idea of how ‘landmark’ might be defined for them, were concerned that there would be enough development money to ensure the creation of ‘landmark’ content.

A platform-agnostic approach would mean the ability to fund digital-only (or first) linear video content or web series.  Currently only IPF and Cogeco fund web series and they have limited funds and support only some genres.  The CMF can see a role for itself here but needs input on what it should fund and how, if it were to be able to fund web series.  Remember – there’s that pesky Contribution Agreement requiring broadcast triggers.

I found the discussion about potentially moving beyond project-based financing to be very interesting.  The CMF is exploring the idea of slate development or production financing, corporate financing based on a business plan, more financing for marketing and promotion and export development.  Last winter I did some research on different forms of ‘enterprise financing’ in different jurisdictions so I know that this is definitely a timely consideration as funding agencies around the world are trying to supplement traditional project financing with targeted financing that will build the businesses and help create stable and sustainable sectors.  There are many different ways that this could be done with different measurements of success (i.e. revenue generated, jobs, exports, production growth etc.).  If revenues to CMF are going to dwindle with no replacement regime in sight*, then it makes a lot of sense to help businesses need less (not no) government support.

There are no quick fixes to these issues and lots of potential for damage if the wrong decisions are made or impact is not fully thought out.  This is a great opportunity to be part of the planning.  I encourage you to read the materials, attend consultation sessions, ask questions and of course, tweet.  I’ll be following along with great interest.

*In a timely tweet an FCC Commissioner shared a blog post about New Zealand considering imposing a sales tax regime on Netflix, which would be a first step towards confirming that the CRTC had jurisdiction to impose a contribution regime on Netflix and similar non-Canadian OTT services.

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.

 

Project Funding Application Tips – 3

This is the third in my ongoing (though irregular) series of posts on Project Funding Application Tips (see here and here for previous posts).  They are tips that I’ve come up with after reviewing an awful lot of applications for a variety of funds.

  1. I can’t believe I have to say this but leave your cutesy bios on your website (if you must).  I don’t care if you like rainbows and kitty cats and rock climb in your spare time.  I want to know if you have the necessary skills and experience to do the job.
  2. If your website is going to have a lot of videos and some of them will be exclusive and some of them will be edited footage from the television show (e.g. bloopers), the budget for video cannot be assessed unless the evaluator has an idea of how many videos will be original and how many will be edited.  Even a ballpark will help.
  3. If something that you want to produce is going to be more expensive than normal ranges, you have to explain, in detail, why it will be more expensive.  Without that explanation some evaluators will cut the budget and/or the amount funded while others will reject an application completely.  Whatever the reason for the higher expense – sell it.  If it is a digital project and the higher expense is due to more content then you have to explain just how much content will be produced. If it is a drama and the cast is huge that should be obvious in the scripts but there will be other cost categories that will not be so obvious and they need explanation.
  4. If you are applying for funding for a second or later season, don’t assume that the evaluators are familiar with your show.  An episode of the earlier season is not enough.  You need to include a bible or other document that explains who the characters are and a summary of what happened in each previous season, particularly if there are story arcs that relate to the current season’s story.  It’s hard to evaluate creative when you don’t have any clue what’s going on.
  5. Comedy is hard but applying for funding for a comedy project is even harder.  Depending on the kind of comedy it might not come across from the script (I can remember laughing out loud while reading a goofy boys animation script but that’s rare).    Communicating the funny can be particularly hard when writing an outline or a concept document.  Short clips can go a long way to communicating the funny.  If you go that route though, make sure the clips really are funny.  They should also be well performed and edited so that the evaluator isn’t distracted by things that can be easily improved in production.
  6. Be consistent when applying to different funds.  While there may be different goals, eligibility requirements and guidelines between different funds the project should still be fundamentally the same.  If it isn’t there is a strong possibility that this will be noticed.  Yes, funders talk, especially when a project is complicated or brings up unique issues.  They also sometimes use the same evaluators so you always run the risk of someone saying ‘hey, I saw this project when it applied over here and it was different’.  Don’t do that.
  7. Speaking of other applications, if you are making multiple applications be sure to have the right name on your documents.  Make sure that your cover letter does not say ‘Dear Andra’ if it is going to the Shaw Rocket Fund.  Change the footer from ‘CMF Experimental’ to ‘Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund’.  Seriously – I’ve seen this mistake made.
  8. When you are applying to multiple agencies be careful about trying to shoehorn the same documents into each application.  Make sure that you address the needs of each application separately.  Funders want to know that you have taken the time and attention to focus on their guidelines and addressed their requirements.  Sometimes its just confusing when you give a funder information that they haven’t asked for.