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.