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!