Tag Archives: Canadian Heritage

Creative Canada – Sounds Good So Far

You can see my summary of the relevant (to primarily tv) parts of the Creative Canada strategy at TV, Eh here.

For my interactive digital media people there are a couple of other interesting points to make.

If the s. 15 report from the CRTC triggers a public consultation, the terms of reference give producers the opportunity to explain how affiliated digital media are essential for discoverability of television programs.  That could potentially lead to changes in the Certified Independent Production Fund framework.  It’s a long shot but if the door is open you might as well try.  [more to follow in a future blog post about the new Bell Fund programs]

Heritage created a Creative Industries Council to be run jointly by Heritage and ISED, which will advise both departments on how to enhance collaboration between industries and allow the creative industries to grow.  IDM is all about collaboration and often straddles culture and innovation so there are opportunities there to influence policy to support IDM industries, depending on who is appointed to the Creative Industries Council and what it’s specific mandate is.

Creative Hubs will receive funding to support creative startups to help them create, collaborate and innovate.  There’s a lot of potential here for hubs that will support IDM startups.

As IDM could not access the old PromArts and Trade Routes programs, IDM producers should be eagerly waiting to see the details of the new Creative Export Strategy Fund to ensure that it covers IDM and the kinds of export activities that will enhance their success.

I guess we’ll just have to stay tuned.

P.S. Oh and a rant is required.  Phrases like ‘many of Canada’s federal cultural institutions and funding programs will have implemented concrete measures to make our creative industries more inclusive, by increasing opportunities for women’ drive me mental.  Diversity and inclusion is not synonymous with gender parity.  Could the government please get working on programs that encourage a wider diversity of talent, stories and decision makers so that our media is more reflective of our audience?

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Heritage Committee on Local TV

This morning I listened to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (#CHPC).  It was their first meeting on a study on ‘The Media and Local Communities’ which is also their first study.  I tuned in because it’s the first real meeting for this committee in this Parliament and I wanted to hear them interact with senior staff at Heritage and the CRTC (and then last minute additions from Industry – I mean Innovation, Science and Economic Development – and the Competition Bureau).  I’m not that interested in local tv but I’m glad I did tune in.

I was talking to my local MP, Julie Dabrusin, on the weekend since she sits on the Heritage Committee and I realized when I spoke to her about the local tv study that her interests in it were broader than my interpretation of the terms of reference of the study.  The minutes describe it as:

“… how Canadians, and especially local communities, are informed about local and regional experiences through news, broadcasting, digital and print media; the unintended consequences of news media concentration and the erosion of local news reporting and the impact of new media”

In listening to the meeting though I was struck by how wide ranging the questions were. Heritage started off by giving a very rapid ‘Canadian media policy 101’ talk with what sounded like (the feed was audio-only) a lot of slides.  A few of the MPs sounded overwhelmed.  It should be remembered that I believe Pierre Nantel (NDP) and Hedy Fry (Lib) are the only MPs there with previous experience on the committee.   So some of the questions continued on the 101 theme (‘how is Canadian media funded’ – I think I heard Helen Kennedy’s sigh before she started counting the ways) while others went off on to topics like diversity, funding for digital media, local news, newspaper consolidation, Broadcasting Act objectives, the Bell-Astral merger and the inability for anyone to make any money on digital platforms (that was a Conservative MP statement without any evidence).

The CRTC could not really say much because their local tv proceeding is outstanding and there are rules about not discussing a pending proceeding.  They did chat a bit about why LPIF wasn’t renewed, which honestly could have been the topic of a whole meeting as it had been a whole hearing.  They made a pitch that they are lowering barriers to innovation and encouraging broadcasters to evolve to multiplatform businesses, though without specifics.  Innovation, Science and Economic Development made some odd statements about how millennials don’t care about funding for digital media, just access and making money from their content.  Umm, just because you can make content for peanuts doesn’t mean you want to.   The Competition Bureau said they didn’t care about whether diversity of voices was impacted by consolidation, only if there was a negative economic impact.

There were some good questions but my favourites unfortunately were thrown in at the end when there wasn’t time for answers so we won’t hear them publicly.  Julie Dabrusin asked if the CRTC planned to update the 8 year old Diversity study (I swear I didn’t plant that question) and Hedy Fry asked who was in a position to regulate digital platforms for accuracy.  I suspect Scott Hutton of the CRTC was pretty happy there was no time to answer that last one!  The answers should be incorporated in their report so I’ll be looking for them.

Things could obviously change over the minimum 10 meetings that will be devoted to this study but based on today the Committee will be asking all sorts of questions about the media landscape and I’ll try to pay attention when I can.  It’s good to hear what the MPs are interested in and what topics they need help on (i.e. yes, there are businesses making money with content on digital platforms).

Heritage Committee Report on the Canadian Feature Film Industry

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage recently released its report on its study on the Canadian Feature Film Industry. Over the spring a number of feature film stakeholders had appeared before the Committee or sent in submissions and this report is the result.
First a little context. Standing Committee reviews can be useful to study a sector within their jurisdiction, raise issues and make recommendations to the government. There is no obligation for the government to act on these recommendations or to even comment on them. These are the dying days of this Parliament and it is unlikely that the government will even notice this Report. However, it can also educate and inform Department of Canadian Heritage staff and help them to develop policies that could be implemented in the future.   As well, given that we are leading up to an election, this kind of a study could inform party platforms or future government proposals.

I recommend reading this report for a couple of reasons. If you are new to Canadian feature film policy it is a fairly accurate (not always the case) overview of the current state of the industry.   A wide selection of stakeholders appeared before the Committee and many topical issues and proposed solutions were presented. If this is your field then it is also interesting to see which issues the Committee as a whole, and the Opposition parties in supplementary proposals, felt worth recommending.

I found a couple of the recommendations of particular interest. A few of their recommendations went beyond government to other bodies, which technically speaking are outside the Committee and the government’s jurisdiction. In Recommendation 5 and 6 the Committee recommended that the CRTC include feature films as a separate category within PNI and that it review its PNI policy to specifically support feature film. As the CRTC is an arm’s length body this recommendation is like the Canadian government making a recommendation to the U.S. State Department on foreign policy. Further, there is a policy development process at the CRTC that is a great deal more rigorous than a Parliamentary Committee review. We might not like the current result of the process but the government cannot step in and make specific changes (there is a policy direction process but that’s more general).

Recommendation 10 is a recommendation asking the CBC to enhance its support of Canadian feature films, including on digital platforms but without a recommendation to increase the CBC’s budget to enable it to do so (which is in the government’s jurisdiction). The NDP expressed in their supplement the belief that the CBC should have sufficient resources to fulfill its mandate without a specific recommendation about what was needed to do that.

There were a couple of very specific recommendations related to the tax credits which could make a huge difference to feature film producers. For years the CMPA has been lobbying to eliminate the ‘grind’, where tax credits are reduced by the amount of assistance received from other levels of government (e.g. provincial tax credits). The Committee did not go so far as to recommend its elimination but that the problem should be studied. The Liberals in their supplement also supported the recommendation from witnesses that 75 – 85% of tax credit payments should be moved up to reduce the interim financing costs. This would be a great measure that would not cost the government anything but would create significant budget savings. I would only add that it should not be limited to feature film tax credits.

The final recommendation that interests me comes from both the NDP and Liberal supplements and was ignored by the main recommendations. Both parties recommended that OTT services should provide data to Heritage (or Heritage and the CRTC in the case of the Liberals) on consumer habits, Canadian films available, revenues and costs in order to assist policy development.  So this is a recommendation that the government MAKE Netflix and Google do what the CRTC was unable to make them do during the CRTC hearing. Nice thought but given that they deny that the CRTC has jurisdiction, I doubt that they would agree that the Canadian government has jurisdiction. I think it’s a lovely idea and yes it is data that the policy makers absolutely need to have for accurate policy development but it isn’t terribly realistic.

Investing in Culture is Good Business

This morning I read an interesting article in The Atlantic “Does Art Help the Economy”  (H/T to Sasha Boersma) which talks about how the UK Culture Secretary used economic arguments to prevent cuts to her department’s budget.  Their political situation so mirrors our own that I feel that it’s worth sharing and commenting on.

The UK culture department had already survived a 30% cut in spending in 2010 but they were expecting more cuts due to the recession.  The 5% cut for this year was seen as a reprieve.  Culture Secretary Maria Miller had been making the argument that funding arts should be seen as venture capital that invests in the British brand that could be leveraged to deliver economic growth:  “Culture should be seen as the standard bearer for [Britain’s] efforts to engage in cultural diplomacy, to develop soft power, and to compete, as a nation, in both trade and investment.”

Those in the Canadian cultural industries who lobby the federal government for funding, policies and programs have had to learn the economic arguments for culture since the Conservatives became the government.  The argument that culture was intrinsically an important part of citizenship resonated with Liberal governments but wasn’t enough with Conservatives.  Slowly we all started compiling statistics and analysis (Note the most recent study released July 10, 2013 by the CMPA and Motion Picture Association – Canada on the economic contribution of film and television in Canada) and making economic arguments to show why culture should not be considered an unnecessary frill in recessionary times but an actual economic generator.

From my perspective, it’s been a tough sell and I don’t know whether it’s just that the Conservatives aren’t buying the argument or whether we’re not doing a good enough job in selling it.  I find The Atlantic argument interesting because it also points to a division within the cultural community in Britain that I believe we also have here.  In the UK there were advocates who fought against the economic argument because “directing our investment in culture for its commercial potential” will result in “worse art” and a “worse commercial outcome”.  I’m not sure what Dame Liz Forgan of the Arts Council of England was referring to but the Canadian equivalent would be the really bad movies that were produced as a result of very aggressive tax shelters in the 70s and 80s.  I have my name in the credits of a few of those so I know what I’m talking about.  But I do not believe that any of our current economic-focused programs such as the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit have produced bad art.  Quite the contrary.  Unlike in the tax shelter days, no one produces film or television programs just for the financing so the creative has to be good enough to generate other production financing and find an audience.

As we often do in Canada, we need to take a hybrid approach.  Gone are the days when we can say that culture needs to be funded only because it presents a social benefit to Canadians.  It is important to Canadians that we have access to our own high quality cultural product, but when we only make that argument too often culture is seen as a charitable activity and is the first thing cut when times are tough.   Investment in culture is not a frill or a charity.  It is an investment in jobs, in the Canadian brand, in international trade and economic growth.  However, we can’t lose sight of the Canadian values part of the argument because that is how you avoid “worse art”.

I hope that new Minister of Heritage Shelly Glover reads The Atlantic article.  Either way, it’s up to those who lobby in Ottawa to craft those hybrid arguments and keep trying to convince the powers that be that investing in Canadian culture is a smart investment for the country.

A New Co-Production Policy – What Do We Know?

On March 7, 2013, during a speech by Parliamentary Secretary Paul Calandra to the CMPA Prime Time audience, the government announced that it would now be implementing its new film and television co-production policy.  Most of the audience went ‘huh?’ and a few directed the ‘huh?’ at me.

I don’t have all the answers but I’ve been able to dig up a few – sorry but it took me a while.

Here’s the context.  A new co-production policy framework  was released February 2011.   It basically said that after declining treaty co-production volume, the policy framework would set the big picture goal of making Canada a more desirable co-production partner.  Co-productions bring more foreign investment to Canada and make it easier for Canadian productions to get access to foreign markets.  The industry was asked to consult on the implementation of that new policy framework – the details of how it would be accomplished.  There were questions and possible solutions that we were asked to address such as lowering the minimum participation from Canada, a new set of minimum key creatives and frequency of review (I’m going on memory as none of the materials are on the Heritage site any more).   These details would inform the specifics of each treaty as it gets renegotiated or for the negotiation of new ones.   That was another question – should Heritage start implementing the new policy with new negotiations or by updating the existing treaties.

So when I heard that the new policy would now be implemented I went to look for the details of the implementation.  Perhaps there would be a report that said how the industry consultation had been considered, or not.   There is not.  Heritage staff advised me that details on the provisions of the proposed treaties (one of the more significant aspects of implementation) cannot be released as they could jeopardize or confuse negotiations.  Heritage did release today a document entitled:  “Selection Criteria for entering into negotiations or renegotiations for an audiovisual coproduction treaty with Canada” and it provides a little more insight.

A treaty agreement governs how the two countries which are party to the agreement will treat a co-production and what the minimum requirements are for a co-production to be eligible.  The primary benefit is that the co-production can be treated in each country as a domestic production, qualifying for support and meeting quotas.

The new treaty agreements will be more conceptual and less detailed than the existing agreements so that they can be more easily amended to adapt to changing production realities and to allow for more negotiation flexibility between co-production partners.  I honestly do not know what this means in reality.  In theory it makes sense because amending a treaty agreement between two governments is very time-consuming and complex but there is still a risk that too much has been left outside the agreement.  We just don’t know yet.

The new rules will not come into play until new treaty agreements are negotiated.  The Selection Criteria document says that the government will prioritize countries with a strong track record of co-production, with government support for co-productions, are good trading partners for Canada, are in a position to offer opportunities to Canadian productions and a variety of other factors.  In reality I think that means UK, France, Germany, Australia and Ireland to start but there are so many factors including ‘have a significant demographic presence in the Canadian population’ that they could throw India or China into the top list as well, even though there hasn’t been the same volume of co-production with those countries.

All we appear to be able do at this point is wait for new treaties and revised treaties to be announced and compare them to the old treaties.  Most (but not all) treaties follow the same format and terms and conditions.   If you are considering a co-production right now I would suggest checking in now and then with Telefilm (who administers the treaties on behalf of the government) to see if there is a new governing treaty that might change the rules that govern your project.   But it won’t happen any time soon – treaty agreements are notoriously slow to negotiate and ratify because they are agreements between two governments.

And for those of you who are wondering if this new policy or its implementation will have any impact on the number of minority co-productions on the CBC?  Wrong venue – that’s an issue for the CRTC which may end up being part of their upcoming licence renewal decision.