September 29, 2017

Unpacking the Heritage Minister’s speech: A Vision for Canada’s Creative Industries

Hello ACTRA members,

On Thursday, September 28th, I had the opportunity to represent ACTRA members in Ottawa as the Liberal government laid out its policy framework for Canada’s Creative industries in a speech delivered to the Economic Club of Canada by the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage.

There is much to be thankful for:

  • The decision to support the Canada Media Fund (CMF) is a step forward in addressing the fund’s declining revenues, and will help ensure the continued creation and diversity of Canadian content programming.
  • The decision to support emerging writers through the CMF is an important move that will help develop strong Canadian voices and productions.
  • Creating an export fund to explore distribution options to help increase the availability and discoverability of Canadian productions in our own country and around the world is long overdue and will be helpful to our industry.

We have a government that is listening to the creative sector and recognizes the value arts & culture bring to the Canadian economy and to the Canadian soul. (Film & TV alone accounts for over $7B of production and creates over 140K full-time equivalent jobs each year.)

Committing to continued dialogue with artists and the industry is especially important as 2018 will bring reviews of the Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Copyright Acts along with a fresh mandate for the new CRTC chair and the renegotiation of NAFTA. These are all files on which our industry will either wane or flourish.

Well done! However, the devil will always be found in the details.

While this new framework seems generally positive, it still leaves a number of unanswered questions. Will there be a cap on investment in the CMF? Will this investment rise with inflation? Will the CBC’s new mandate ensure it continues to invest in new creative production? Are regulations for our independent producers and Canadian broadcasters to be applied to Over-the-top broadcasters like Netflix? On that last question, it seems the answer is “no.”

Negotiating investment into CanCon production from large foreign players is always welcome. A $500M investment in CanCon from Netflix over five years is an impressive number and may see some positive results. (Our Foreign Service partners bring many billions of dollars in production to our Canadian industry every year. We celebrate it, and when this production meets our CanCon requirements we celebrate its success even more.)

However, in this announcement, Netflix – a multi-billion-dollar, foreign multi-national company – is being allowed to write/negotiate its own rules. Unlike traditional broadcasters, Netflix and other Internet broadcasters will continue to be completely unregulated. They will not be making contributions to the Canada Media Fund. This also raises another concerning question: Will Netflix be required to invest in uniquely Canadian programming or hire Canadians in key creative roles? It seems this Netflix deal only confirms that while we must abide by the rules and regulations for our own industry, the biggest players get to make up their own.

Netflix is not stupid. It will produce here because it is profitable, and because it can rely on our exceptional professionals in front of, behind and after the camera. However, if the math changes, Netflix may stop investing in production while continuing to sell subscriptions in Canada.

As Canadians, we have always charged a levy for access to our Canadian homes, audiences and marketplace. We did this for content delivered over-the-air, on cable, via satellite and then… the CRTC of the 1990s didn’t understand the Internet… so, no regulation. But we know the Internet is simply just another pipeline. The content is what people tune-in to watch. Content costs money to make, and Canadian content projects Canada to the world and supports every other type of business we do. Last year, over $730M left Canada in the form of Netflix subscription fees. The company paid no HST, no corporate tax and nothing into the CMF. Is this fair?

The time has come for a level playing field that regulates all those profiting from access to Canadians, including OTTs, to invest in the creation of our excellent Canadian content.

The 2018 reviews of the Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Copyright Acts, and the new CRTC mandate and the renegotiation of NAFTA will each challenge our industry’s ability to remain relevant and competitive in a global marketplace. We must remain vigilant and ensure Canada, as a sovereign nation, sets its own cultural agenda.

We are exceptionally talented! We have built a remarkable industry. ACTRA is a big part of this success. Great Canadian shows like Murdoch, Private Eyes, Mohawk Girls, Rookie Blue, Orphan Black, Little Mosque, Motive, Heartland, 19-2, Republic of Doyle, Corner Gas and so many others are seen in hundreds of countries and territories around the world. Some are even seen in primetime on American carriers. We make great, world-class content! Let’s make sure this trend continues and grows.

We welcome these positive steps laid out by our government, however, we will have to watch these files closely and pay attention to the details. Thanks for your ACTRAvism!

In solidarity,

David Sparrow

Click here to read the minister’s speech and the government’s Creative Canada policy framework.