Cancon consultations roll through T.O.

Incentives to export content and Canadian spending requirements: Consultation participants share their ideas. (Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly pictured.)

Melanie Joly croppedCanadian Heritage hosted the third of its Cancon consultations Wednesday in Toronto, with producers, broadcasters and industry stakeholders on hand to discuss the challenges and issues surrounding Canadian content in a digital world.

Following an introduction by Canadian multi-hyphenate Paul Gross, Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly opened the discussions by reaffirming the government’s commitment to investing in cultural industries and asking stakeholders to be bold when offering their ideas on how to strengthen the creation, discovery and export of Canadian content.

During the consultation, three questions were posed to participants in the room and Canadians following on social media: 1) What does a cultural system that supports Canadian creators and respects citizen choice look like to you? 2) How can we support Canada’s content creators, artists and cultural entrepreneurs? 3) How do we promote Canada’s creativity in a digital world?

Participants were divided into working groups and, throughout the event, representatives from each table were asked to stand up and present their “answers” to the three questions. Playback Daily followed the consultations and spoke with some participants after the three-hour event about their thoughts on the conversations and questions raised.

Ramona Pringle, digital producer and director of Ryerson University’s Transmedia Zone, told Playback Daily there seemed to be a bit of conflict at a few of the tables at the beginning of the session, with stakeholders from broadcasters, guilds, production companies and other facets of the industry all approaching issues from their own points of view.

She added, however, that the value of the consultations was having the various stakeholders at the same table to help collapse some of those silos. Pringle argued that Canadians can’t effectively present their content on the world stage if the various facets of the industry aren’t speaking with a unified voice, especially given that the question of Canada’s unique value proposition was a recurring theme at the consultation.

One important issue brought up throughout the day, she said, was the need to support the middle class creator and ensure Canadians at all ends of the industry spectrum can make a living.

In one presentation of the main talking points addressed at his table, Raja Khanna, CEO, Television & Digital at Blue Ant Media Inc., said the Canadian system should support those who take risks on the export of content. “In the case of TV, that is television distributors that give an advance to a producer – that’s an economic risk based on a belief that that piece of Canadian content will sell in some other country,” he said. Economic support for the export of Canadian content must be encouraged, he added, with the proposed idea that larger distribution advances be eligible for some kind of tax incentive.

Khanna’s group also raised the point that if a company is broadcasting in Canada (whether through digital or linear platforms), it should be forced to put money back into the Canadian system. The proposal is “not a tax,” Khanna said, “but if you’re broadcasting in Canada and extracting economic value from Canada, you should have a Canadian content spending requirement.”

In addition, Khanna’s group discussed the idea of increasing the deductibility of advertising on Canadian-owned properties to encourage advertisers to put more dollars on Canadian content.

Matt King, producer at LaRue Entertainment, also told Playback Daily one of the major talking points in his group was the need to invest more dollars, both domestically and internationally, in marketing Cancon. “Can we help to support our projects that get a lot of production financing but are very limited on the marketing financing side? Can we find a way to value marketing a little [more]?” he said.

Another table offered the question of why producers and broadcasters seemingly take precedent over creators in the current system: “Why does the ownership of the IP trigger the funding mechanism, when really it’s about giving work to the creative class?” said Vice Media’s David Purdy, who spoke on behalf of the table that included WGC president Jill Golick and ACTRA president Ferne Downey . “The funding mechanism is triggered by getting a broadcaster to agree to write a cheque and then that IP being owned by a Canadian producer – why are the broadcasters and the producers the sacred cows of the system,” he added.

The group also called for the production of more serialized drama. “We should be producing serialized drama, which seems to be the biggest single leverage point in the industry right now. If you have a great serialized drama, you get the biggest cheques from the OTT providers and from the SVOD providers and from the major pay TV operators,” said Purdy.

During a media conference at the start of the Toronto consultation, Minister Joly said she has been pleased by the willingness of industry stakeholders to engage in this “difficult discussion” and said it was important to be frank about how consumers are changing their perception of content.

“This is about the relevancy of state action in a digital world,” she said of the need for the consultations, while adding she is in discussions with cultural ministers in other countries to gauge how the impact of digital shifts is affecting global film and television.

When asked if Canadian Heritage could work alongside the CRTC in any capacity to achieve its goals, Joly said, “The CRTC is independent, but the reality is that I expect that when it comes to the Canadian funds, that this funding goes to Canadian creators. That’s my expectation. And this is what we’ll be working on.”