Blais tells media cos to look ahead, not back

In a speech delivered Wednesday, the chair of the CRTC challenged critics and the industry to embrace the disruptive nature of digital.

JeanPierreBlaisJean-Pierre Blais had stern words for critics of the CRTC and big media companies at the International Institute of Communications conference in Ottawa Wednesday.

In a keynote speech titled “Taking Stock: The Past, The Present and the Future,” the chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission told the audience that Canada needs to stop concentrating on “legacy issues” and embrace the digital future.

“Ten years ago, the CRTC talked in terms of sustaining a broadcasting regime that protected Canadian content. No longer. Broadband has forced us to re-visit that discussion – to think in terms of outcomes, rather than rules,” he said. “Those in the cultural sector who believe that we will be able to build a great protective wall around Canada, so we only tell narratives by Canadians to 36 million Canadians divided into two linguistic markets, are bound to be sorely disappointed. The future, as I have said before, lies in promotion, not protection.”

The CRTC’s shift from protection to promotion, Blais said, will help Canadian productions better compete on the world stage. The exportability of Canadian content has long been a point of focus for Blais, who told Canadian creators and producers they must concentrate their resources on telling Canadian stories to the world, rather than only telling Canadian stories to Canadians.

To that end, the CRTC recently updated its Canadian Independent Production Fund policy framework, and in one controversial change, reduced the number of Canadian content points required to receive funding from eight to six.

The change has outraged many in the Canadian creative community, with some arguing the decision is counter to Canadian Heritage’s goal of better promoting Canadian culture. In an opinion piece for Playback Daily, Tim Southam, national president of the Directors Guild of Canada wrote that Canada will only compete in a digital world if it fosters its own talent. “We live in a time where audiences everywhere seek original, innovative and authentic stories. There is no reason to believe Canada is an exception. A film or TV series where none of the creative leaders are Canadian will not have a distinctive voice, even if it is shot in Canada,” he said. “Removing our voice diminishes our capacity to compete, and over time shrinks our talent pool.”

Blais fired back against critics of the change, however, arguing the CRTC simply adopted the same standard used by the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office.

On to streaming services, Blais said he was shocked to hear Rogers and Shaw would shutter SVOD service shomi only two years after launching the service. “I have to wonder if they are too used to receiving rents from subscribers every month in a protected ecosystem, rather than rolling up their sleeves in order to build a business without regulatory intervention and protection,” he said.

Rogers did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

Blais concluded by urging Canadian media and communications companies to take risks and not rest on their laurels. “Change begets change,” he said. “Those companies that listen to consumers, that read the tea leaves, that lift their feet off first base with a view to stealing second will join their rightful places among the world’s leaders.”