CMPA takes aim at ‘producer of record’ deals: CRTC hearings

The commission also heard from CAFDE about how recent consolidation has affected the distribution outlets for features, and from DOC about how Super Channel's legal woes impact doc makers.
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The CMPA has raised a spectrum of concerns with both Canadian Heritage and the commission recently, but during yesterday’s intervener’s presentation before the CRTC it focused on just one: restoring what it perceives as a growing imbalance between producer and broadcaster in the exploitation of IP ownership.

Increasingly, producers are being forced to bear the brunt of the front-end risk in developing projects, before entering into deals with Canadian broadcasters, president and CEO Reynolds Mastin told the commission.

“Producers are restricted in fully embracing the future because of the broadcaster-centric nature of the current rules,” he said.

The CMPA in particular targeted Corus Entertainment for its ‘Producer of Record’ (POR) program, which Mastin called a “race to the bottom.”

In a previous filing with CRTC, the CMPA said the structure of the Corus POR deals meant that producers retained 100% of the copyright in the produced program itself, but that the deals see Corus “own and control 100% of all rights in the concept, concept materials and format underlying the program.” This, said the CMPA in its previous filing, “means that Corus alone will control whether and when additional episodes, sequels or spinoffs of the program will be produced, and by whom,” the filing said.

“What the producer of record does is offload all the risk to the production company, while allowing Corus to reap the benefits of the show,” said Mastin to the CRTC on Tuesday. At no point was it specified as to which shows he was referring, but Mastin went on to say it represented a troubling trend.

“With POR, the envelope is being pushed, and that is not good for the entire industry,” said Mastin, adding that the CMPA cannot engage with Corus to dissuade them from doing this without putting CMPA members in a “precarious situation.”

To this point, the commission asked if the CMPA might be seeking to put too much leverage on the side of the producer, while neglecting the risk broadcasters take on.

“There’s no question that [broadcasters] have risk,” said Mastin, adding that producers take on the early-stage risk and are in a position whereby, if their pitch is turned down, they are “dead in the water.”

The Canadian Association of Film Distributors and Exporters (CAFDE) also went before the commission Tuesday, with representatives of the organization requesting two main points: that Canadian broadcasters be mandated to air a prescribed amount of Canadian feature films and that Bell Media’s Movie Network be required to buy and air all Canadian theatrical feature films presented to them by Canadian film distributors.

“Our members have seen reduced commitment to Canadian films by Canadian broadcasters over the last five broadcast seasons, both in pay and free television acquisitions,” said Emily Harris, SVP of business and legal affairs at eOne.

This has become more problematic since Corus shuttered its Movie Central channel last year, with Canadian filmmakers now only having one pay TV service that will buy their films, said Harris. “If Bell isn’t buying all of them, what is happening to those stories? It’s not picking on Bell, it’s just the way the system is working right now,” said Harris, adding that CAFDE members are reporting that feature films are becoming increasingly difficult to sell to broadcasters.

The Documentary Organization of Canada also spoke in front of the commission, with executive director Pepita Ferrari telling the CRTC that opportunities for documentary filmmakers are decreasing fast in the Canadian system. Ferrari used the example of Super Channel’s owner/operator Allarco filing for creditor protection as evidence of how fragile the landscape is for Canadian doc-makers.

“It’s had a disproportionate effect on our community,” she said, telling the commission that, across its 700 members, upwards of $20 million of production budgets was tied up with Super Channel – some of that in what has already been disclaimed and the rest still in limbo. “The way Super Channel deals were structured – there was no upfront payment, or during financing. All was [to be] delivered on the broadcast date.”

Ferrari added that, aside from CBC, Super Channel is the only channel that buys documentaries in Canada.

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