Op/Ed: There’s much to like in Creative Canada

CMPA chair and Shaftesbury exec Scott Garvie argues that the hoopla around Netflix misses the forest for the trees in Minister Joly's cultural policy.

Scott Garvie_medBy Scott Garvie

As readers of this publication well know, last week, Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly released a comprehensive vision to address the impact of the digital shift on the screen-based production sector in Canada. Since then, most of the media attention has focused on a single component of her announcement – the $500 million dollar deal with Netflix.

I get it. I’m a producer, and I too have questions about this deal and its impacts. But the attention on Netflix has overshadowed many other positive – and arguably more important – initiatives included in the Minister’s Creative Canada policy framework.

In announcing new government investment in the Canada Media Fund (CMF), the Minister has addressed one of the greatest immediate risks facing Canada’s domestic production sector. The CMF is funded through a combination of government investment and contributions made by Canada’s large cable companies. These contributions are based on a percentage of the companies’ gross revenues. The internet has disrupted what was once a well-functioning model; as audiences shift from traditional TV to other digital channels, cable revenues have declined, and contributions to the CMF have dropped significantly. This is a concerning trend that we’ve seen for a number of years.

Across Canada’s production sector, the CMF provides crucial funding at the proof-of-concept stage of development. At Shaftesbury, the CMF has long been a valued partner, one that has helped us bring projects such as Murdoch Mysteries and The Listener to the screen. I firmly believe that a permanently financially diminished CMF would have had dire cultural and economic consequences for Canada, and that the impact would be hard to reverse. The Minister identified this as a significant problem and was able to secure additional funding to address the issue. This could not have been an easy endeavour, and her successful navigation of those waters deserves our applause.

Another issue addressed by the Minister last week is one that I’ll admit is unlikely to inspire newspaper editors, but is nonetheless a move that will have a clear positive impact. I can tell you that Minister Joly’s commitment to shorten wait times, reduce paperwork, and improve administration of tax credits by CAVCO will be cheered by every producer in Canada, as we all hate red tape delays. These efficiencies will remove a universal frustration for producers and must result in more money on screen.

The Creative Canada policy doesn’t just address current challenges – it also looks forward. This was evident in the announcement of a number of joint initiatives with the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), including the establishment of the Creative Industries Council, and the opening of access for the creative sector to the government’s $1.26 billion Strategic Innovation Fund. These initiatives echoed some of the recommendations the CMPA made to the Minister in our submission to the Department of Canadian Heritage last fall. From virtual reality productions to new digital business models, the production sector is a leading driver of innovation across the country, with benefits reaching far beyond entertainment. These commitments from Minister Joly indicate that she clearly recognizes the leadership role our sector can play in the years ahead and that we will continue to be an economic driver and job creator for Canada. Minister Joly and the federal government realize we need the business tools to continue to innovate, and to transition our businesses alongside the morphing digital realities facing us as content creators.

The Minister also clearly understands that the future success of Canadian creators will be determined in part by our ability to bring strong Canadian content to audiences worldwide. The announcement of a new creative export strategy is welcome news that promises to open up new markets and opportunities for Canada’s independent producers. Furthermore it’s encouraging to see the Minister acting quickly on this commitment, with her announced trade mission to China in the spring. We at Shaftesbury have embraced a global distribution model and today our programs air in more than 140 countries around the world. This is a model that I know can work, and I’m hopeful that these export initiatives will help other Canadian production companies reach new audiences and grow.

The caveat, of course, is that the ability to build strong Canadian production companies by exporting content requires ownership of intellectual property by those production entities. It’s only through the retention of IP that producers can capitalize our companies and continue to fulfill our role as creative entrepreneurs and expand our industry’s footprint in Canada and abroad.

The good news is the Minister seems to understand this. Her announced intention to review regulatory and legislative tools highlights her commitment to modernize the sector.

Long-term success for our domestic industry will require strong Canadian companies that produce compelling content for audiences across the country and around the world. Minister Joly deserves credit for taking some good first steps to make this vision a reality. These are very complicated issues and, as the hard work continues, Canada’s independent producers stand at the ready to help with the heavy lifting, hopefully reducing any unintended consequences of these welcome policy initiatives.

- Scott Garvie is chair of the Canadian Media Producers Association and SVP at Shaftesbury