Industry orgs file complaint to the CRTC against the Bell Fund

CMPA, TVO and others argue the fund's TV program favours major production funders in its process of determining which projects receive funding.

Red TV CRTCA group of industry broadcasters and organizations has issued a complaint with the CRTC against the Bell Fund and its new TV Program.

The complaint, which was submitted to the CRTC on May 10, is signed by Blue Ant Media, CBC/Radio-Canada, CMPA, Groupe V Media, TVO, Groupe Media TFO, OUTtv, Tele-Quebec and TV5/Unis TV.

The signatories argue that the TV Program’s process for determining which productions receive funding favours major production funders (MPFs). It also argues that the fund’s board is not majority-comprised of independent parties, as mandated by the CRTC.

The Bell Fund first introduced its new TV program in September 2017 – one of four pilot programs released in response to the CRTC’s updated policy framework for CIPFs. The TV program, which aims to support market-driven Canadian TV production for lifestyle, drama and comedy series, first released its application guidelines this April.

The TV program is divided into three envelopes, for three different categories of broadcasters. The first envelope is reserved for MPFs, the largest private broadcasting groups with Canadian production expenditures of more than $125 million in English-language markets and $50 million in the French-language markets. Under that definition, the qualifying MPFs are Bell Media, Corus and Quebecor Media.

MPFs receive 65% of the funding, while private broadcasters with CPE below $125 million and $50 million receive 20% of the funding. Meanwhile, public and educational broadcasters receive 15%. The allocations are designed to reflect contribution levels (based on 2016 CPE), but the signatories argue that MPFs only represent 57% of total eligible CPE in 2016 and are, in effect, getting a disproportionate share of the total funding.

The complaint focuses on Bell Media, which it says will be guaranteed almost 31% of the total funding (if it gets a proportionate share of the 65% envelope), despite the fact that its eligible CPE is only 27% of the total CPE in 2016. “This is a clear preference for a Bell company by the Bell Fund,” the signatories state. “In particular, it does not meet the requirement that funding be objective and absent of actual or perceived conflicts of interest as required under the CRTC’s policy framework for CIPFs.”

The number of applications submitted is another area of contention for the complainants. MPFs can file unlimited applications to the TV Program, subject to the CPE-based envelope funding caps, whereas all other broadcast groups are limited to two applications per broadcast year. Unlike MPFs, their application must include one to two scripts and marketing plans.

Regarding independence of the board, the Bell Fund’s board of directors consists of eight members, of which five are independent. The 2017 to 2018 board consists of Kevin Goldstein BCE’s VP, regulatory affairs, content and distribution; Bell Media’s VP of programming French-language TV, Dany Meloul; BCE’s VP, content, Payal Gabrani-Bahl; Suzanne Gouin; Impossible Objects co-founder and president Naveen Prasad; FanTrust Entertainment Strategies president Catherine Warren; and chair Suzanne Guèvremont, GM of Montreal’s School of Digital Arts, Animation and Design.

The CIPFs policy states, however, that at least two-thirds of a board be independent, which the Bell Fund does not currently meet. The group is asking the CRTC to direct the Bell Fund to revise the eligibility and application process of the TV Program and ensure its board meets the two-third threshold. A 2014 complaint against the Bell Fund requested the board appoint an additional independent member.

In response to the complaint against it, The Bell Fund told Playback it is “currently reviewing the May [10] complaint and our response will be in accordance with the Commission’s Part one application proceedings.”

The TV program is the last of the Fund’s four pilot programs to launch under the CRTC’s revised policy framework for CIPFs. 

Bell Media directed requests for comment to the Bell Fund.