Canadian industry split on how to get local films on TV screens

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After Netflix Canada and Apple TV, the domestic TV industry is set to see an even greater explosion of so-called over-the-top digital services enter the Canadian market.

So how should Canadian film react?

That was the question posed Wednesday night as major Canadian film and TV players huddled in Toronto at the law firm McCarthy Tetrault to debate how best to approach the CRTC to get more homegrown films on broadcast schedules beyond pay TV.

In the end, film producers, distributors and carriers were split between calling on the CRTC to impose film quotas and obligations on traditional broadcasters, or making movies Canadians want to view on emerging over-the-top, third window and VOD platforms.

The industry polarization at the Film Flash! Conference was especially apparent in the dialogue between film distributors and broadcasters.

CineCoup president of sales and distribution Brad Pelman, formerly of Maple Pictures, urged the industry through the CRTC to make domestic broadcasters employ local films to fulfill Canadian programming expenditure requirements.

“Is it 12 films a year, or 24 films, among four broadcasters? Put it on the table. The industry will respond by producing content to fill the time slots, in the same way TV producers have,” Pelman told the industry forum.

And Mongrel Media’s Hussain Amarshi, recently named head of CAFDE, the indie distributors lobby, called out David Purdy, senior vice president of content at Rogers Communications, on the quality of Canadian films airing Saturday nights on the City network.

“I don’t know where you’re getting all those great Canadian movies. My suspicion is that’s just branding,” Amarshi said.

“And I think it’s doing a disservice to Canadian films if you show shitty films and call them great Canadian movies. The first step is to stop doing that and that will help us,” he added.

In response, broadcasters urged producers and distributors to exploit emerging and expanding digital platforms, rather than focus on traditional TV in an age of cable cord shaving and cutting.

“Your job is getting more complicated, but over-the-top will be a major new factor,” Jay Switzer, co-founder and chair of Hollywood Suite, argued.

“So I would suggest getting off of the ‘oh, we must force CTV and Global and everybody to play X hours. There’s elasticity in that. That will come out of something else. Newscasts will be cancelled. Series that many of you work on (will get cancelled),” he added.

Switzer urged film producers and distributors to collect revenues from a series of windows — the CBC, major over-the-top players, second-run existing specialty players, third windows like Hollywood Suite — to exploit the long tail of revenues.

“I hope a few years from now you look back at the opportunities that over-the-top offers,” he said.

Filmmakers were also told to put audiences first, or risk seeing Netflix Canada and other players satisfy market demand.

“I respectfully think regulation is not the way to go. We have to create content that people will want to see, that they pull for and we don’t push to them,” Kevin Wright, former senior vice president of programming at Astral Media, told the gathering.

“If we force content into a box that no one wants to open, they will look to other sources and we will all be the poorer for it,” he added.

Jocelyn Hamilton, vice president of original programming, kids, comedy, drama at Corus Entertainment, cited a dearth of family-and female-skewing theatrical movies that she could program on her channels.

“There’s a lot of 18-plus, a lot of male-skewing, a lot of horror. But I just can’t buy anything. I have to program for my audience,” Hamilton said.

The Corus programmer challenged the film industry to consider what audiences wanted to view.

“They (films) can still be auteur driven, they can still be beautiful films. But they need to fit in the landscape of Canada, and on the networks for which I’m buying. I’m looking and, trust me, those films aren’t there,” Hamilton said.

Carolle Brabant, executive director of Telefilm Canada, argued TV was key to getting more Canadians to see homegrown movies.

She pointed to the Quebec documentary Dérapages (Skids) by Paul Arcand, about kids who treat their cars like toys and die in accidents.

Brabant said the film pulled in around $400,000 in theatrical box office in Quebec, before another 2 million viewers saw Dérapages  when it screened on the TVA network.

“Of course, TV loves films,” she argued.

But Brabant added the Canadian industry had to do even more partnerships and promotion of film to stay ahead of the digital curve.

“…It’s not working fast enough, as it’s still a challenge to get people to watch our films. We need to work closer together, coming up with ideas,” she urged.

“We need to work faster because opportunities will go (away),” Brabant added.