Banff ’18: CMF adds digital-first funding trigger

Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly made the announcement during her keynote address, while also discussing the CRTC's recent programming distribution report.

The CMF has expanded its funding triggers, giving producers more flexibility to access funding for digital-first projects.

The news was announced during a conversation between CMF president and CEO Valerie Creighton and Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly at Banff World Media Festival on June 10. The expanded trigger means producers who have a production commitment from a Canadian online platform (such as CraveTV, or Club Illico) will be able to access funding. Currently, projects need to be licensed by a conventional broadcaster and have a digital media component to receive CMF coin. The exception to that rule is the CMF’s web series program through the Experimental Stream.

The details of how this new trigger will be applied still need to be ironed out. As such, the CMF announced it will launch a cross-country consultation this fall to discuss this and other issues.

Expanding the funding trigger to include new platforms is something the CMF and other industry members have long called for as a way to combat declining BDU investment. In its submission to the CRTC on the future programming distribution, the CMF wrote “If we wish all the players in the industry – TV and online, Canadian and foreign – to participate in the financing, presentation and promotion of compelling and innovative Canadian programming, then new incentives, such as allowing new platforms other than conventional Canadian broadcasters to trigger CMF funding, and measures to ensure participation from these newer services, would have to be in place.” 

The announcement comes less than four months after the government pledged to provide $172 million to the CMF over five years to stabilize the funder’s yearly budget. Starting in in 2018/2019 the government will invest around $15 million in the funder, followed by $29 million in 2019/2020 and $42.5 million each year after that for three years.

Joly told delegates at Banff that the changes are meant to give stability and flexibility to the sector as the government undertakes its review of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts.

“What I’ve said to my team is ‘Well, we’re working on creating a new bridge and building a new bridge [but] we actually need to renovate the bridge we’re on because this is the best way to do the transition,’” she said.

The minister also referenced the CRTC’s two-week-old “Harnessing change: The future of programming distribution in Canada“ report, which primarily recommended that internet service providers (ISPs) and wireless internet providers (WSPs) be required to contribute to the system alongside BDUs, noting that long-term funding solutions must be sought to support Canadian content and companies.

“The message is clear: all players who benefit from the system must contribute to it,” reiterated Joly.

The funding trigger was one of several announcements made during Joly and Creighton’s keynote discussion.

Addressing the need for more investment in early-stage development of projects, Creighton also announced the CMF has allocated $1.5 million “towards the early-stage development process.”

“It’s not a lot, but it’s a start. And what we do want to do is engage in very deep consultation on this activity,” said Creighton.

In addition, Joly discussed her recent cultural industries trade mission to China, stating Canadian companies signed 23 deals during the April trip. Joly also broke the news that Toronto-based producer/distributor Breakthrough Entertainment has signed an memorandum of understanding to produce a new China-Canada documentary series, Silk Road: The Northern Lights, set to broadcast in both countries next year. She added that the government is in negotiations to sign TV coproduction agreements with France, Ukraine, South Korea and China.

Earlier in the afternoon, during the International Media Leaders panel, Corus EVP and COO Barb Williams and other panelists came out swinging in defense of their respective linear TV businesses. Williams said that while overall TV watching in Canada had declined between 10% and 14% over the past year, Corus had managed to grow its audiences on W Network and Showcase, as well as its kids channels YTV and Treehouse, with around 80% of that viewing happening live.

The panel also featured Jeffrey Hirsch, COO of Starz Entertainment; Chris Linn, president of truTV; Sean Cohan, president of international digital media at A+E Networks; and Avi Armoza, CEO of Armoza Formats.

Linn added that the U.S. network was showing ratings growth. Three and a half years ago the Time Warner-owned network rebranded to focus more on comedic fare and less on docuseries. Later, it halved its commercial load (to 11 minutes per hour). The results have been significant, said Linn, with the network growing its ratings over the past two years and dropping its median audience age from 43 to 34.

But while linear broadcasters are adapting to meet the shifts in viewer behaviour, Williams said that comparisons between more traditional media companies and deep-pocketed OTT players were unhelpful.

“There’s no doubt that the huge investment in content that some of these companies are able to make – without the same metrics of success associated with that spend – is making the understanding of what a traditional media company’s business model is very difficult.”

“We are measured in very different ways in the stock market than it seems some of these news players are. And that makes the biz difficult for sure,” she said.

With files from Jordan Pinto

Photo: Kristian Bogner