BTLR panelists talk CMF-Telefilm merger, regulating streamers

Janet Yale and Monique Simard also discussed data-gathering from OTTs, as they fleshed out details of the expansive 97-recommendation report at Prime Time.

Janet Yale had a clear message for streaming services operating in Canada following the release of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Act Legislative Review (BTLR) panel’s expansive report.

“What they’re doing now is service productions – we’re saying that’s not good enough. What they have to do is invest in productions that meet Canadian content requirements, out of their programming budgets,” Yale told media following the panel discussion, which was moderated by AQPM’s Helene Messier and CMPA’s Reynolds Mastin.

Yale and Monique Simard took the stage at Prime Time on Thursday to flesh out the details of the report and explain the rationale behind its 97 recommendations.

Yale’s comments came just 24 hours after the release of the 235-page report, which included a recommendation that foreign-based digital video services should be regulated and subject to spending obligations to support Canadian content production.

Of all the ways to bring streaming services under Canadian regulation, Yale said this was the most logical – both from a legislative perspective, and for the streaming platforms themselves.

“We believe this is one of the least intrusive ways that streaming services can contribute, without changing their business models,” she noted. “We’re just telling them they have to take a certain amount of the money they’re already spending in Canada and make sure that investment complies with Canadian content requirements.”

Under the panel’s proposal, the CRTC would introduce a “registration regime” through which foreign-based digital services would be subject to a number of conditions, among them a requirement to contribute to the funding of Canadian content. That contribution should be based on the percentage of Canadian-derived revenues the specific platform makes in Canada, suggested the panel in its report.

In Canada, Netflix has by far the largest subscriber base of any international OTT service. Its subscription revenue is estimated to have climbed to around $1 billion annually, after the California-based streamer reported revenues of $780 million for the first three quarters of 2019.

For its part, Netflix, which has spent more than $500 million producing content in Canada over the past two years, responded to the report by saying it “will continue investing in made-in-Canada productions and stories.”

The panel also recommended the CRTC begin collecting consumption data from all digital companies operating in Canada. To that point, Yale said the goal is not for streamers to divulge “intrusive or confidential information” but rather for the CRTC to gain a better understanding of the viewing environment in Canada.

“We’re recommending that the information-gathering powers of the CRTC be sufficient for them to know and understand what’s going on in the market. To the extent that there are issues that need to be addressed from a regulatory perspective, they [would] have the information. [It's] not to just go on an expedition to gather data for the sake of data,” she said.

Elsewhere in the discussion, Simard discussed the reasoning behind the proposed Telefilm-CMF merger. “We have two institutions – one supposedly devoted to the big screen, and the other to the small screen. Well, to have two separate institutions doesn’t really [make sense] anymore. We think they can be the same institution, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have specific programs inside it,” adding that certain programs within the merged entity could be devoted to film, as well as other mediums.

Mastin said the CMPA agrees philosophically about taking a content-agnostic approach, but emphasized the need to ensure the needs and priorities of both TV and film producers continue to be met if a Telefilm-CMF merger materializes.

“There are always risks when you amalgamate two well-established agencies like the CMF and Telefilm, and there’s always the risk of unintended consequences, which is why it’s important to have meaningful dialogue about what that would look like before anyone moves forward with actually bringing the two agencies together,” he told Playback Daily.

Meanwhile, Simard also addressed producers that had expressed concern that the report did not specifically outline the roles of kids and unscripted content, reassuring them that the report’s function was not to define the role of specific content genres, but rather to create a framework through which the CRTC could determine criteria for the production of those genres.

Earlier in the day, Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault said updated legislation could be tabled at the House of Commons as early as June.