Industry reacts to proposed Broadcasting Act update

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Canadian cultural groups welcomed the news as a potentially milestone moment, however large questions remain over how the new framework will be implemented.

It’s been nearly 30 years since the Broadcasting Act was updated. And for nearly 10 of those years, the overwhelming majority of the Canadian content sector has called for updated legislation that addresses the arrival of foreign-based digital services in the domestic marketplace.

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault made moves to address those long-standing concerns on Tuesday, tabling a bill that, if approved, will see the Broadcasting Act updated to bring streaming services under domestic regulation, in addition to granting enhanced powers to the CRTC to oversee the process.

The proposed legislative amendment would bring “online undertakings” – a new category of broadcast undertaking denoting services designed for the transmission or retransmission of programs over the internet – into the Canadian regulatory tent.

By regulating these services, the liberal government projects that $830 million in additional funding could be running through the Canadian cultural ecosystem by 2023.

Industry reacts to long-awaited legislative amendments

As soon as the bill was tabled yesterday, reaction came thick and fast from all quarters of the industry.

The CMPA applauded the move, calling it “important legislation that will address the monumental shifts that have occurred in the marketplace since the Broadcasting Act was last updated.”

Meanwhile, the Coalition for the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (CDCE), which includes more than 40 organizations including ACTRA, DGC and SOCAN, welcomed the “decisive” changes and called for rapid action. “We hope that the review process will be swift and that we will have a new law in 2021. More than ever in this time of crisis, Canada needs strong policies to support its culture,” said CDCE co-chair Solange Drouin in a statement.

The WGC also stressed the need to implement change quickly. “We cannot afford to lose one more second,” said executive director Maureen Parker. “We have already lost a generation of screenwriting talent to the U.S. for lack of opportunity in Canada – but hopefully this bill will help to retain those that are still here.”

The Black Screen Office (BSO) commended the bill’s commitments to diversity and inclusivity, but said there is still significant work to be done. “While we are encouraged by this commitment, we will continue the dialogue to address the distinctiveness of anti-Black racism. Black people continue to get the least attention and resources, and the worst outcomes of all those categorized in racialized groups,” said the BSO in a statement.

As well, Reelworld and Independent Media Producers Associaton of Creative Talent (IMPACT) urged the Minister to discontinue the use of the term “racialized” and “refrain from grouping all distinct communities together.”

Elsewhere, IATSE said it was pleased the government is looking to revisit how it defines Canadian programs for the purposes of broadcasting regulatory obligations. “We hope this new definition will include expanded parameters such as the contributions of Canadian film workers, the percentage of Canadians employed on a production, the geographic location of the shoot, and whether the story being told is a Canadian one,” said John M. Lewis, who serves as director of Canadian affairs and an international VP.

The streaming services kept their cards close to their chests. Netflix – which said in its submission to the BTLR panel last year that “it’s not clear what purpose would be served by regulating foreign, global online services as ‘broadcasters’ in Canada” – acknowledged its role as a stakeholder in the Canadian ecosystem.

“We all have a role to play in supporting the future of film and television created in Canada. We are reviewing the legislation and remain committed to being a good partner to Canada’s creative community while also investing in local economies,” a spokesperson told Playback Daily. Amazon and Disney+ did not comment.

The Los Gatos, California-based streamer has previously raised concerns about digital entities being regulated in Canada. In its 30-page submission to the BTLR panel in January 2019, Netflix said that imposing mandatory contributions to the CMF “could generate problematic and discriminatory outcomes.” Among them, Netflix said it could create a situation whereby SVOD players were contributing to the CMF but “could not trigger productions’ access to CMF funding as a first window in Canada.”

The specifics of this and so much more have been left to the CRTC, led by chairperson and CEO Ian Scott, to figure out.

Guilbeault said Tuesday he will recommend that the Governor in Council issues a directive to the CRTC requesting that the Commission hold hearings and implement the new regulatory framework within nine months. However, the process of figuring out how to implement the new framework will not be simple, with industry watchers acknowledging the CRTC has its work cut out, especially given the tight timeframe.

For its part, the CRTC told Playback Daily it welcomes the tabling of the new bill, adding that the proposed amendments address a number of concerns it raised in its “Harnessing Change” report and its submission to the BTLR panel.

Meanwhile, the Canadian broadcasters said they’re still doing their homework on the proposed bill. “We are studying the bill closely and cannot comment further on any specific impacts at this time,” said Corus Entertainment, adding that it was “pleased that all parties have offered support for ‘levelling the playing field’ between Canadian broadcasters and foreign Internet broadcasters.”

Bell Media, CBC and Rogers Sports & Media all said simply that they are studying the proposed legislation.

The proposal also had its detractors, with industry lobby group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting arguing that giving the Commission oversight of regulating streaming entities is problematic. “Netflix and their ilk will be able to send their lobbyists to negotiate personalized deals with the CRTC, in secret. The CRTC will have no obligation to regulate them, but will be able to do so at their discretion. Penalties for non-compliance are minimal,” claimed Friends of Canadian Broadcasting in a statement.

The next phase will see the Liberal government attempt to get the bill passed quickly into legislation, at which point the CRTC and various industry stakeholders will set about ironing out how the new regulatory framework could be applied. Exactly what this will look like remains unclear, but it is likely to involve industry-wide hearings to consider the needs of the various players across the content sector.

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