Op-ed: The time is now to seize an unprecedented opportunity

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Once Bill C-10 is passed, the Canadian screen industry will have the chance to renew, reinvest and rebuild itself, says CMF president and CEO Valerie Creighton. The opportunity is there for the taking, but industry players must collectively be ready to embrace bold, transformative change.

On Jan. 1, 2020, the Canada Media Fund wrote an op-ed titled “Canadian culture is a hot international commodity,” which focused on the success of Canadian content domestically and internationally, on our wealth of talent, jobs created from coast to coast to coast, our sector’s $12.8 billion contribution to Canada’s GDP, and the positive impact Canadian content has on our nation’s reputation worldwide.

As 2021 arrives, that success story hasn’t changed. Playback‘s recent snapshot of top-rated television shows – Transplant, Cardinal, Departure, Private Eyes, Murdoch Mysteries, Coroner, Kim’s Convenience, and Schitt’s Creek – all supported by the Canada Media Fund, demonstrate that millions are watching Canadian content at home every week. Our French-language market is seeing unprecedented success. Quebec’s most watched shows such as District 31, Épidémie or Léo broke all their own viewing records. Whether it’s video games, immersive content or digital linear series, Canada is a world leader in the creation of quality, innovative digital media. Our creative content is recognized and sold all over the world.

The pandemic changed everything except the resilience and innovation of our industry. It revealed the fragility of the current system. It disrupted production, it heightened our collective anxiety and yes there will undoubtedly be some collateral damage.

Systemic racism and discrimination have been exposed, laid bare. Our industry will not flourish without the voices and stories from underrepresented communities. Permanent structural change is on the table.

Disruption in our industry isn’t new. How we create, broadcast, distribute and export were all tested by the digital revolution, long before the pandemic. The anytime, anywhere, anyplace mantra that established the CMF in 2009 is now the way the world finds and watches content, from feature film to television to digital media and games.

An unprecedented opportunity lies before us that will not come our way again for a very long time.

Bill C-10 (the amended Broadcasting Act) is a critical step towards modernizing the sector. Once adopted, important decisions will be made to interpret and administer new revenue sources identified in the Act’s revisions. We have an opportunity to weigh in on the new definitions of Canadian programming and conditions of service for both traditional and online broadcasting, to articulate the importance of Canadian ownership of intellectual property, to support Indigenous content, content from underrepresented groups, and to speak with one voice as this transformation occurs.

Fear of change, differences of opinion, and a mindset of contraction will result in stagnation. A mindset of expansion will focus us on the art of the possible for our industry’s future and foster a collective will for positive change.

To replace our outdated funding agencies, programs, and tools, we need a strategy that: renews and reinvests in Canada’s screen sector; leverages the legacy and success built to date; dismantles systemic racism and discrimination in the sector, embraces and invests in compelling voices from diverse and underrepresented communities of storytellers; supports the recovery and growth of our industry to reach its full potential domestically and internationally; and contributes to the economic recovery and development of the country.

The predictable, orderly marketplace is a thing of the past. Regulation will be under review once Bill C-10 is passed. In this global marketplace of fierce competition, we need to build an inclusive industry that leverages our content creators. If we are not on the side of the content, then what side on we on?

At the CMF, we have been listening and thinking. We have heard that we, too, need to change. Diversity in funding. Support for companies, not just individual projects. Alternate financing tools. Simpler processes. Equitable access. More flexibility. In response, we are exploring a new program architecture that could provide the bench strength the industry needs to recover, grow, and compete in the global marketplace.

The CMF has often spoken about a content-centric platform-agnostic approach. I believe it’s time to fully embrace this change. We will do this by discussing these ideas with all of you who create, produce, broadcast, distribute, publish and sell the creativity made in this country. You do the work every day. Your ideas, experience and insight will build a stronger Canadian industry.

An Indigenous friend and mentor recently said to me, and with his permission I quote: “It’s time to redesign the canoe and secure a stronger vessel to move our industry forward.” I couldn’t agree more. We have an opportunity to collectively transform our industry through collaboration, openness, and transparency. Many true partnerships will be needed to create this change.

As we continue to live with the confines of the pandemic, over the next few months I invite you to join me as we discover the way forward, as we select the right tools to build the most resilient canoe we can so we are ready to launch it in 2022.

Stay tuned for more in the weeks ahead.

Val Creighton has led the Canada Media Fund (and its predecessor, the Canadian Television Fund) since 2006, overseeing all aspects of the organization’s operations