The Sessions podcast explores the Online Streaming Act: ‘It’s time we got unstuck’

In the first episode of a new four-part podcast series on the Online Streaming Act, host Irene Berkowitz chats with Reynolds Mastin and Charles Falzon about Bill C-11.

Playback and The Creative School at Ryerson University have partnered on The Sessions, a weekly series of four podcasts with key stakeholders on the Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11). Introduced Feb. 2, the act is currently in its second reading in the House of Commons.

In Episode 1, linked below, host Irene Berkowitz spoke with Reynolds Mastin, president and CEO of the Canadian Media Producers Association, and Charles Falzon, dean of The Creative School at Ryerson University, about C-11′s potential impact on Canadian producers.

Formerly the CMPA’s chief legal officer, Mastin negotiated the organization’s key agreements including copyright, terms of trade and more. His first legal gig was articling for the CRTC.

A multi-award-winning producer, Falzon was founding CEO of the CMPA (1984). He led the meetings that delivered key agreements, including today’s 10-point system.

Here are some excerpts of their discussion. A full transcript is also available, however we encourage you to listen to the audio interview, if possible, to experience the full nuance of the conversation:

Irene Berkowitz: What is your ‘hot take’ on the The Online Streaming Act?

Reynolds Mastin: This bill has the potential to move the industry forward, built on success we’ve achieved in no small part, due to the foundational work Charles did 40 years ago.

Its top three strengths are, one: its policy priority to ensure the full demographic spectrum of our country is represented in our broadcasting system, starting with the primordial place of Indigenous peoples and including racialized people, those with disabilities, different gender expressions, the full range of our society.

Two: ensuring equitable treatment between domestic and foreign broadcasters in the Canadian marketplace. Three: renewed focus on ensuring shows by Canadian producers are monetized in Canada.

Charles Falzon: For me, what’s missing is whether the central protagonist is the public. I am cautious about audience being forgotten. In the early days of Canadian content, we may have forgotten to point that out loudly. Demand must be central. Philosophically, it’s there; but is it really at the core?

IB: Is the Act sufficiently visionary to carry the industry through the next decades?

RM: The industry has evolved to face the fact that we operate in a global marketplace. You cannot thrive, let alone survive, if you can’t deliver content audiences want and love.

CF: The bill will be short-lived if synched to a protectionist, bureaucratic approach.

IB: Debate has focused on C-11′s whole-of-internet scope yet being simultaneously quixotic (like Section Four’s triple twist to exclude User Generated Content, then allow it, then set conditions). Does C-11 kick the can to the CRTC to clarify ‘who’s in and who’s out’?

RM: A lot will be determined by the CRTC. But the Act’s purpose is not in dispute amongst political parties; it’s in the old and new Acts: ‘The broadcasting system should serve to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada.’

Foundational legislation contributes to the country in myriads of ways. Delivering to audiences is industry’s job. What industry needs from legislation is to ensure fairness.

CF: I agree. It’s not the job of the bill or any regulatory organization to determine how to deliver audiences. I’m hoping it doesn’t stifle producers.

IB: C-11 mentions discoverability; can it be regulated? Global audiences are discovering Korea’s Squid Game, Spain’s Money Heist, Norway/Israel’s The Girl from Oslo, France’s Lupin. Is great content the only discoverability strategy?

RM: Let’s take Lupin, which I love too. A reason why we have Lupin is because France has a regulatory regime that supports a strong domestic industry. A result is delivering shows to the international marketplace.

When smart government intervention unleashes creators to do their best, we hit that sweet spot where magic happens.

CF: There was a time when it was hard to build the production industry; audience numbers were secondary. We’re not there anymore. I’m not in favour of making it about filling shelf space, about government bureaucracy, lawyers, or even marketers.

Netflix will buy something in any language. Canadians will watch your show if they are entertained, whether it’s Canadian or Japanese.

IB: Are we ready for producer-accessed, platform-agnostic funding?

RM: That’s where we’re likely going. Momentum is building. The quid pro quo in a platform-agnostic, producer-centric approach is producers will have to demonstrate they have an audience or a buyer to deliver one. Why would we continue to anchor our system to a structure that doesn’t make sense anymore?

IB: What about Terms of Trade and IP?

RM: There is incredible symmetry between executives at a streamer and a show’s creative team; they’re vigorously rowing in the same direction. Where it diverges is deal structure. Who shares in success? You need a regulatory toolkit.

CF: I’ve owned a lot of IP that never made money. The industry should look at the studio model. Producers in Hollywood never had distribution companies. They had collaboration, housekeeping deals, upside development deals; these still exist. IP is just one tool.

IB: The Online Streaming Act: pass or no pass, and why?

RM: Strong pass. Our legislation is 30 years old. The world has changed. I hope we’ll renew the foundation for a future in which your students will say, ‘Yeah, this works.’

CF: The more input from young producers and creators, the better. But we shouldn’t be stuck for so long. It’s time we got unstuck.

Irene S. Berkowitz, Senior Policy Fellow, Audience Lab at The Creative School, is author of the 2021 book on legacy media, Mediaucracy: Why Canada hasn’t made global TV hits and how it can, and the 2019 study of new media: Watchtime Canada: How YouTube connects creators and consumers.

Podcast credits:

Executive Producers: Irene Berkowitz and Playback

Content Producers: Victoria Ahearn and Kelly Townsend

Production Producers: Sam McNulty and Ethan Geoffrey Lee