The Sessions Episode 2: Former CRTC leaders on the potential problems with Bill C-11

Konrad von Finckenstein and Peter Menzies discuss the dangers of implementation of the bill as-is, and the role of the CRTC, in this second episode of a new podcast series.

Playback and The Creative School at Ryerson University have partnered on The Sessions, a weekly four-part podcast series on the Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11). Episode 1 featured Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA) president and CEO Reynolds Mastin and Charles Falzon, dean of The Creative School and founding CEO of the CMPA.

Episode 2, now available to listen below, looks at how the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) might implement the bill with regulation and policy, if it passes. With current CRTC leadership planning to weigh in after C-11 is discussed in the House of Commons’ Heritage Committee, host Irene Berkowitz spoke with two former CRTC figures: Konrad von Finckenstein and Peter Menzies.

Von Finckenstein was CRTC chair from 2007 to 2012. During his term, the CRTC became the first regulator in the world to establish a net neutrality policy.

Menzies was CRTC vice-chair and president of telecommunications from 2013 to 2017, and CRTC regional commissioner for Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

Here are excerpts from their conversation about the bill’s scope, the dangers of implementation as-is, Canadian content, the missed opportunity and the outlook for C-11. 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 are each of your hot takes on the Online Streaming Act?

Peter Menzies: There was a great opportunity to design visionary legislation that captured the 21st century. We came up with updating the Broadcasting Act. That’s so weak. Like it’s 1985. Broadcasting is a tiny part of the internet. What happened to the government’s innovation agenda?

Konrad von Finckenstein: Why is our minister of heritage the minister of internet? Other governments formed a new department. What we have now made sense 30 years ago.

PM: Being outside the regulated system is scary for people inside. It’s a threat. Unfortunate, because our industry has prospered since Netflix arrived. Per CRTC’s report, Harnessing Change, they tried to harness change and rein it in. I’m more inclined to say: ‘Here’s change, how can we figure out how to ride it, to make this into something special?’

IB: So there’s a need to limit the scope with well-defined purpose?

PM: Put your eyes on the prize: focus. You can get this done in a couple of years. If you throw spaghetti against the wall: a decade of stasis. The idea CRTC can be master of the internet is crazy.

IB: At what level would this change happen, the government or CRTC?

KVF: Absolutely government. CRTC collapses if government does nothing. You’ll have massive hearings. Who gets registered? Everyone will argue for exemption. It will be contested in court. You’ll have deadlock.

PM: Proponents want two things. First, money. They have built their business models on something predictable. They’re afraid it’s going away.

KVF: A second problem is you can’t access our subsidy system unless you’re Canadian owned and controlled. This could land on the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA). You can’t force people to pay into something that only their competitors can access.

PM: Plus, the terms of the current chair and vice-chair expire in September. We don’t know who the leaders will be.

IB: Post C-11, how will CRTC define Canadian content?

KVF: Unless CRTC establishes a whole new subsidy regime, I have no idea.

PM: There’s another issue CRTC has struggled with forever: what’s the point of Cancon? Cultural or industrial? Pick a lane.

IB: What about the ‘great unhooking’ from legacy broadcasters? Can CRTC implement producer-accessed, platform-agnostic funding?

PM: This creates an opportunity for a lesser commitment from Canadian companies to be replaced by a larger commitment from non-Canadian.

IB: If you were CRTC leadership now, what is your advice?

KVF: First thing is to reduce the scope. Catch the big streamers. A manageable universe. Hold a hearing; ask how they can help meet the goals in the legislation.

PM: Many YouTube creators, they’re scared now. Really nervous.

KVF: User-generated content must be off the table. Free speech must be off the table. Narrow things.

IB: Final question. C-11, pass or no pass? Why?

PM: It’s a bad piece of legislation, but it’ll pass. [Minister for Canadian Heritage] Pablo Rodriguez has said he’ll listen, be open to amendments.

KVP: It could be done much simpler. But I think they are committed to do it this way.

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