Top broadcast execs flag ‘grey’ areas of Bill C-11

BANFF '22: Heads of CBC, Rogers Sports & Media, APTN, Bell Media, Corus Entertainment, and Blue Ant Media discussed the opportunities in the bill and the amendments they want to see in it.

Leaders of Canada’s biggest media companies raised concerns about “grey” areas of Bill C-11 at the Banff World Media Festival (BANFF), noting the proposed update to the Broadcasting Act needs to be more clear on what will happen with any new money that would come into the system from it.

Tuesday’s (June 14) State of the Nation: Canada in Focus panel moderated by Playback featured Barbara Williams, EVP of CBC; Colette Watson, president of Rogers Sports & Media; Monika Ille, CEO of APTN; Justin Stockman, VP of content development and programming at Bell Media; Troy Reeb, EVP of broadcast networks at Corus Entertainment; and Jamie Schouela, president of global channels and media at Blue Ant Media.

The panel expressed unanimous support for the bill’s attempt to bring digital players into the regulatory system and contribute to it, but expressed some concerns.

Williams said the bill, also known as the Online Streaming Act, needs to be more clear about the fate of the $1 billion a year that Canadian Heritage has said would be generated for Canada’s creative sector from making streaming services contribute to the system.

“There’s a billion dollars up for grabs – who’s going to control it, who’s going to access it, and what rules are going to be around the use of it?” Williams said.

“That’s what we don’t know and that’s going to be really important to the ultimate success of that billion dollars in creating, controlling, supporting and encouraging the continued success of a true Canadian industry.”

Watson also questioned what would happen with the money raised from the new bill, noting Canadian Heritage originally said the act would generate $838 million a year, “which is an oddly specific number.”

“I kept asking, ‘Who did the math on that?’ They’ve changed it now to almost $1 billion, so it’s a little less specific. But still the question remains: who came up with that number and how? That’s important, because it’s how you and I will make TV and content over the next decade and a half,” said Watson.

“It’s important to get it right when this gets handed over to the commission, because it might be three-and-a-half decades before we get another shot.”

Schouela said “the devil is in the details” with the bill and some amendments need to be clarified before it gets to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), “because the bill is the guiding post, the guiding principles the CRTC will use as they bring it into fruition.”

“It’s important within the bill that we continue to have a strong ecosystem of Canadian-owned and  controlled broadcasters and producers – and it’s not clear that’s important,” said Schouela. “That needs to get clarified.”

Ille said there’s much that APTN supports in C-11, “especially the recognition of Indigenous-owned media and Indigenous languages.”

But for small independent broadcasters and especially mandatory carriage, “the way Bill C-11 is written is that the CRTC could require an online distributor to carry programming services such as APTN but [the distributor] can set the terms of carriage,” she added.

“We get 35 cents per subscriber per month – that’s peanuts. Per year, it’s $4.20, the cost of one Starbucks coffee,” said Ille, noting APTN works with limited budgets.

“With Bill C-11, we’re hoping the CRTC will have the authority to continue to support APTN.”

Reeb said the bill would help “fix the imbalance that has continued to put all of the cost of supporting the cultural ambitions of the broadcast sector only onto domestic broadcasters and not onto those who are taking as much or more out of the broadcast economy from Silicon Valley and Hollywood.”

“What we’ve seen over the last decade is that the economic underpinnings of the sector have been kicked away entirely,” said Reeb. “On any given night, Netflix is the most-watched network in this country, with apologies to my own Global and to Justin’s CTV, and they are sucking dollars like never before without the cultural contribution required [by broadcasters] to come back into the system.”

Stockman said streamers should also be required to make U.S. programming available to Canadian broadcasters, “which they are not wanting to do more and more, which is going to actually drain all the money out of the system.”

“We spend a billion dollars a year on news, scripted programs in French and English, and that money is coming from people watching U.S. programming on linear services,” said Stockman.

“It’s going to hurt Canadian production if we can’t access U.S. shows.”

Watson said she also feels there’s room in the bill for new partnership models within the Canadian ecosystem with respect to Canadian IP.

Schouela backed that up, saying it’s “important that moving forward, we continue to have meaningful IP rest with Canadian creators.”

Schouela also wants to see tools and incentives put in place to encourage the streamers to want to work with Canadian broadcasters.

Watson called it a well-intentioned but “flawed bill,” noting the big challenge right now is to ensure the CRTC has what it needs to put the framework around the bill to make the industry successful.

“I’m terrified that there’s a change in leadership coming at the commission,” added Watson, referring to CRTC chairperson and CEO Ian Scott’s term ending Sept. 4.

“Where’s all of that institutional knowledge going to come from? So there’s lots of things to be worried about but lots of things to be optimistic about.”

Photo by Kristian Bogner Photography