Many of the WGC’s current policy priorities ultimately relate to the impacts of the Internet and the digital revolution. Digital technologies have introduced new tools and platforms for creators, distributors, broadcasters, and consumers. These represent both opportunities for Canadian content creation as well as challenges to established business models. While the digital revolution has changed — and is changing — much in the media landscape, other things remain unaffected. Canada is still a small national market, and a linguistic and geographical neighbour to the largest media producer in the world. High-quality film and television production, particularly drama, is still an expensive and risky enterprise. Talent still requires opportunities to flourish, and talented people still need a way to earn a living if they are to continue to create. For all these reasons, Canadian cultural policies like CRTC broadcast regulation, copyright law, production funding, tax credits, and stable support for the CBC remain as relevant today as ever.
The WGC feels that many of these issues would be best dealt with in a national digital strategy emanating from the federal government. The WGC has advocated for just such a strategy for years. While the federal government has released various policies that purport to be part of a digital strategy, the WGC feels that a true, robust national digital strategy that fully responds to the challenges of the digital revolution, particularly as it relates Canadian content and culture, has yet to materialize. In the absence of such a strategy, we and other stakeholders will continue to deal with these impacts on a more-or-less piecemeal basis.
The following policy issues are of particular concern for the WGC at this time.
Following "Let's Talk TV" outcomes
The major CRTC policy process which finished in Sept. 2014, dubbed “Let’s Talk TV,” purported to deal with many of the issues wrought by the digital revolution. With an increased focus on Canadian consumers, the CRTC examined issues such as unbundling of cable packages, simultaneous substitution, Canadian programming requirements, and genre exclusivity. The WGC participated actively in this process, making detailed written submissions and appearing in person at the public hearing in September. Our submissions can be found on our website under policy issues, CRTC interventions.
With the formal process now over, we expect the CRTC to release related policies in the spring of 2015. The WGC will follow these developments, seek to understand their impact on members and the Canadian broadcasting sector as they emerge, and will take action where necessary.
Monitoring the success of the group-based licencing framework ahead of the 2016 group licence renewals
In 2010 the CRTC announced “A group-based approach to the licensing of private television services,” a new television policy that was intended to respond to the advent of digital technologies and the consolidation of broadcasting companies, among other things. This policy included spending requirements on Canadian programming as a key method of ensuring that such programming is available to Canadians, in furtherance of the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. The policy was implemented in 2011, with most large broadcast groups given a five-year licence term. Those broadcasting licence terms expire in 2016, at which time the Bell Media, Shaw Media, Rogers Media, and Corus Entertainment licences will be up for renewal.
The WGC will participate in the licence renewal proceeding, but to contribute effectively we must have complete and accurate data on how the corporate broadcast groups, and the individual services they are comprised of, are meeting or not meeting the objectives of the group-based policy. Some of this data is currently publicly available, but is not at a granularity that we would prefer, and some data may not be complete. The WGC is working closely with other industry stakeholders to ensure that relevant data is made publicly available by the CRTC, to ensure that broadcasters are meeting the goals of CRTC policy.
Support for the CBC
It is no secret that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is facing significant challenges. Its Parliamentary appropriation has declined by close to 40% in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1990-1991, in an era when production costs have increased significantly. Its per-capita funding is amongst the lowest in the developed world, yet it must provide services in two official languages and across the second largest country by landmass on the planet. More recently, a softening advertising market has also hurt the CBC. This has affected all over-the-air broadcasters, but large, private broadcast groups like Bell Media and Shaw Media can better weather the storm by relying on their specialty channels which also receive subscription revenues. The CBC does not have that option. Clearly, we are not treating our national public broadcaster well, and this is showing in successive lay-offs and shifting programming strategies. The WGC seeks at every opportunity to raise these issues with government decision-makers. At a time when the digital revolution is threatening to undermine some sources of funding for Canadian content, a public broadcaster should be even more relevant, not less.
The changing nature of development and its impact on writer
In years past, much television development was done with the financial support of broadcasters, who entered into development partnerships with creators and producers early on, and funded many stages of development. Increasingly, however, broadcasters are looking for more and more of that work to be done up front, before they will commit any money to the project. This has put increased pressure on writers to work for free, and frustrated development funding models that may have been designed in an earlier era. The WGC is closely following this trend, and is working with funders like the CMF to ensure that development financing is up-to-date and industry-relevant.