Below you will find updates on key policy issues for the Writers Guild of Canada.
Group Licence Renewal - Compliance
The WGC spent more than ten years proving to the CRTC that the 1999 TV Policy was disastrous for Canadian drama. All that hard work paid off when the CRTC initiated the 2010 TV Policy with Group Licensing including an expenditure requirement for Programs of National Interest (PNI). The CRTC’s intention with this policy was to balance flexibility to spend on programs across a corporate group with specific protections for Canadian programming, including drama, through expenditure requirements. It was anticipated by the CRTC that there would be an increase in production levels due to the combination of the expenditure requirement and shift from priority programming to PNI. While the reporting for the first broadcast year is not yet available, we are working with CRTC staff to try to get the detailed reporting that we need to assess the success of the program, and to determine if broadcasters are finding ways around the policy.
The WGC sees the next big fight with the broadcasters at the CRTC being about compliance. The CRTC appears not to have the staff to be able to monitor broadcaster activity in any detail. With the other creative guilds we will therefore be reviewing program logs, watching programs and, when the financial data for the first year is released next year, pouring over spreadsheets to try and determine if and to what extent the broadcasters are complying with both the spirit and the letter of the regulation. Then, if necessary, we will lay complaints with the CRTC.
Advocating for CBC
The WGC is in Ottawa on a regular basis to advocate for stable and sufficient support of the CBC. We work to ensure that the government knows how important the CBC is to the Canadian television industry. The CBC creates more high-quality Canadian drama than the private broadcasters combined – and these shows are popular with Canadians. Republic of Doyle, Arctic Air, The Rick Mercer Report and Heartland regularly draw more than 1 million viewers, and are frequently in the company of big-budget U.S.-import shows like House and American Idol in the week’s Top 30 in Canada. Canadians want Canadian stories, Canadian entertainment – and the CBC delivers. CBC is the only network that provides high quality Canadian drama 12 months a year.
This investment in Canadian drama is an investment in talent, present and future. These productions create opportunities for established Canadian talent to showcase their skills, and provide emerging talent with the critical experience to contribute in the knowledge-based economy. In additional to spin-off economic activity, CBC productions generate thousands of jobs for screenwriters, actors, directors, producers, crew, technical and production services and more. For Canada’s screenwriters, and for the independent production community in general, the CBC is a critical driver of television production.
On the CBC front, the long overdue licence renewal hearing was conducted in November 2012, and the WGC was very involved. Licence renewal at CRTC gave us the important opportunity to discuss the public broadcaster’s critical role, and to consider its performance, past, present and potential future. In particular, we challenged the CBC's request for more flexibility and lower PNI as a way of deadling with its budget cuts. We anticipate a decision early in 2013.
The WGC is involved in digital media issues on a number of fronts. The CRTC has determined that affiliated new media broadcasting undertakings (also known as affiliated NMBUs or the websites of broadcasters and cable companies) should report to the CRTC on their new media broadcasting revenues, expenses, programming and traffic. As there is no consistency in how those elements are being reported or measured, the CRTC struck a working group to help with creating standards. The WGC is participating in the Working Group. The broadcasters are objecting to the reporting requirement and dragging their feet. We are working with other creator groups and the CRTC to obtain useful and timely data. All of this data should assist us in knowing what is really going on in the affiliated broadcasting world and to help us prepare arguments for when the New Media Exemption Order expires in 2014.
We are also working on finding new sources of financing for original digital media. With the growth of web series we are advocating with the federal government to extend the domestic tax credit to web series (currently limited to programs that have a theatrical distributor or broadcaster).