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What the latest CRTC decision on Bill C-11 implementation means for Canadian screenwriters

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Last week, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) released its first major decision in the implementation of the Online Streaming Act (formerly Bill C-11). This decision followed a consultation process in which the WGC participated extensively, including the submission of detailed initial written comments, a written reply, and an in-person appearance before the Commission on December 6, 2023.

While the latest decision touches on a variety of issues, at its core is the creation of a “base contribution” of content funding from larger online streaming services. This base contribution decision, “sets the foundation for meaningful participation by online streaming services in the Canadian broadcasting system,” according to the CRTC. It is not the end of the C-11 implementation process, but just one step, which focuses on “areas of immediate need,” according to the CRTC. “The contributions made by traditional broadcasters and online streaming services will be fine-tuned as the Commission moves forward with the implementation of the amended Broadcasting Act,” the CRTC has said.


Decision highlights

Under the decision, the CRTC will require online streaming services that make $25 million or more in Canadian revenues and that are not affiliated with a Canadian broadcaster to contribute 5% of those revenues to specific funds. The CRTC expects this to take effect in the 2024-2025 broadcast year, which begins on 1 September 2024, and that this will provide an estimated $200 million per year in new funding.

The contributions from audio-visual online streaming services will go to the following funds:

  • 2% to the Canada Media Fund (CMF) and/or direct expenditures towards certified Canadian content;
  • 1.5% to the Independent Local News Fund;
  • 0.5% to the Black Screen Office (BSO) Fund, the Canadian Independent Screen Fund for BPOC creators, and/or the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund;
  • 0.5% to the Certified Independent Production Funds supporting official language minority communities (OLMC) producers and producers from diverse communities; and
  • 0.5% to the Indigenous Screen Office (ISO) Fund.


WGC reaction

The WGC welcomes this decision as an important first step. In particular, contributions to the BSO, ISO, and other organizations serving equity-deserving groups will help grow and support the equity, diversity, and inclusion of our members and our industry.

At the same time, this truly must be considered just a first step. While the $200 million in estimated new funding sounds significant, and it is, how much of it actually reaches productions engaging WGC members is another question. 

$200 million would include both audio-visual and audio-only streaming contributions, with the latter being directed to things like music funds. Extrapolating from available data, the audio-visual portion could be around 80% of the total. From there, 30% of would go to local news. What’s left will be split between English and French on a roughly two-thirds/one-third basis. 

Of particular concern for the WGC is the ability for streamers to direct 2% to the CMF or up to 75% of that towards certified Canadian content instead. The CMF funds only 10-out-of-10-point Canadian productions in the genres of drama, documentary, children’s & youth, and variety programming—i.e., productions that WGC members tend to work on. But “certified Canadian content” is a much broader category, including genres that members don’t typically write, like reality and lifestyle shows. And a program only needs to get 6 out of 10 points to qualify as “certified Canadian,” a system that makes the engagement of Canadian screenwriters optional. This is a concern.

Once that $200 million is divided up by audio/audiovisual, official language market, and amongst the various recipients, the amount directed to productions engaging WGC members will be significantly smaller. There are too many variables to be able to provide an exact number, but in the tens of millions seems like the ballpark.

All of this means there’s much more to be done to ensure that Bill C-11 lives up to its promise for English-language Canadian screenwriters. Currently, traditional Canadian broadcasters have a requirement to spend a minimum of 5% to 7.5% of their revenues on “Programs of national interest”, which are limited to drama, long-form documentaries, and certain awards shows. We need a similar targeted investment requirement from online streamers. In addition, the 6-point definition of Canadian content currently leaves Canadian screenwriters as “optional,” even in the writer-driven medium of series television. This must be addressed. Canadian screenwriters must be viewed as essential as Canadian producers when it comes to defining Canadian content.

At the same time, Bill C-11 remains a political lightning rod, attracting sharp criticism from within Canada as well as from powerful lobby interests in the United States. These aren’t critics that want to improve the implementation of the bill like we do—these are voices that want to kill the legislation altogether and let the streamers do whatever they want, even if it means collapsing the Canadian broadcasting system. That’s why we must continue to show our support for the legislation as a whole while also advocating that it be implemented in a way that meaningfully supports Canadian English-language screenwriters.

It’s still early days, and the WGC is currently assessing the potential impact of this decision. Some things may only be known with certainty in time. But one thing is clear: The fight is not over, and WGC members deserve the full support promised by the Online Streaming Act.

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