Are Canada’s Plans for Streaming Regulation a Help or Hindrance? Screen Leaders Address Concerns Ahead of Senate Vote

As the online landscape continues to shift and evolve in the screen sector, so too do the conversations surrounding streaming legislation in Canada. The current iteration of that dialogue, Bill C-11, is in the final stages of voting at the Senate this week. It is expected to be passed back to the Commons for a final vote and eventual passage into law in the coming days.

Just as decision-makers wrapped that bill’s third reading on Feb. 2, Canadian screen leaders took the stage at the Canadian Media Producers Association’s (CMPA) annual Prime Time event in Ottawa. There, they discussed media policy and potential changes to the industry in the years ahead.

Unsurprisingly, most of that discussion revolved around the concerns some of the 26 amendments to the 56-page bill have raised. (The bill is the longest study ever conducted at a Senate committee.) While the heart of the bill is designed to ensure streaming platforms in Canada also contribute to the culture, vague and concerning wording in the bill has raised issues of IP, Canadian production expenditure (CPE), and the potential emergence of a two-tiered system in which streamers are not held to the same standards as Canadian broadcasters.

“If the policy goes in a direction that’s helpful to our entire ecosystem and things go well with the legislation and regulations, we could actually see more money coming into the system,” said Justin Stockman, VP of content development and programing at Bell Media Inc.

“We could see more Canadian productions, which can fuel IP and actually be really beneficial to this entire market. But it could go the other way, where we could see Canadian content and Canadian dollars being controlled by non-Canadians.”

Barbara Williams, CBC’s executive VP, added it’s essential the bill pushes incremental money into the Canadian system, rather than shuffling around current expenditures in the ecosystem.

“We’re hoping that however the mechanics work, it’s incremental and that it really adds to the support for all producers to be able to access that incremental money, in whatever way is determined to be best,” she said.

In its current form, it’s unclear whether the bill would give streamers a CPE obligation or force them to contribute to a fund like the Canada Media Fund (CMF). There are also questions surrounding access to those funds and who would oversee it.

During the discussion, Stockman pointed to Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy,” which currently films in Canada and features a Canadian lead in Elliot Page.

“There’s a world where if Netflix decided to do another season of ‘Umbrella Academy,’ which is a big expensive show, a couple tweaks to that show where there’s already a Canadian lead and there are Canadian producers, and that can be your CPE for the year,” he said.

“It’s not CanCon in its current form. They were going to do it anyway, and all those dollars just leave the system.”

Stockman also cited previous regulation, which encourages partnership, ownership rules, and the ability to monetize foreign content, and said he hopes C-11 bridges partnerships in a way that ensures content remains managed appropriately through a Canadian lens.

“All the partnership angles in our previous regulations don’t seem to be what we’ve seen so far [with this new bill],” he added.

Blue Ant Media CEO Michael MacMillan reiterated the importance of keeping IP ownership in Canada while building on what streamers are already doing well in Canada: bringing international standards to the country, allowing access, and making great use of Canadians as creative resources.

“We want to continue making sure we’re able to participate more and to continue to do what they’re already doing,” he said. “On top of that, we’re saying there could be a new mechanism for additional creativity and for additional production, where the IP resides in Canadian hands.”

He added there are plenty of details to debate, given how the bill is designed to deliver broad general instructions as a directive to the CRTC and other regulatory boards. However, if Canadians don’t insist on the Canadian ownership of IP, at the end of the day they won’t have much left.

“Ultimately, the streamers will find a way in all these jurisdictions to be supported and to support those local industries,” he said. “I’m really optimistic about where this is going if we don’t take our eye off the underlying importance of the ownership of it.”

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