The annual “Prime Time in Ottawa” conference hosted by the Canadian Media Production (or is that “Producers”) Association kicked off yesterday and PIAC’s Executive Director, John Lawford, attended. The conference brings together media producers, distributors and regulators. The first announcement was indeed that the CMPA would rename itself from the Canadian Media Production Association to the Canadian Media Producers Association. PIAC will attempt to remember this change in upcoming regulatory filings. More substantively, new CMPA CEO Reynolds Mastin overtly called for a “Netflix tax” and called it inevitable and chided the CRTC for apparently being willing to “rubber-stamp” the recently announced acquisition of Shaw Media by Corus Entertainment – a view which PIAC shares.
The mood was quietly fearful. The CRTC’s Talk TV suite of decisions are now heading into the first phase with required skinny basic packages required to be offered by TV distributors as of 1 March 2016. Almost everyone expected this to cause much pain for producers as distributors lost revenue as consumers trimmed TV packages to the skinny offering. Pick and pay, which is the other shoe to drop from the Talk TV decision, does not fully come into force until December 2016. However, it already is the subject of much uncertainty, which participants said was additive to the largest concern: the non-contribution of “over-the-top” (OTT) services to the Canadian Media Fund and other funds dedicated to supporting Canadian production.
Panels on “Discoverability” of content (which is the Hail Mary pass of the traditional production and distribution industry in the face of OTT) and the “Evolution of Advertising” (which discussed the changes in where media advertising dollars have gone and are going) are the subject of future posts.
The undoubted highlight of the day, however, was the appearance of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Honourable Mélanie Joly. Minister Joly immediate situated the cultural industries and production industry in the innovation and economic development space. She exuded confidence that Canadian culture and productions could become a major economic driver in Canada (in part by cultural exports). The key question, which she carefully addressed, was the possibility of a “Netflix tax” of some kind, whether that took the form of a direct tax on OTT services or a direction to the CRTC to require contribution to Canadian media funds. Minister Joly stated that the government would be examining all options to help the industry manage the “Digital Shift”. Thus the audience was left to read the tea leaves. She did, however, commit the government to publicly consult on the issue and also the wider question, possibly, of Canadian broadcasting policy in general. PIAC looks forward to participating in any such consultation on behalf of consumers and viewers.
To gain a sense of what PIAC might say in this consultation, please see our recent remarks presented at the CRTC proceeding on the future of local and community TV and our comments on the OTT and CanCon decision in the Talk TV proceedings suite.