CRTC Urged by Feds to Review Cuts to Canadian Content

CRTC Urged by Feds to Review Cuts to Canadian Content
Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has asked the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to review a decision allowing Canadian broadcasters to cut spending on creating Canadian content.

The decision — made in May as part of the five-year licence renewals of Bell, Rogers and Corus — saw the CRTC rule that the broadcasters had to now only spend five percent of their revenue creating "programs of national interest" instead of the previous nine to 10 percent.

The move was promptly rebuked by unions representing Canadian actors, screenwriters, directors and producers. However, the broadcasters argued that the changes were necessary to remain competitive with streaming services such as Netflix, which are exempt from meeting CRTC CanCon requirements.

"We are asking the CRTC to reconsider these decisions in order to ensure that we achieve the right balance of investment in content and in the ability to compete," Joly said in a statement Monday (August 14.)

"In referring back these decisions, the government wishes to affirm its support for great Canadian dramas, comedies, animation, films, documentaries — and other programs of national interest — that reflect our country and its diversity."

The CBC points out that the broadcasters said it was "disappointing and puzzling" to be forced to produce content and schedule it to air at specific times, a concern outlined in a full-page ad taken out in the Hill Times earlier this month.

"As broadcasters, we are in the business of creating and selling programs that people want to watch," the statement said. "Never has it been more important to invest in content that allows us to compete and differentiate ourselves from an increasing array of unregulated foreign-based digital services that are now operating in Canada."

The Directors Guild of Canada wrote to the federal government last week in support of the review, arguing that the May ruling would cut more than $900 million in Canadian film and television production over the next five years. 

"It's a strong message: Ultimately, we want the CRTC to strike the right balance between the investment in Canadian content... and also the ability for broadcasters to compete," Joly told the Globe and Mail. "Our vision as a government is, you can't have strong broadcasters if you don't have a strong production sector."

She added, "The CRTC granted a lot of flexibility to broadcasters to decide where they would invest in terms of types of genres. We think that flexibility is important, but also clearly investing in scripted content is so key to make sure there is a successful creative sector in the country. We can't have great content – that is bought by potentially other broadcasters in the world, or Internet platforms – if our own broadcasting system doesn't invest the right amount in the independent production sector."