Thursday, March 1, 2018

Budget 2018 Investment in Canadian Content a missed opportunity

I checked Federal Budget 2018 for new support of Canadian content creators.  What I found under the title of "INVESTING IN CANADIAN CONTENT" (Chapter 4) is disappointing, as it is media creation that continues the conflict of interest tie with the broadcast sector.

The CMF receives funding contributions from the Government of Canada, but it advertises as also receiving "contributions" from Canada’s cable, satellite and IPTV distributors (Broadcast Distribution Undertakings, or BDUs). 

CMF contributions are mandated by the CRTC, shouldn't be thought of as donations, and BDUs shouldn't be "thanked" for actually paying what they owe. CMF contributions should be thought of as a highly justifiable tax on BDUs as compensation to the public for the right-of-way and other privileges which BDUs have been granted by multiple levels of governments.  The CMF contributions page should only list the Government of Canada, with special taxes collected from BDUs being earmarked for small-screen content creation.

The problem with this money being seen as coming from BDUs is that the BDUs then believe they "own" this content and should have the right to deny this content being available from competing legal streaming services.

As discussed in my recent CRTC submission opposing "site" blocking, the business practices of the BDUs do not support the interests of content creators, and are all too often a form of contributory infringement.  A condition of CMF funding should be that the results be made available via legal streaming, at least simultaneously with any broadcast.  I am not suggesting that the content be free, but that all Canadians be given the right to pay without also needing to subscribe to any BDU or access via broadcasting.

While I welcome stable arts and cultural funding from any level of government, I do not consider an increase in funding of the CMF to be an example.  The appearance of a tie to BDUs ties that federal money to the ongoing battles that the BDUs are having with legal streaming services.  This prolongs the current instability.  The fact that (un)Fairplay contains a few vocal stockholm syndrome victims (creator groups who incorrectly believe the BDUs and broadcasters support their interests) suggests that this will continue to be a problem.

While I support the new STEM money for granting councils, it is unfortunate I didn't see new money for arts.  There is only a small mention under "Supporting Canada’s Official Languages".

CBC


I found no reference to the CBC, suggesting the federal contribution and policy surrounding the CBC is unchanged.

This is also unfortunate, as instead of the CBC being part of the solution to the problematic tie between the cultural industries and historic distributors, the CBC has continued to be part of the problem.

The CBC decided to sign onto the BDU's (un)Fairplay coalition.  While it might be nice to think of the CBC as creators who are only stockholm syndrome victims, I believe they are acting as a commercial broadcaster who sees the inevitable move away from broadcasting and BDUs as a threat.

I've proposed that the CBC be split up, with government funding only offered to content creation.  This splitting up would effectively be an increase in cultural sector funding, as the private sector broadcasting arm will fade away as broadcasting is replaced with streaming.  Having a more competitive private sector distribution market needing to bid on programming also drives up the cost of higher quality content, meaning more money for the content creators.

 

Intellectual Property

 

This term appears in the budget a few times. While there is a focus on patents, copyright policies can help or hinder the interests of the arts and cultural sectors.  Proposed legal clinics and increased literacy might help artists and other creators to harness (rather than be fearful of) new distribution mechanisms and technologies.

While an "intellectual property marketplace" was mentioned in the context of public sector-owned intellectual property, this is needed in the private sector as well.  I mentioned in my CRTC submission how hard it is for Canadian fans to find content on legal streaming services, and the need for public disclosure of exclusive content distribution licenses. An expansion on the concept of an "intellectual property marketplace" could go a long way to solving this problem with a publicly searchable database of private sector arts and culture.  This licensing transparency and creation of a functioning marketplace isn't something that can be left to the existing private sector distributors who have conflicting interests, and requires government intervention at least during the transition.

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