Canada’s film and television industry is anxiously awaiting forthcoming directions from the federal government to the country’s broadcasting watchdog, which they say will determine the true impacts of streaming legislation adopted this week.
The Online Streaming Act known as Bill C-11, which received royal assent Thursday, is meant to update the Broadcasting Act to require digital platforms such as Netflix, YouTube and TikTok to contribute and promote Canadian content.
It established penalties for companies that don’t make Canadian content available to users in the country and put online streaming platforms under the regulatory authority of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
The agency said it will create a modernized regulatory framework, which “will ensure that online streaming services make meaningful contributions to Canadian and Indigenous content.” It promised to share a detailed plan and launch public consultations “shortly.”
David Forget, the national executive director of the Directors Guild of Canada, welcomed the legislation passing because it addresses the myriad of shifts the industry has seen since the Broadcasting Act was last updated in 1991.
Among the most pressing changes has been the emergence of foreign streaming entities operating in Canada and signing up millions of Canadians for subscriptions.
“It’s unsustainable to have two broadcasting worlds, one online and one conventional that one is subject to regulation and the other one isn’t,” Forget said.
But the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA) is worried it has come down to the CRTC to address a “flaw” that could leave streaming services with much lower standards than those Canadian broadcasters face.
“The Canadian broadcasters have always had a standard applied to them under the Broadcasting Act,” said Reynolds Mastin, the CMPA’s president and chief executive.
“There is a provision in the bill, however, that says that foreign streaming services would be subject to a different standard and we don’t think that’s the right way to go.”
The CMPA, which represents thousands of companies in the TV, film and digital media industry, said the bill could result in foreign streamers being allowed to use fewer Canadian creators in the production of Canadian programming.
“Having two different standards risks reducing the incentives for Canada’s best producers and creators to continue working in Canada and we want to avoid that outcome,” Mastin said.
However, Forget said the bill’s wording doesn’t necessarily mean one tier would face more responsibilities than another.
“It mentions two standards but that doesn’t necessarily imply that for the large online players who are commissioning original content that that’s necessarily a lower standard,” he said.
“It could very well be that they have the wherewithal to do more and they could have the expectation to do more.”
Despite its concerns, Mastin said the CMPA is pleased the bill will ensure its members can significantly and equitably benefit from their own stories because it includes provisions to advance the representation of Indigenous, Black and other racialized creators.
“I’ve been inundated with emails and phone calls from people expressing how thrilled they are that the bill has passed, expressing their gratitude to the government for having achieved this historic milestone.”
A Thursday press release from Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez, who oversaw C-11, said a draft of the government’s policy direction around the new legislation will eventually be published in the Canada Gazette and input from the public and stakeholders welcomed. The release did not provide a timeline for the direction.
The CRTC will also publish details on their own consultation process to provide “more clarity and predictability” on how it will implement the act, the release said.
—Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press