Netflix Promises 500 Million for Canadian Content

IW Staff Writers - Engineering
Posted on: October 13, 2017

On September 28th, Heritage Minster Mélanie Joly detailed the Creative Canada Policy during a speech in Ottawa. The policy outlines changes that will make Canadian media content more prolific in the globalized digital market. Under this policy, the Canada Media Fund, a public-private partnership which provides financial support to Canadian television show and video game productions such as Spaces’ sci-fi show “Orphan Black” and horror video game “Outlast”, is expected to receive a significant financial boost from the federal government. Funding for national book and music funds will also be reviewed, and the Copyright Board of Canada will be reformed to better protect the rights of Canadian content creators. There are plans to update the Broadcasting Act and Telecommunications Act, which has not happened in nearly 30 years despite the popularity shift towards internet broadcasting in that time.

This policy has caught the attention of US digital media giants who aim to capitalize on the increased federal funding and copyright protection given to Canadian creators. Netflix has pledged to invest $500 million in Canadian video media production over the next 5 years, outside of the Canada Media Fund.

While Netflix’s sudden injection of funds and promises of additional rights for media creators excites Canadian content producer organizations such as the Writer’s Guild of Canada and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, some have raised concerns over the vagueness surrounding the Netflix deal. Brian Baker, the head of the Director’s Guild of Canada, fears that the funds Netflix is investing will support “American shows shot in Canada with American talent in all of the top creative functions” as opposed to supporting “Canadian programming”. Quebecois producer Roger Frappier, producer of foreign-language Oscar-nominated “Hochelaga, Terre des Âmes”, is concerned that anglophone Netflix executives in California will be inclined to allocate little money to Quebecois artists. Frappier is part of a faction who think a Netflix tax would be more appropriate than the 5-year, $500 million payout, as the money generated from the tax could be more equitably distributed to Canadian artists. Unfortunately for Frappier, but of relief to streaming media consumers, Minister Joly announced that there would be no Netflix tax imposed by the Liberal government, rationalizing that “access and affordability of internet and wireless are real issues for many”. Plenty of people, including Frappier and Professor Pierre Bélanger are also quick to point out that the $500 million over 5 years is tiny; This constitutes only 1.42% of Netflix’s expected expenditures, and Netflix has stated that nearly $100 million was spent on Canadian content in 2016, so the new agreement is not particularly generous. Vagueness of the policy in general is also a concern to some. Filmmaker Kevan Funk believes the public-private partnerships and corporations that the federal government trusts to fulfill their policies will instead “act in their most immediate self-interest”.

The Creative Canada Policy which promises more money and protection for Canadian media producers have some creators optimistic, but it’s implications is concerning for others, especially regarding the use of the resultant investment of $500 million from Netflix. In time, it will be easier to see how beneficial this policy was for Canadian content creators. As Rosalie Wyonch of the C.D. Howe Institute says, at least “we aren’t imposing so many restrictions and requirements on them that [American companies] just choose not to do business in Canada anymore”.