We do disservice to our industry if we think of ourselves only as arts and culture

Notes from an address Sept 27 to the Federation of International Actors in Toronto

Government funding is expected to be under increasing pressure over the coming years due to fiscal challenges. This, ultimately, could negatively impact incentives to grow investment and generate highly valued jobs in the film and TV industry.

Too often the screen-based production industry is perceived as a sub-set of arts and culture rather than what it has become—an industry that is now a significant component of our economic development and trade agenda. I believe characterizing what we do as simply “arts and culture” does a disservice to our industry, and the jobs it supports.

Film, TV and digital media are much more than add-ons to improve our quality of life. This is an industry that generates $5.5 billion in production expenditures annually and supports 128,000 direct and indirect jobs. We are also an increasing exporter of content.  In short, we are no less a key economic sector than many resource-based industries and we need to promote and leverage this fact to support economic goals.

Sadly, in an era of fiscal restraint, support of arts and culture can be characterized as an optional expense. But support to industrial sectors, be it defined as an entertainment industry or a creative industry, is critical for economic development, innovation, job creation and high valued employment for our children.  And it is critical to remain globally competitive. Attracting investment in growth sectors should be a government priority.

So what is the economic model to not only sustain, but grow our businesses internationally?

Audience must be the principal metric used to measure and validate what we produce—and not just domestic audiences but consumers around the world.  We are moving more to an on-demand environment where content is king, but the consumer ultimately rules. The industry must leverage new technologies like social media to promote Canadian products.  Broadcasters and distributors, in addition to supporting the development and production of high-quality, competitive content, must begin to place more emphasis on promoting that content and building audiences.

Why are the US studios and networks so successful?  For one, they have economies of scale, thus helping to attenuate the considerable risk that television and film production entails. They also dedicate considerable resources to the international marketing of the content they produce.  Certainly in Canada that is not generally the case.

We must create more products that resonate with international audiences. There is a huge appetite for content globally. We need to be focused on those markets as we develop our content and embrace the international opportunities rather than seeking to protect ourselves from foreign competition. We need to find ways to incent increased private investment. We need to enhance the efficiency of our tax measures. We need to promote more export support mechanisms and increase foreign participation in Canadian productions.  Collaborating with all countries, including the US, is essential to achieving greater scale and reach.

Some of what we produce is art. Much of what we produce is culture. But all of what we produce in film, TV and digital is part of an economic and industrial process. It is without a doubt a creative industry, but an industry nonetheless. To grow and compete, all screen-content must be guided by industrial strategy — like all economic sectors. To lose sight of that argument is not only a disservice, it is potentially foolish in a world where other countries and global business seek to create real advantage in this sector.

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