Canadian content took centre stage at MIPCOM 2012

Having just returned from MIPCOM 2012 in Cannes, I thought it worth reflecting on Canada’s place in the international TV content business and how much that position has changed in the past decade. MIPCOM is the largest TV market in the world. It draws thousands of producers and broadcasters from many countries, as well as hangers-on like association heads and other people with fancy titles. But it is, at its heart, a marketplace. One where people buy, sell, pitch and finance shows in an increasingly borderless TV world.

As one Canadian broadcaster said to me, “until you have walked through the floors of the pavilions to see the shows on display you can’t appreciate the scale and scope of the TV business internationally. And, once you do as a Canadian, you are humbled.” That is true. It is humbling to see all that content in one place and to realize all of those thousands of shows are our competition. But 2012 may well go down as a watershed moment in our history, because this was the year Canada was celebrated as the Country of Honor at MIPCOM… and other countries were taking notice.

Canada has quietly gone from home turf to world stage for film and TV and is now recognized in international broadcast and production sectors as a great place to invest and do business; a country that is in the elite when it is time to think co-production; and a source of great content and of creative talent to produce quality material.

We have gone from being a country whose principal creative export was the flow of our key talent to the US to fast becoming a producer of high-quality film, digital and TV content that resonates not just at home but with international audiences. And, unlike in many “old” industries, we actually produce the value-added in Canada.

Where once we were focused on cultural protection in order to develop the ability to tell our stories to one another, we now think of how to tailor our content for both local and global consumption. We have the talent and the capacity to fill that order.  According to the Canada Media Fund (CMF) 85 CMF-funded projects were sold internationally across six continents in 2011-12. The US was the top buyer with 29 titles, followed by 18 titles to Australia, 16 titles to Italy and 14 titles each to the UK and the Middle East.

And business this year is also strong. Just consider some recent news around MIPCOM in the past weeks:

Toronto-based Breakthrough Entertainment has finalized a wide range of series deals with broadcasters across Europe, Africa, Australia and The Middle East.

Shaftesbury is partnering with German ZDF Enterprises to develop the tween series Do-Over with Hannah Montana creator Michael Poryes. The deal is among the first out of Shaftesbury’s Los Angeles office. Shaftesbury is also making a major push into the U.S. market.

And Canada’s Nelvana Enterprises (owned by Corus Entertainment Inc.) and China’s Ciwen Media Group have entered into a huge content acquisition and representation deal that covers the territories of Mainland China, Macau and Hong Kong. This gives Ciwen exclusive rights to distribute more than 1,000 half-hours of animated and live-action Nelvana programming, including Franklin, Babar, Rolie Polie Olie, and Mr. Young  for broadcasters and BDUs in those three countries.

Success is measured not simply in sales abroad but in audience engagement at home. Canadian consumers are more tuned into Canadian content than ever before. CTV’s Flashpoint, produced by Pink Sky Entertainment, is the first stand-alone Canadian series in 15 years to win the prestigious 10p.m. time slot this fall with more than 1.4 million viewers. Other Canadian drama successes over the past year include Bomb Girls, Saving Hope, Rookie Blue, Arctic Air and The Listener, just to name just a few. Mr. D, by Top Sail Productions, premiered in 2012 with 1.23 million viewers – the largest for a comedy on CBC in five years. Feature Films like Breakaway, and Gunless drew more than 450,000 viewers each when they aired on CBC last year. Specialty channels like HGTV, the Food Network and the W Network typically draw smaller audiences but pull in loyal viewers for shows like House of Bryan, Top Chef Canada and Love It or List It.

Credit for this success can go to many parties, as credit for success always does. But credit must start with both federal and provincial policy-makers, particularly at the CRTC and the Department of Canadian Heritage, who had the vision to create policies to support a domestic television and film industry.

Credit goes to current leaders like Heritage Minister James Moore and his provincial counterparts who have recognized the importance of creative industries in an information economy.  They have championed these industries as a way to make Canada more competitive and create high quality jobs in the process.

Credit goes to governments that created a system of incentive programs from the CMF and Telefilm Canada at the federal level to all the provincial agencies from the Ontario Media Development Corporation to BC Film+Media, to Manitoba Film and Music. Collectively, through direct investment and through a competitive structure for tax credits, these organizations have helped stimulate production activity in excess of $5.5 billion annually and generate 128,000 jobs in the process.

And, of course, success inevitably has to rest with the producers that take the risk and the talent that ultimately connects with the audience. The ability to offer a deep talent pool, globally competitive tax credits and other incentives to stimulate economic activity at home and to attract international projects to Canada has created a confidence and skill level that is world class. Hence the level of investment, high quality jobs and export potential that now define the industry. What we invest now also provides a return on investment to government in the form of jobs and taxes and to producers and exhibitors in terms of increased stability. But to sustain that return requires a different way of looking at our business than the protectionist measures that launched it, starting with how we define our markets.

That brings us to the final credits. These go to those in the industry who recognized that film and TV are not simply instruments to express artist and cultural perspectives. Film and TV production is an enabler of economic and industrial activity, because first and foremost creative industries are part of a global market. And, in that market, success has to be measured by a simple test. What we produce in film and television must ultimately be consumed like other products in the competitive marketplace. That requires resonance with audiences. And, it is that resonance that is now driving the increased opportunities we are capitalizing on in international markets.

At MIPCOM this year there was a strong sense from the international community that Canada gets it. Production activity is increasingly being attracted to Canada because of the talent and the positive climate and incentives we provide to drive production.  But successful strategies are quickly copied and other countries may try to emulate what public policy and private sector investment has created here. That means we cannot rest on our laurels. We have to keep our attention on growing audience and investment. The market is always open and intensely competitive. But it is also clear from MIPCOM that Canada is increasingly not only open for business but business is starting to think Canada when international producers consider who best to partner with in making their next project.

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One thought on “Canadian content took centre stage at MIPCOM 2012

  1. Doningos says:

    How nice of you to pat the Canadian tv industry in the back. However, most of the financing comes from government not private sources. In Canada, it is always a socialist funded system which keeps ACTRA members employed, and Canadians’ subscibers’ cable tv money going to the US to buy its programming. Some viewer numbers you stated are nothing to brag about. Not in a country of over 30 million people.
    Shaftesbury’s Los Angeles office. Why not a Canadian office employing Canadians.
    A country that is in the elite when it is time to think co-production. Why co-production? Can’t Canadians produce quality on their own? Producer of high-quality film, digital and TV content that resonates not just at home but with international audiences. Yes, so long as all references to Canada and its culture are wiped clean. Even the lettering on police cars on cop dramas are presented as “City Police” not an actual Canadian city or county.
    Where once we were focused on cultural protection in order to develop the ability to tell our stories to one another, we now think of how to tailor our content for both local and global consumption. The old CanCon mantra of “who is going to tell our stories to Canadians” has been used the last 45 years by Actra to keep cable bills expensive to pump money to keep their members employed.
    What we produce in film and television must ultimately be consumed like other products in the competitive marketplace. Competive? So long as CanCon requirments are in place to restrict foreign programming.
    I do not mean to demean all of what you say.A lot of your points are valid and good to see Canadians succeed in the tv business.
    Nonetheless, until all this programming is financed only by Canadians and placed and shown in exclusive Canadian channels owned wholly by Canadians and not placed on Canuck American channels like HGTV or HBO Canada, is it unfair to say Canada is still relying on American co-productions for its success, rather than going it alone with no American help.
    Canadians want to be told our stories by Canadians with Canadian money producing high quality programs about us. The BBC does it perfectly.That is what CanCon should be. And no, Chautauqua Girl and Street Legal do not count as quality programming.

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