Investment in Cancon pays Dividends at CSA and Abroad

According to the annual Profile report produced by Nordicity under the auspices of the Government of Canada, CMPA and AQPM, almost $6B was generated in production activity in Canada in 2012/13. This included almost $2.7B on independent Canadian film and television, $1.4B in broadcaster in-house production and $1.7B in foreign location and service production associated with the shooting of US series and other foreign films in locations across Canada.  As a consequence of this activity – triggered by federal and provincial tax credits, Canadian and foreign broadcaster licensing and other forms of private investment – it is estimated that 127,000 FTE high-quality jobs were sustained in Canada.

The impact of this activity on jobs, in attracting private investment into Canada and in increasing export opportunities that flow as a result cannot be easily dismissed. Production is only one element of a much larger media entertainment value chain that has been estimated to generate over $20B in GDP and support some 262,000 jobs across key industry segments like production, broadcasting, cable, satellite, festivals, distribution and theatrical exhibition.

In our view not only do the jobs and export opportunities generated by a mix of public and private investment and regulation create gold in terms of economic activity; but the intellectual property these investments and expenditures create generates currency in an information economy that is anchored in part by media and entertainment.

Canada has become not only an attractive place to invest in this sector of the economy but it has become a valued brand when it comes to both buying and selling media goods and services. That is a good place to find ourselves in terms of opportunities for growth. But we need to look beyond the positive numbers to see some of the reasons for success.

First, the talent has become first rate, whether you look at the pool of actors and directors plying their trade in Canada, Hollywood or the rest of the world. Actors like Canada’s rising star Tatiana Maslany or directors like Denis Villeneuve are recognized both at home and abroad. And the Screen Awards last week were testament to just how deep the talent pool has become.

Second, contrary to criticisms about regulation, Canada is arguably one of the most open countries around when it comes to the ability to access content from beyond its borders.  Sure there are debates around “Netflix-like” services or simultaneous substitution on US border stations but the reality is that Netflix is available without constraint.  In many jurisdictions foreign distant services are often blacked out to protect territorial rights.

Third, the Government of Canada, most recently through Ministers of Heritage (Ministers Glover and Moore), have been supporters of the industry not only for the economic benefits it produces but for its cultural import and for the future opportunities that can be created for a next generation of Canadians using digital tools and means of distribution. And it is the ongoing investment by federal and provincial governments in Canada that created the synergies between “Hollywood North” and our domestic talent, production and broadcast sectors, that has made Canada a world class producer and exporter of media and entertainment today.

And fourth, support for independent voices and access through policy mechanisms — and particularly terms of trade to ensure independent producers have a right to exploit intellectual property rights in contractual relations with large scale vertically integrated carriers – has ensured that creative decisions don’t rest in the hands of a very small number of players.

Of course this does not mean we should be happy with the status-quo.  We can’t as an industry.  And, the audiences that increasingly consume and value what we produce won’t allow it. We absolutely need to follow the direction audiences and consumers are headed to remain relevant. But, equally, we should not simply throw out some of the elements of private or public initiatives that have productively contributed to success. The game should be to build on and exploit what has been successful, and to adopt new tools and seek new digital and global markets to grow the economic pie.

Much of the policy debate at the Content Industry Connect event in Toronto last week was all about “fair” ways to split the existing pie.  That type of debate is incredibly stupid and counter-productive for a couple of reasons.

First, the discussion in the middle of a week intended to celebrate the successes of the industry was way too much about our plumbing, too often negative and so disconnected from audience as to be a side-show “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” All it did was suggest our industry is too insular.  This is too bad because the support for Canadian shows from industry leaders like Kevin Crull and Paul Robertson is worthy of thanks and those efforts got lost in the noise.

Second, even if it was the time to talk about the “pie,” the debate should be about growth through audience engagement, new digital platforms and increased opportunities to use digital to access completely new markets. I would suggest that when you focus on making the pie bigger, the slicing gets easier.

And lastly, shouldn’t the essence of the Canadian Screen Awards be to celebrate the talent and even more importantly to celebrate the audiences that are supporting the TV shows and films and connecting with the talent in those shows?

We think so. That’s why we were a sponsor and supporter of the CSA Fanzone. Because through the Fanzone we got to be part of a social media experiment that was all about the fans or audience picking their favorite shows.

So let’s look back on Canadian Screen Week, not for the policy whinging, but for the celebration of success. Way to go Tatiana and Denis.  Congratulations to the producers of Orphan Black and Call me Fitz, best film Gabrielle, as well as the stellar number of other film nominees this year that are really worth catching. And a big shout out to Fanzone winner Lost Girl and all of you out there that cast their votes, because the fans are the ingredient that are going to make that pie bigger.

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