As advocates for vibrant, healthy and strong production and television sectors, the Directors Guild of Canada wishes to respond to CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais’ letter regarding the licence renewals of the large French-language television station groups released on May 15, 2017.

Over the last three years, the CRTC has held important public hearings to address the shifting media landscape. In so doing, the Commission has repeatedly, and correctly, said that “original” Canadian programs are a key element to the on-going and future success of Canada’s television ecosystem. Indeed, in the Let’s Talk TV Decision, the Commission stated that “original” first-run Canadian productions add more value to the television system than repeats and recycled content (par. 191 BRP 2015-86).  The Commission also said that Canadians should have access to “original” Canadian programming on Canadian operated online platforms.

Yet, in issuing the licence renewal decisions for the large French-language television station groups last month, the Commission removed important obligations that relate to the creation of “original” French-language Canadian productions. Specifically, the CRTC removed Series+/Corus’ obligation to spend $1.5 million annually on original French-language dramas (that’s $7.5 million over 5 years). It removed Historia/Corus’ obligation to spend 75% of its Canadian program expenditures on original first-run programs (that’s about $15 million over five years). And, the Commission removed Vrak/Bell Media’s obligation to broadcast 104 hours of original first-run French-language Canadian programs each year (estimated at about $15 million over five years).

In sum, close to $40 million in assured expenditures on “original” French-language Canadian programs may well be lost over the next five years.

The reason for this significant potential loss is that while the May 15 CRTC decisions have put in place new program spending obligations, none require spending on “original” French-language dramas, documentaries, feature films, music and dance or award-show related productions. This means that Quebecor, Bell, V Media and Corus can spend all of their programming dollars on recycled and repeat content. While it may have already been in the works, it bears repeating that within days of the release of the CRTC’s renewal decisions, Corus’ Series+ announced the cancellation of the production of three French-language original drama series.

The Commission appears to have high hopes that the large French-language station groups will support the creation of “original” French-language productions without any specific regulatory obligations to do so. History has shown us, however, that in a highly competitive environment, the only and best way to ensure a high level of “original” French-language Canadian programs are produced and showcased across platforms  - and to meet the objectives of the Broadcasting Act - is through regulation.

Tim Southam

Directors Guild of Canada