June 08, 2017
That big CRTC decision… explained
What this means for your ability to work
Two weeks ago, the CRTC handed down decisions renewing broadcast licenses for Canada’s large English and French-language broadcast groups (Bell, Rogers, Corus, Groupe V and Quebecor) for the next five years.
You may have heard about these decisions thanks to the Commission’s inexplicable choice to axe MuchFACT and Bravo!FACT or the stunning announcement from Corus’s Series+, cancelling three planned productions due to the ruling.
But the truth is, there’s even more to this decision than you might think.
First, some background:
In 2015, the CRTC began moving away from so-called “exhibition requirements” – long-standing rules that guaranteed a certain number of hours of Canadian programming on broadcast and speciality channels. The Commission shifted the focus from ‘quantity’ to ‘quality’, emphasizing how much broadcasters spend commissioning and licencing content.
The CRTC said this move was in response to a more ‘on-demand’ environment that has emerged. When audiences have so much choice about what, where and when to watch, broadcasters need more flexibility to spend effectively to compete for their attention.
To put it simply: After saying they were shifting focus to how much money is spent on Canadian production, the CRTC has now turned around and cut the amount of money broadcasters have to spend on high value Canadian productions: drama, film, documentaries and award shows.
Let’s be clear: This is about whether, and how much, you and your fellow members will work. It’s also about how much high-quality, original content is produced for Canadian viewers.
What the heck is “PNI”?
The biggest decision affecting English-language production
PNI stands for “Programs of National interest”, and it includes the high-quality productions our members work on – feature film, feature docs, award shows, scripted kids programming, scripted dramatic television series and MOWs.
Before the new CRTC ruling, what English-language broadcast services were required to spend varied from 18% for services like TMN to a minimum of 5%, but overall, they were required to spend, averaged across all groups, about 8% of their revenue from the previous year on Canadian-made PNI programming. The recent decision slashed ALL services to just a minimum of 5%.
That’s a drop of 37.5%, and the DGC estimates this will mean $200-400 million less in production funding for high value productions over the next five years. Leveraged with other financing, that’s between eight and fifteen fewer drama series shot in English, in Canada, each and every year.
Why did Corus cancel three planned productions?
The biggest decision affecting French-language production
Over the last three years, the CRTC 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.
Yet, in issuing the licence renewal decisions for the large French-language television station groups, the Commission removed important obligations, “Conditions of Licence”, (COL) 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 none of the new requirements mandate 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. 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 cancellation of these three series is alarming and represents a “canary in the coal mine” for what PNI cuts and the removal of COLs could mean for English-language production, too.
What’s the Guild doing? What can I do:
The DGC has condemned the CRTC decision and is fighting back. We are asking Minister of Heritage, Melanie Joly, to reject the decision and send it back to the CRTC to be reviewed.
On May 16, the Directors Guild of Canada National President, Tim Southam, in a statement, condemned the CRTC’s decision to weaken the obligations of Canadian broadcasters to invest in quality Canadian programming.
On May 17, the DGC launched a change.org petition to call on Bell Media and the Minister of Canadian Heritage to reverse the decision that will permit the highly successful Bravo!FACT and MuchFACT programs to be eliminated.
The petition has collected almost 10,000 signatures from Canadian across the county and was hand delivered to Minister Joly by Arif Virani, M.P. Parkdale – High Park.
On May 30, the Directors Guild of Canada issued a statement supporting the Government of Quebec in its call to review the French-language decision.
On June 2, the Directors Guild of Canada responded to CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais in an open letter with regard to the Chair’s public comments on the decision.
On June 29, the Directors Guild of Canada, ACTRA and the Canadian Media Producers Association launched a formal joint appeal asking the federal cabinet to send this decision back for review.