Canadian Content and the Internet Age

MCMMonday, April 2, 2007

Michael Geist has a great column in the Toronto Star about how the Canadian broadcast industry is aiming to have CRTC oversight for the internet, to help reign in the internet media market. One particularly distressing part:

The Friends of Canadian Broadcasting go even further, maintaining that "Canadian broadcasting policy should recognize new delivery systems such as MP3 players, satellite radio receivers, and interactive Web clients as part of the new Canadian broadcasting system. If the commission is unable or unwilling to regulate their content, it should be charged with ensuring that a percentage of the revenue they generate from the distribution of these services is circulated into the system."

I like the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. I agree with a lot of what they say, most of the time. But in this case, they're looking for cash that doesn't belong to them. The revenue generated from new media enterprises should not be circulated into the system, because the system is not built to support new media.

Could the system be adapted to handle both major broadcasting and on-the-fly online entertainment? Let's think of how that works: I am a webcaster in Vancouver. I am required to send 10% of my revenues to the Canadian Television Fund to support Canadian Content. Of course, in return for that, I'll want to be able to apply for funding from the CTF, because otherwise I'm being unfairly taxed with nothing to gain.

To meet CTF standards, I have to meet all sorts of requirements that push my production budget from $50,000 to close to $200,000... because I'm no longer allowed to do things cheaply or quickly. The bureaucracy involved in TV production is staggering... everybody at every stage along the way wants their piece of the pie, and it inflates costs beyond what a rational person would expect. And even worse, if I have my special effects team in Holland (which is plausible for a webcaster), and my writer's in London, all of a sudden I don't even qualify for CTF funds at all.

So now if I can't find another $150,000 to finance my project, I can't do it. Or I can do it without CTF money for $50,000, and give away 10% of my profits for nothing. Either way, I'm getting a bad deal, and I'll either give up on the idea, or leave the country to get it done. The current make-your-own-luck online environment will be replaced with paperwork and forced mediocrity, because that's what Canadian Content is all about.

New media is the one area where regulation has not yet managed to suck the innovation out of entertainment. If the CRTC gets into the game now, all they'll be doing is lining the pockets of the established players, and locking out the next generation of content creators, who stand a good chance of making Canadian Content accessible and plentiful within our borders, and beyond.

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