Timothy M. Denton

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Ah Statism, how we love thee!

Posted by on in Industry News
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There are days when I am seized with the temptation to cite Ayn Rand with something approaching approval. Discussions of Canadian cultural policy  tend to bring it out. In an excellent article in the Post this weekend by Calum Marsh, the usual outrage is summoned by the Iron Rice Bowlers because Netflix promises to spend $500 million in Canada on television (read video) productions without any state supervision!

Without the guidance of a watchdog committee such as the CRTC, how will Netflix be held accountable for the constitution of its new suite of domestic productions? Can we be sure that Canadians will occupy key creative roles, writing and directing shows and movies rather than simply offering technical labour behind the scenes? As it stands there are no assurances that Netflix will produce in Canada “any content that reflects our identity and our history,” says MP Pierre Nantel.

Savour the words: "watchdog committee". In all its long history, the Commission in broadcasting matters has never been shy about extending its jurisdiction to the fullest extent. The range and depth of broadcasting regulation is minute and exacting in its enforcement and draconian in its penalties. It has had to act this way because the scheme created by the act used the attractiveness of US programming to pull Canadian viewers to licensed Canadian outlets, and with the economic rents derived from exclusive access to Canadian airwaves, the system could create enough economic rent to provide funds for "Canadian" programming, as the CRTC and production funds defined the term. Add to those rents a half billion a year in direct subsidies from the taxpayer, and that was Canadian broadcasting policy in television.

It was a closed universe, and it was backed up by penalties of thousands of dollars a day for broadcasting without a licence.

Once again, friends, can we remind ourselves of a few facts?

  • The closed universe of radio frequencies is gone, replaced by billions of IP addresses
  • the economic rents from the closed system are declining to nil
  • no one cares, because we are in the age of unlimited access to high quality "television"; a word used in the same sense as we still talk of "dialling" a telephone
  • More scripted television is under development than ever before, which ought to tell us about the appetite for video entertainment in the Internet era. (The issue is whether there is actually a bubble in TV production)

Erik Grunwedel reports in Home Media Magazine on 16 October 2017:

The United Kingdom increased output, with 1,233 hours in 2016, while volumes in France and Australia were almost unchanged. Canada registered the highest percentage growth in scripted transmissions to 488 hours, while Germany was the largest volume producer outside the U.S., with 1,388 hours of scripted programming in 2016.

Why are the hours of Canadian scripted television experiencing highest growth if the situation is dire?

There may be a problem to be solved, particularly for the Iron Rice Bowlers, but its nature needs to be shown. Right now the facts argue for resounding success. Trying to confine the Internet to the capacities of the old TV broadcasting system will not work, politically or technologically. The Liberal government seems to have grasped this fact. Good for them.

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Timothy Denton is a lawyer by training who practices principally in telecommunications and Internet policy and domain name issues, with a strong concentration on explaining what the technology is and what it means.


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Guest Thursday, 02 July 2020
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