Caroline J. Simard at the annual “All Access” conference organized by On Screen Manitoba and the Alliance des producteurs francophones du Canada
16 January 2018
Caroline J. Simard, Vice-Chairperson, Broadcasting
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
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Thank you for that kind introduction.
Thank you, as well, to On Screen Manitoba and the Alliance des producteurs francophones du Canada for inviting me to say a few words on the CRTC’s behalf.
I acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional territory of Indigenous peoples. I thank them and I pay respect to their Elders.
Let’s talk about some success stories in audiovisual production in Manitoba.
Many successful productions or co-productions have come out of Manitoba in recent years, including Polar Bear Town, Vet to Go, Taken, Chacun sa route, Au Pays des Mitchifs, and Burden of Truth, to name just a few.
La grande traversée
Are there any representatives of Productions Rivard in the room?
Let me mention the example of the series La grande traversée, which was broadcast by Radio-Canada in 2017. It features 10 participants from Manitoba, Quebec and New-Brunswick who embark on a transatlantic crossing under conditions that prevailed during the New France era.
Coproduced with Zone3, the series was created by Productions Rivard, an independent digital media and audiovisual production company based right here in Winnipeg.
The series attracted an average of 528,000 viewers. This number has undoubtedly increased given that episodes can be viewed free of charge on Tou.tv, and complementary content, such as exclusive clips, surveys and photos, is available on the Radio-Canada website.
From the comfort of our homes, we get a glimpse of life on the high seas between Europe and North America during 55 days aboard an ancient ship.
Some can easily relate. They can imagine packing their suitcases to live a similar experience, while others… Not so much! They admire the participants’ courage, but such an adventure is not for them.
This is a perfect example of a program that offers both a window on the world and a reflection of ourselves, or the opposite, and which makes use of the digital world to enhance its audiovisual content!
I also want to highlight the achievement that is APTN, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, which has its headquarters here in Winnipeg: this is the first national Indigenous broadcaster in the world!
Three quarters of its programming is Canadian content, whether in English, French or Indigenous languages, such as Cree and Inuktitut. APTN is currently distributed as part of the basic service to a large portion of Canadians across the country. Indeed, it is distributed to 11 out of the 13 million households in Canada.
For instance, Dream Big, produced by Mohawk Princess Pictures, is broadcast on APTN.
In this documentary, Indigenous teenagers have the chance to spend a day with a mentor to give their dream job a try. It’s so well done that it can easily become a tool for anyone, not just Indigenous teenagers, who wants to peak behind the curtain to know if they want to become a pop music star, a comic book artist, a moviemaker, an actor, a doctor, a goaltender, among others.
As the title indicates, Dream Big reminds us of the importance of dreaming without limits and of believing in our dreams. But I think this program goes beyond that by allowing Canadians to imagine themselves practising one of those careers, pushing themselves, and more importantly, being happy with their contribution to society.
The 13 episodes of Dream Big are now available on APTN’s website, in English and in Mohawk, which may result in an increase of pop music stars, comic book artists, moviemakers, actors, doctors and goaltenders in Canada and abroad!
Challenges and opportunities in an evolving audiovisual landscape
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a formula for successful programs, series, or documentaries? Everyone would want a copy!
Without guaranteeing huge ratings or top awards, an obvious good start would be to ask the right questions. However, questions no longer seem limited to those normally asked when taking on an audiovisual project: What is the best story? The best approach? The best format? Program, series, or documentary? How do we finance this project? How do we distribute and promote it?
Absent a magic formula, we can assume that with the recent innovations in media, the process is no longer limited to these questions.
While the digital world has complicated creators and producers’ strategies by posing additional challenges, it has, paradoxically, paved the way for new creation, production, distribution and funding opportunities. You know, as well as I do, that the list of examples where the Web has been used in this way is not limited to Dream Big and La grande traverse.
Yes, it has shaken up the broadcast landscape, but it has also led to new development opportunities.
The discussions I’ve taken part in or attended since the start of this conference show that participants are fully aware of key issues associated with the digital world. For example, in one form or another we have discussed and addressed market fragmentation, challenges relating to content discoverability and factors affecting the export of content.
After asking ourselves:
“What is the best story?”
“The best angle from which to approach it?”
“The best format?”
And maybe even before asking: “How do we finance this project?”
It might be useful to reflect on the impact of market fragmentation on the distribution of a given program:
For instance: “How can my science-fiction series reach those who may be interested in the genre, but are increasingly caught in an often narrow niche of personalized content – such as those who watch only hard science fiction or steampunk programs? How will my series reach those who would like the content at a time of their choosing via on-demand access?”
Questions may also concern discoverability: “How can we reach those who may be interested in this content but are spread out across the country or even the world? How do we set ourselves apart in this sea of choices and reach our audience?”
Some may even wonder about their program’s future distribution and ask themselves: “How can my program be of both local and global interest?”
Lastly, the discussion on the promotion and funding of the creative project will be broadened to maximize opportunities arising from the use of digital technology.
In short, the joy seems to reside in the search for the new opportunities made possible by digital technologies to showcase our stories!
Having to make creative and business decisions during a transition period does not facilitate risk-taking by entrepreneurs in the audiovisual field. I understand this reality. In another life, I worked as a lawyer for small and medium-sized companies, specifically in the field of telecommunications and construction.
That was before I decided, later on in life, to go back to school to get my master’s degree and doctorate in law and communication so that I could understand the changes that are revolutionizing the communications industry and the forces governing this shift.
It is possible to seize the new opportunities emerging from the digital economy and, moreover, to create new opportunities for others. Last month, Winnipeg-based developers, Ogoki Learning Inc., launched a new app for the live broadcast of programs in Ojibway. The app can be used to stream Ojibway language TV programming and teaching videos they’ve created and content from other sources.
Isn’t that a great technological innovation to increase exposure for Indigenous cultures and languages in Canada and abroad?
The challenge is certainly to find our place in the flow of this transition. Online television accounts for an increasing share of audiovisual production and distribution.
However, that doesn’t mean that Canadians have proportionally reduced the time they spent watching traditional television.
The data show that in both language markets, Canadians have maintained their habits in terms of watching traditional television. We watched on average nearly 27 hours of traditional TV per week in 2016. Yes, that’s more than a whole day watching television per week! And, that’s only one hour less per week than in 2012.
Global perspective on audiovisual production
Overall, independent Canadian production companies benefit our society. Not only in terms of artistic creation, but also of the creation of wealth and of jobs, just like any other business.
Audiovisual productions are key drivers of economic development. In 2016, the audiovisual production industry in Manitoba achieved its best performance in a decade, with investments reaching $139 million and employment in the film industry increased by 4.3%.
These figures bode well for the future. On Screen Manitoba and Manitoba Film and Music estimate that this growth continued through 2017, and that the total spending will exceed the previous year’s total.
This is not, of course, to minimize the challenges of operating in the audiovisual realm, where the very foundations are shifting. But they confirm that the various players nevertheless know how to seize the opportunities that arise along the way.
Participate in the CRTC’s public proceedings
On a daily basis, when focused on producing programs, it is also important to pay attention, individually or through associations, to the rules that govern your industry and, in particular, to participate in the public proceedings leading to the adoption or modification of these rules. They can have an important impact on your business activities.
The CRTC, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, is an independent government regulator in the communications sector. For the past 50 years, somewhat like a hockey referee, we have strived to make decisions in the interest of all parties, in a neutral and impartial manner, and according to the rules that govern the communications sector and which are, of course, under our responsibility and jurisdiction.
Speaking as a lawyer, let me say that the CRTC must issue decisions based on the public record before it. We read everything. We take everything into account. This is why it is important those with a point of view to express them during the CRTC’s public proceedings.
Television licences held by large ownership groups
With this in mind, last May the CRTC published a series of decisions to renew television licences held by large ownership groups, such as Bell Media, Corus Entertainment, Rogers Media, Groupe V Media and Quebecor Media. The CRTC intended these decisions to foster the creation of diverse, captivating and original Canadian content.
The CRTC also set out conditions of licence for local programming and locally reflective news for all stations, including the three private English-language stations serving Winnipeg.
We aim to encourage that programs broadcast in Canada are reflective of all Canadian regions and official-language minority communities across the country. You know the day-to-day work required to achieve such an enterprise. And you’re in a very good position to understand the importance of those contributions for all Canadians.
To encourage large ownership groups to better reflect certain communities, the CRTC created a new 25% credit for expenditures on Canadian programming when funding is allocated to producers from official-language minority communities. The CRTC also implemented a 50% credit for funds allocated to Indigenous producers.
In a nutshell, the credits give these producers an advantage, since large ownership groups can fulfil their regulatory obligations at a lower cost by using their services.
To take advantage of the credits, the large groups must provide the CRTC with the following on an annual basis: the number of official-language community producers and Indigenous producers that they meet each year; a list of projects ordered from these producers that are in development, in production or completed; their budgets; and their total expenditures on Canadian programs dedicated to such projects.
I’d like to talk now about the Unis channel, which can be an important partner for all producers. This channel is a French-language creation space that promotes the production of original content outside the province of Quebec and which lays the foundations for the next generation of French-language production across Canada.
The children’s program Canot cocasse, coproduced by the Franco-Manitoban production company Manitomédia, is an example of a program broadcast on the Unis channel.
In 2013, the CRTC granted a mandatory distribution licence to the Unis channel. Since then, $36 million has been invested in original Canadian programming, including $27 million in programs of national interest. These programs of national interest include long-form documentaries, dramas, comedies, as well as national and regional award shows that honour Canadian creators and artists and recognize achievements in arts and culture.
I am also thinking of the documentary, Le “social” manitobain, which is broadcast by the Unis channel and which gives Canadians a window on what’s going on in Manitoba. I myself had the pleasure of watching this documentary over the holidays, when I was far from here, near Quebec City. It’s the story of three young Franco-Manitoban couples who lead us, step by step, through the organization of a social gathering to collect funds for their future life as a couple.
One of the couples collected more than $8,000 from the sale of tickets to the event and the proceedings of a raffle. The couples describe the peculiarities of this cultural tradition that is passed on from generation to generation in Manitoba, but is almost unknown in the rest of Canada.
In October 2017, the CRTC launched a public proceeding to examine the Unis channel’s licence renewal and its mandatory distribution in the basic service. APTN is also included in this renewal proceeding. The CRTC will hold a public hearing on the matter beginning on April 30, 2018.
Reconsideration, report to the Government and survey
There are three other key dates to keep in mind if you want to participate in our public processes: January 23 and 31 and February 13, 2018.
First, as you have probably heard, the Governor-in-Council referred back to the CRTC for reconsideration certain aspects of the decision related to the renewal of television licences held by the major ownership groups. The CRTC is accepting comments from the public until January 23, 2018, and I invite you to participate.
Second, the Government of Canada has also asked the CRTC to prepare a report on possible content distribution models. We have therefore launched a public consultation on the future of the distribution of programming in Canada.
The second phase of this consultation was launched on December 7, 2017, with the publication of a reference document. The deadline to submit comments is February 13, 2018.
Third, we’re inviting Canadians to fill out a survey to help us better understand the reasons behind their choices related to audiovisual content. The deadline is January 31, 2018. It took me less than 10 minutes to fill it out myself.
In closing, I want to take a moment to thank On Screen Manitoba, the Alliance des producteurs francophones du Canada and all associations representing official-language minority communities (francophone and anglophone) for their participation in the CRTC’s public proceedings over the years.
I would also like to commend On Screen Manitoba for its initiative of offering its members funding to support their access to the national and international markets, as well as their professional development. This allows those members to grab the opportunities in this age of transition.
There are three goals of audiovisual production: To inform, enlighten and entertain.
But I would add a fourth: personal development. This development comes when we promote and showcase our cultures, which have so much to offer. Viewers are waiting for you to help them discover these slices of life that are a reflection of themselves and a window on the world. Your programs may have a significant impact on their lives!
Please continue enriching our lives in this way!
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