Bell Calls for Bill C-11 Changes So They Can More Cheaply Rebroadcast US Programming

So much for “telling Canadian stories”. Bell demands changes to Bill C-11 so they can cheaply rebroadcast US programs.

Bell Media, one of the big traditional broadcasters pushing for Bill C-11, is demanding changes. Bill C-11 supporters, including Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, have frequently defended the legislation by saying that it will ensure that people will better be able to “tell Canadian stories”. Yet, digital first creators who do tell Canadian stories are the ones pushing back, saying that the bill needs to be scrapped because the legislation, as written, would impair their ability to produce content, and, therefore, tell Canadian stories.

Of course, the excuse of producers being able to “tell Canadian stories” never really held up to scrutiny. After all, as regulations stand for broadcasting rules, the system is built to ensure that smaller, independent voices, would get shut out of such a system. Further, it’s not even clear what part of the bill would actually contribute to solving this alleged problem in the first place. What’s more is that there is very little, if any evidence, to support the idea that large platforms are even impairing creators to “tell Canadian stories” in the first place. At best, this defence was always on thin ice with almost no evidence to support it.

Bell Media, one of the big supporters of the legislation, is putting further doubt that this is even a goal for Bill C-11 in the first place. In an op-ed written by vice-president, Karine Moses, Moses details what Bell Media is really after. From The Record:

Fundamental to this separate identity — and yes, even our democracy and sovereignty — has been the ability to maintain an independently owned and operated Canadian broadcasting system, ensuring that Canadians can access stories, including news, that we want to see and hear from both sides of the 49th parallel and elsewhere.

Today, this symbiotic and deep-rooted system is at a tipping point — global web giants including Google dominate the advertising market while over the top (OTT) streamers and aggregators such as Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Disney are now dominating our broadcasting system. This domination undermines the ability of Canadian broadcasters to tell Canadian stories and produce Canadian news.

The consequences threaten a total collapse of Canada’s private broadcasting industry, with local investment, thousands of jobs and countless Canadian stories told from uniquely Canadian perspectives, including those from Québec and from Black and Indigenous communities, at stake.

There’s not a lot of evidence that the system is on the verge of collapse, but for those following the file-sharing debate, this Chicken Little warning is all too familiar. Major Record labels in years past often decried file-sharing, saying that the whole industry is on the verge of collapse if nothing is done. Yet, here we are, more than a decade later, and the music industry as a whole (not just the major record labels), are not only not suffering, but thriving thanks to the digital environment that has been compared by them to serial killers to the industry. So, if you are looking at this latest debate with a degree of skepticism, you probably should. Nevertheless, the op-ed continues:

A primary objective of Bill C-11 is to establish a framework that will ultimately require foreign streaming services, many based in the U.S. and making billions of dollars from Canadian consumers, to invest extensively in the creation of Canadian content just as Canada’s leading media companies, including Bell, already do.

This is a positive step forward for Canadians.

It should be noted that lawmakers, themselves, talking about the legislation admits that Bill C-11 does not allocate money of any kind. Instead, it is a framework, rather than a bill that moves a single penny around. Nevertheless, we continue:

However, as it stands Bill C-11 does not specifically require foreign content providers to work in partnership with Canadian broadcasters. This needs to change.

What, what? What happened to “telling Canadian stories”? What does rebroadcasting US programming have to do with Bill C-11? This took a rather bizarre turn.

Canadian broadcasters have historically succeeded by airing hugely popular U.S. shows that appeal to Canadian audiences and attract significant advertising and subscription revenues. These revenues can then be used to fund the creation, production and showcasing of Canadian content, including news — whether local, national or international — that provide uniquely Canadian perspectives on events here and around the world.

Today, access to foreign content — including popular U.S. shows — by Canadian broadcasters is becoming increasingly challenging and expensive as bidding from foreign online streamers increases the costs of program acquisition.

So, in other words, Bell Media thinks that in order to tell Canadian stories, they want to tell American stories and broadcast American programming in Canada. By extension, this is also an admission that the Canadian stories they tell is not all that interesting and require American stories to attract a Canadian audience. It’s almost an self inflicted indictment on how bad Canadian programming is, really. Let’s read some more just to make sure we are reading this right:

Bill C-11 is a step in the right direction. But unless the legislation specifically endorses access by Canadian broadcasters to U.S. content and provides incentives for foreign content owners to work as partners, it will fail to accomplish its desired outcome.

OK, so we can confirm that this is exactly what they are trying to say. Canadian’s don’t want to hear their Canadian stories, so they want to cheaply broadcast American stories to supplement their losses because Bell Media is terrible at telling Canadian stories. Got it!

Contributions from foreign OTT streamers and content owners must be designed with a goal to support Canadian broadcasting, similar to the approach taken by policy-makers more than 50 years ago. Anything less and the Canadian ecosystem, and especially local news, will be lost.

Er, OK, correction, Bell Media is terrible at telling Canadian stories, so they supplement this by telling American stories, but even that isn’t enough, so they are calling for large platforms to basically send them free money because they suck at this whole broadcasting business thing. Put it another way, they are bad at their jobs and they want free money from platforms because they feel entitled. Got it.

Really, this raises the question of why we want to subsidize a business that is only good at losing money. It’s basically an admission that they are a money pit.

At any rate, whether or not Bell even realizes or not, they just single-handedly destroyed the argument that Bill C-11 is about “telling Canadian stories”. After all, one of the big supporters basically admitted that this is actually about demanding free money from an unrelated industry, rather than “telling Canadian stories”. The argument was always a weak one to begin with, but it looks like Bell completely destroyed that argument with this op-ed. Great job, Bell.

(via @Mgeist)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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