As we go through these CRTC hearings, it seems things got spicy when ACTRA decided to use their time to insult Canadian creators.
We are continuing our unmatched coverage of the hearings at the CRTC. The hearings, of course, are about the implementation of the disastrous Online Streaming Act which threatens to drive streaming services out of the country, kill jobs, and destroy people’s careers.
As with so many other debates revolving around the internet, there’s a number of different sides to this whole sorry affair. While our coverage is far from comprehensive, we did offer considerable coverage of these hearings. One of those sides are, of course, the online streaming services to whom this blatant shakedown attempt is trying to target. This includes Google/YouTube, Spotify, Paramount, Netflix, Amazon, and Apple.
For the streamers, there are a number of arguments being made. One of the common themes throughout is that these online streamers are already making considerable investments in their services and the creation of Canadian content. Parts of their services are tailored for Canadian audiences and Canadian creators are being showcased by their services. Given that these investments directly benefit Canadian creators, Canadian culture, and the Canadian economy, and that one of the advertised intents of the Online Streaming Act is to benefit all three, why not implement the Act in such a way that recognizes the investments that they are already making instead of being asked to fork over money directly to their competitors? This is, of course, not that unreasonable of an ask in the end given the advertised objectives of the Act.
Corporate lobbyists working for Canada’s cultural elite and monopolistic legacy media corporations (some of whom are vertically integrated across multiple sectors), however, disagree with this assessment. Those on that side of the debate include Bell, Rogers, Corus, and Shaftesbury.
For these legacy corporations, they spent decades just sitting out of the digital revolution for the most part. They assumed that this whole internet thing is a fad that would go away on its own and, therefore, they would be better off continuing as business as usual. As a result, many of these platforms spent that time perfecting their services, attracting talent, and gradually pulling in greater portions of the overall audience as their content got gradually better. Eventually, the legacy media saw their audiences shrink as their “bought cheap” content floundered with audiences. Eventually, they saw their audiences shrink over time as internet content just kept getting more and more superior to their content.
So, rather than innovate or invest in producing better content, they went running to lawmakers saying that their inferior content can’t compete against the streamers. In response, the lobbyists suggest, the government must implement a system that takes hundreds of millions from the large platforms and just give them that investment money instead. In short, the legacy media companies want to steal money from the streaming services because they couldn’t be bothered with doing the work to generate that revenue for themselves. This under the guise of somehow “saving” Canadian culture (which, of course, is actually thriving these days, but they tend to think of online content as content that “doesn’t count”).
Caught in the middle of this feud are independent Canadian creators. Their very justified fears is that the Online Streaming Act will mean that their content will get demoted in Canada. For the legacy media lobbyists, Canadian creators are little more than plants inserted by “Big Tech” and, therefore, they are an obstacle to their success. So, for them, the sooner their careers end, the better. Digital First Canada made an appearance trying to advocate on their behalf along with other creators. The ideal scenario for the organization is that the status quo of how everything works today is retained so that Canadian creators can thrive. After all, the objective of the Online Streaming Act is, as advertised, to help promote Canadian culture and content. So, why force streaming services to throw up all these barriers between audiences and creators?
ACTRA, however, made an appearance and they don’t see things the way Digital First Canada views things. A transcript of the hearing in which they appeared in can be found on the CRTC website. ACTRA, of course, is one of a number of lobbying organizations that is seeking to upend the careers of Canadian creators. This includes insults that suggests that online creators are nothing more than “cat videos” and that the successful careers of Canadian creators otherwise simply doesn’t exist despite an insane amount of evidence to the contrary. During the hearing, ACTRA doubled down on insulting Canadian creators by, once again, referring to their high quality content as little more than “cat videos”:
8475 To be clear, recording and uploading cat videos and birthday memories will not be impacted by this. Only once an undertaking monetizes content over the five‑million‑dollar threshold, will they be obligated to contribute to our system here in Canada.
ACTRA’s hatred towards Canadian creators is no secret. For them, the sooner the careers of “those people” end, the better. They would rather organizations close to them be the arbiter of who succeeds and who fails. Anyone succeeding outside of their tightly controlled bubble is affront to them and must be stamped out as soon as possible. The existence of the Internet, in general, is a grave insult to them because people can pick up a camera and start recording things, getting audiences outside of their bubble. Their anger that this exists is palpable and they simply hope that they can put that toothpaste back in the tube before they get challenged by the success of others. As a result, the above mockery towards Canadian creators is no surprise. In fact, it’s impressive that we haven’t seen others launch such insults against creators sooner.
From there, ACTRA decided to demand a 5% tariff on streaming platforms:
8476 MS. NOBLE: As Marie mentioned, media giants and studio‑backed platforms, who earn huge profits in our country, must contribute to the Canadian Broadcasting system. To those who claim that creating a formula to do just that is “too complex”, ACTRA proposes a simple way forward.
8477 We suggest a minimum of five percent of the annual gross revenue earned in Canada by online undertakings be given to already existing funding mechanisms, including the CMF, Telefilm, Black Screen Office, Indigenous Screen Office, Reel World, Disability Screen Office, and other similar organizations that help to financially support and develop Canadian content.
8478 We also suggest that 10 to 15 percent of annual revenues earned in Canada go directly to the production or acquisition of Canadian content. This small contribution is essential in preserving Canadian sovereignty and culture and is an important vehicle for cultural expression. It would create a new generation of Canadian content to appear on the very same streaming platforms, driving profits further. All it requires is the major streamers investing in the very place they make their wealth.
Note that, for them, 5% is the floor, not the ceiling. While it is a bit more reasonable that they specifically state revenues made within Canada, that’s about all that is reasonable within these comments. From there, things really go off the rails when that number grew to 15% to 20%. In a vacuum, this doesn’t sound that unreasonable. The problem is that we don’t live in a vacuum here. We live in the real world where real world things happen.
For instance, streaming services competing directly against Netflix collectively lost $5 billion over the course of a year. What’s more, many of these streaming services are backed by companies that also happen to own major American cable companies. Right now, they are dealing with unprecedented waves of cord cutting chewing into their profits – waves that seem to only be getting bigger.
Many lobbyists have argued that these streaming services are absolutely flush with cash and, therefore, it’s just a matter of taking that money for the Canadian legacy media companies. The reality is far from that case. A lot of these streaming services are stretching themselves thin, trying to wrestle audiences in an increasingly large number of small walled gardens. Expanding to regions like Canada is just part of a larger overall strategy for these companies. If these companies that are trying desperately to squeeze out as much profit as possible in this sector are suddenly hit with a 20%-25% tax in Canada (which, for them, is what this amounts to), it would be a no brainer for them to just pull up stakes and seek their fortunes elsewhere for the simple reason that the Canadian government and legacy media just can’t play nicely in the corporate sandbox.
Obviously, this comes with a lot of problems. All those jobs created by streaming services trying to create their own content risks vanishing. That means fewer investment dollars in Canada benefiting the Canadian economy as a whole. Consumers would also get hit when their favourite streaming service suddenly announces that they would be ending their presence in Canada as well. This reduces consumer choice and would likely compel them to put money towards a VPN service to circumvent what would amount to a geoblock. If the legacy media thinks that investments in Canada aren’t happening as much as they should before, wait until the services get blocked completely and Canadians simply sidestep the restrictions, dumping money into these services with no hope of that money being reinvested in Canada at all.
This isn’t just idle theory, either. Last Summer, Disney+ ended future investments in Canada as the Online Streaming Act moved forward in the regulatory process. The connection, while not official, is pretty obvious. Disney+ sees considerably higher barriers to entry in the foreseeable future and have decided to already get the process started of just leaving Canada altogether.
In South Korea, Twitch left the country after the countries ISPs convinced the government to slap them with obviously unreasonable “networking fees” in a separate shakedown attempt.
So, ultimately, we are already seeing real world examples of countries trying to take money from platforms and it blowing up in their faces thanks, in part, to the fact that we live in a global society. If the costs are too high in a particular region, just shift focus to elsewhere and pull in revenues from other regions instead. There really is no region out there that is absolutely mission critical. Even if you do make the argument that some regions like the US are mission critical, it’s a much harder sell to say that Canada is somehow a mission critical audience to capture for a streaming service. Some would go so far as to say that Canada is actually quite low on the priority list for these services.
Of course, if you thought that ACTRA is only targeting streamers for their ransom payments. You would be mistaken. ACTRA also went to the extreme of demanding ransom payments from Canadian creators before they are allowed to be certified as “Canadian Content” (or “Cancon”):
8480 ACTRA proposes that the CRTC requires every producer of content that seeks to receive accreditation as Canadian content be required to pay the minimum terms and conditions set by ACTRA and other industry unions. Further, we suggest those that are receiving any support from any arm of government adhere to the terms and conditions of the appropriate collective agreements negotiated by the unions and guilds. For ACTRA members, this ensures an actor is never paid less than the basic minimums that both the industry and the union that represents them have set through free collective bargaining. If we want to support our Canadian industry, in our view, we must start with the basics, and support the people in our industry that the industry relies on to make it world class.
So, no matter who you are, if you want your work to be considered “cancon”, you have to pay license fees to these monopolies (culture cartels?) before you can even begin the process of trying to certify your content as “Canadian”. This is about as backwards as you can get in a modern era.
When Canadian producers go to platforms like Youtube or TikTok to showcase their work, their minds are on things like “what do audiences want to watch?”, “how does the platform work?”, “what’s a good marketing strategy for my videos?”, and “how do I remain flexible and produce content quickly so as to remain relevant?”. About the last thing on many of these producers minds is trying to find ways to certify their content.
Ultimately, what ACTRA is proposing is a system where producers come up with content, spend months, if not, years, jumping through hoops, navigating government red tape, paying ransom payments, and possibly being certified through a nightmarish bureaucratic system that makes the Vogons from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy seem efficient by comparison. This as creators from other countries simply hit the “publish” button. It ultimately undermines Canadian producers ability to compete on a global stage.
Ultimately, such a proposal would make it generally impossible for a small creator to compete on the world stage using streaming services like YouTube while, at the same time, choosing to try and declare themselves as “Cancon” at the same time. Of course, this is no accident, for organizations like ACTRA who hate Canadian creators with a burning passion, it’s entirely the point. They want to keep what they likely think of as just “riff raff” out of their system in the first place.
This, in and of itself isn’t that big of a deal, but when you combine that with the calls they make to the CRTC to intervene and hijack the discoverability algorithms and change them so that the outcomes favour their content, well, you can see the evil intent ACTRA has:
8482 ACTRA recommends that the CRTC require online undertakings ensure the fair and appropriate discoverability of Canadian content on their platforms. Why have discoverability requirements? We believe it’s ill‑advised for the Canadian government to fund Canadian content only to get buried. Our modern industry gives online streamers too much power to shape the viewing preferences of its audience. Controls are needed and discoverability is essential. In the past we ensured not only the production of Canadian content but its placement in prime‑time television viewing.
Of course, such censorial demands are quite outrageous. ACTRA is plainly demanding that anyone competing with them for audiences in Canada should be censored by the government. So, in order to dress up the demand for government censoring anyone not in the system, they invent the obvious lie that if the discoverability algorithm unfairly favours content they control, that it somehow doesn’t affect anyone not receiving such preferential treatment:
8484 To be clear, that does not in any way stop a viewer from finding what they are looking for. It does, however, highlight Canadian content up front so it may have a fair opportunity of discovery. Without it, Canadian programming won’t be readily available to Canadians and our whole system will fail in its goal, which is both to create and to promote Canadian content. Other countries are doing it; don’t our Canadian productions and actors deserve an equal shot at being discovered as well?
This is, of course, slimy manipulation of words designed to mislead anyone who hears or reads them. This is a lie that dates as far back as the first iteration of the legislation. There is no language in the Act that demands the outright removal of content. What the Act does do, however, is demand that content that doesn’t meet this heavily insulated definition of “Cancon” would get cast away into the gallows of obscurity, never to be surfaced by the algorithm ever again. This as their vision of the algorithm overrides user preferences and surfaces their content regardless of relevance to the users interests.
This will invariably backfire on those producers who assume that Canadian audiences just blindly watch anything without a care for what they are interested in or not. The chances are high that the content that was surfaced because it cheated the system will invariably get review bombed as audiences flag such content in droves as irrelevant to their viewing interests. People aren’t necessarily mindless drones consuming any content that comes their way. They have learned over the years that they actually have choice on what to watch and what not to watch. When that comfortable viewing system is disrupted, audiences tend to react negatively. Heck, I’d be more than happy to participate in downvoting such forced content in the first place.
Of course, it isn’t just algorithms that ACTRA seeks to have manipulated. They even go so far as to demand that content, itself, be manipulated as well:
8485 The second part of discoverability concerns the talent. It’s long overdue for Canada to build a star system. Because we don’t have one, we lack incentive for Canadian actors to reach high levels of success here. So they leave and seek it south of the border. We have the talent. It’s time for Canada to invest in our talent through creating and supporting a real star system.
8486 We suggest creating an incentive for productions to include the name of the highest paid Canadian actor in any production in its streaming promotional screens. Making our talent known not only brings the world to Canada for our star power but helps to keep our talent here.
Such a demand is quite unhinged. It would open up yet another avenue for lawsuits challenging the validity of the law – specifically as it abridges freedom of expression. Not only do you have government ordering platforms to censor Canadian producers on platforms like TikTok or YouTube, but also the government ordering producers to promote things in very specific ways as well.
ACTRA then engaged in scaremongering by suggesting that if their dictatorial controls aren’t realized, then Canada will somehow not have a culture left in 30 years. No really:
8487 These issues have been festering for 30 years, since the last iteration of the Broadcasting Act in the 1990’s. I’d be crestfallen to have to return to my membership to let them know they will have to wait another 30 years to be recognized. Too many have packed their bags and continue to pack their bags to get discovered somewhere else. If we let another 30 years go by, we may not have any Canadian culture left to protect. With these contributions to both funding and discoverability, we would finally be able to take our well‑deserved and long overdue spot on the global stage. It’s our time.
This is obviously a blatant lie as Canadian culture has never been more prosperous thanks to the advent of social media platforms like Twitch, TikTok, and YouTube. For them, Canadian content doesn’t count unless it is part of their highly insulated system. It’s actually ironic that they freak out about Canadians packing their bags and looking elsewhere to become successful because for many creators that do so, they are actually fleeing the godawful system that has been created and maintained by organizations like ACTRA in the first place. Creators know how destructive the current creative system is in Canada because when they don’t fit a very specific mould, they get cast aside like some sort of idiotic loser for even thinking their ideas would ever fly.
The internet, however, represents a golden opportunity for Canadians to finally produce content they want to produce and not face the nightmarish bureaucratic barriers established by Canada’s cultural elite. For once, they can actually stay in Canada and produce the content they want – and have a shot at being successful on their terms. This represents a direct threat to the status quo of monopoly like powers that ACTRA wants to maintain. So, it’s no big surprise that ACTRA is fighting against the internet at this point in time.
Simply put, organizations like ACTRA want to take us all back to the bad old days where you needed millions of dollars to get a start in the creative sector. They want to control absolutely everything Canadian’s want to watch and not have to worry about competition from anywhere else. The problem is, we don’t live in the 70’s anymore and if Canada decides to destroy it’s future through backwards thinking as expressed by organizations like ACTRA, all they are really doing is hurting the Canadian economy. The rest of the world would invariably march forward as the bounty of choice benefits all and, as a result, Canada will simply get left behind as Canadians only experience the error messages of “not available in your country” among other things.