New Study Casts Doubt on Bill C-11 Canadian Production “Crisis” Argument

Supporters of Bill C-11 have long argued that Canadian production is dying. A new study on Canadian production begs to differ.

Throughout the Bill C-11 debate (Online Streaming Act), we’ve heard arguments from supporters of the legislation proclaim how Canadian production is in crisis. The argument goes that investment has fallen off a cliff and that production of Canadian made content is drying up at an alarming rate. That, claimed supporters, is why legislation like Bill C-11 is “desperately needed”. The large tech companies – specifically the large platforms – have hoovered up all the investment money for such productions and have robbed Canadians the ability to “tell Canadian stories”.

Those arguments in support of the legislation have long been debunked as completely absurd. Larger companies like Bell have fully admitted that debates like the Bill C-11 debate are little more than a ploy for their real goal. That is to get out of paying their fair share. This as part of an effort to more cheaply rebroadcast American programming.

What’s more, actual producers of Canadian content have long viewed Bill C-11 as a major threat to their livelihoods. After all, digital first creators have found themselves thriving on different social media platforms for years without the help of government in the process. What the Online Streaming Act threatens to do is downrank their content in favour of content that is traditionally made by legacy media organizations. This is a point that was confirmed by then CRTC Chair, Ian Scott. Ultimately, the debate laid bare the true intent of the legislation: to manipulate algorithms on platforms to heavily favour legacy players and shut out any new entrants such as digital first creators.

In that light, it is ironic that supporters of the legislation have argued all this time that this legislation is about supporting Canadian creators when, in fact, it does the exact opposite. If anything, it muzzles Canadian creators and prevents them from being successful while favouring the cultural elite in this country – the very creators Canadians have moved away from in droves in the first place. This legislation threatens to force feed Canadians this content many consider to be mediocrity at best. What’s more, the Canadian creators that helped contribute to an online system will invariably get shafted as ad revenue they are generating will invariably get redirected to those same legacy players in the first place over top of getting downranked.

Generally speaking, repeatedly, over and over again, the arguments by supporters have been disproven. All those cover stories about preserving Canada’s cultural identity and how this bill doesn’t regulate “cat videos” among other nonsense talking points have gone down in flames. Yet, supporters continue to maintain, among other things, that production of Canadian content is in “crisis” and that without intervention, American production will envelope Canadian culture and Canada won’t even have a culture for much longer. Now, new research is further disputing these claims.

A report called “Profile 2023” takes stock in where Canadian production is at and the numbers are quite rosy compared to what Bill C-11 supporters would have you believe. You can read the full study here (PDF), but some of the highlights are quite illuminating. For instance, year over year, production of Canadian content both domestically and foreign have risen:

You can easily have a lot of takeaways from this chart, but Canadian production being in “crisis” is not one of them. Indeed, the lockdowns that came form COVID-19 clearly had an impact, but investment quickly rebounded. Indeed, I’ve heard some supporters try to move the goalposts and argue that local investment has only barely kept up with inflation. One of the many problems with that argument is the fact that this is far more than what could be said for wages. It is well documented that wages have not even come close to keeping up with inflation in North American and Canada is no exception to that. Unions have been calling for the bare minimum by saying that wages should keep up with inflation. In many cases, loud voices in the media, and the large media companies themselves, have repeatedly slammed unions for being “greedy” for having the audacity to call for a basic standard of living.

What’s more, the argument that foreign productions are taking over Canada don’t hold up. The argument implies that foreign investment has resulted in an overwhelming majority of Canadian content and the problem has been ballooning in recent years. Once again, the data tells a very different story:

As you can see by the chart, the portion of content produced by foreign undertakings was growing all the way up to 2017. In that year, the share hit a brick wall. While the portion did very slowly increase, that increase stopped in 2021 and the share of foreign produced content has been in decline ever since. Again, hardly the “takeover” supporters would have you believe.

What’s more, the study is very likely under representing domestically made productions. The study does make the following note:

Canadian content production consists of all films and television programs certified as Canadian content by the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office (CAVCO) or the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and includes audiovisual content made for initial release on online services. Most Canadian content productions are made by independent production companies, although broadcaster-affiliated production companies also account for some production in this segment.

As you can tell, what is being tracked is whatever happens to be “certified” as “Canadian Content”. Canadians who produce content for platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Twitch, or other platforms more often then not wouldn’t qualify under this. For instance, YouTube channels like mine (which boasts a catalogue of 175 videos and counting) wouldn’t even have a chance at qualifying to be certified as Canadian content even though a Canadian like myself is the only one behind the content. My story is, of course, a common one. Most Canadians who post content on YouTube don’t jump through the notorious CAVCO hoops for “Canadian content” certification as it is arduous and would represent a barrier to success. So, most would rather do without and simply post their content onto their platform of choice, hoping for success (as would be considered reasonable by anyone who knows how these platforms work).

At any rate, everything about this study highlights that the death of Canadian culture has been greatly exaggerated. While supporters of the Online Streaming Act continue to invent tall tales about a sector in “crisis” where investment dollars is drying up and that without government intervention, Canadian culture will cease to exist within weeks, the data, once again, paints a very different picture. No doubt, supporters are going to be furious that the reality doesn’t match what the perception they hope to project says, but people like us live in the real world where facts matter. There’s no reason to believe that supporters won’t continue to push their narratives as facts matter little to them these days, though, so it is up to people like is to continue to pound the facts – even as they continue to pound the table.

(Via @MGeist)

Drew Wilson on Mastodon, Twitter and Facebook.

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