Speech by Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

To the Canadian Media Production Association’s Prime Time 2013 conference

Ottawa, Ontario
March 8, 2013

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Good morning.

I've looked forward to this conference, knowing I would be meeting with you a few days after the inaugural Canadian Screen Awards. Congratulations to all the nominees and, most especially, this year's award recipients. Your creativity has earned the well-deserved recognition of your peers.

Without a doubt, Canada has tremendous talent: performers, writers, musicians, designers, directors, producers and experts in all the production crafts. There are many stories to be told in many creative ways. There is, therefore, much to celebrate in the film and television sector.

In addition, the Awards highlighted the remarkable spirit of collaboration between the various members of the industry. Healthy competition is good, but there comes a time when we must set aside competition and come together for a greater cause. I am hopeful that these Awards will be a springboard to a renewed sense of excitement for Canadian screen-based productions that, in turn, will benefit everyone in the sector.

On several occasions since my appointment, I've spoken about the CRTC's vision of a world-class communication system for Canadians.

I also emphasize putting Canadians back at the centre of their communication system. I am referring to Canadians as consumers, as citizens and as creators.

Today, I want to talk to you about Canadian creators, and more specifically about Canadian producers. That includes independent producers, in-house producers and digital media producers.

I want to focus on creating the business opportunities of tomorrow.

What Canadians want

Now, I realize that identifying new business opportunities isn't always easy. But I think that, at its essence, it's about understanding the expectations of Canadian audiences—local, regional, national and international audiences.

It comes down to understanding what Canadians want, learning from what they choose, influencing their tastes in the future, and generally helping those audiences discover the great content and inspiring narratives that you create.

Thomas Bata, the head of the Bata shoe empire, once told a Toronto Star journalist,

"Executives should be people with a sense of urgency, a demand for excellence and a healthy discontent with the way things are."

I ask you, does Canada's production sector have a healthy discontent with the way things are? I don't mean "are you discontent with the regulatory system" or "are you discontent with the behaviour of other players in the system." I am asking whether or not you have a healthy discontent with what is potentially within your control as entrepreneurs.

So let's look at that question together.

Solid foundation

First, it's fair to say that the sector has a solid foundation on which to build for the future. So before we ask "what can be done better" let's not forget about "what works well."

According to Profile 2012: An Economic Report on the Screen-based Production Industry in Canada, Canadian production in 2011-12 hit a ten-year high. It expanded by 5.6% to almost $5.9 billion.

Independent television production was up 21%. Especially impressive, the volume of English-language fiction television production climbed by 41.4% to just under $1.1 billion.

You are also drawing larger audiences for these productions. In 2011-2012, the Canada Media Fund backed 25 programs that attracted average audiences of over 1 million in Canada. Canadian-made productions also appeal to viewers in the U.S., Europe and in many other markets.

All of this certainly suggests you're doing a lot of things right.

Unprecedented funding

Consider also that we may be at a time of unprecedented funding for Canadian screen-based content. For instance, Canadian broadcasters spent $2.8 billion on original Canadian programming in 2011-2012. Where did these funds come from?

There were, of course, advertising revenues, including roughly $200 million generated from simultaneous substitution.

Over $350 million was provided by television subscribers and Canadian taxpayers through the Canada Media Fund. Independent funds kicked in another $50 million.

Federal and provincial tax credits contributed as well, to the tune of over $730 million. And let's not forget the screen-based investments made directly and indirectly by federal and provincial funding agencies in film, television and digital content.

There were also millions invested as a result of the tangible benefits stemming from transactions in the broadcasting industry. From January 2007 to December 2011, these transactions generated over $722 million in tangible benefits—most of it earmarked for new programming.

It's also worth noting that 2011-2012 was the first broadcast year after the CRTC renewed the licences of most English television services operated by Rogers Media, Bell Media, Corus Entertainment and Shaw Media.

These companies must now spend a percentage of their revenues on Canadian programming, including drama series, comedies and documentaries. Last year, these four companies likely spent close to $900 million on Canadian programming.

Early indications suggest that even more will be spent on Canadian programming in 2012-2013. The current projection is that spending by Canadian broadcasters will surpass $3 billion for the first time.

These investments are vital. They produce jobs, generate economic activity and support creators, broadcasters and advertisers who pay taxes here in Canada.

This money enables you to create high-quality films, TV programs and other screen-based content for distribution on multiple platforms. Content that helps define who we are as Canadians. Content that, in the words of the Broadcasting Act, informs, entertains and enlightens us.

Creators like you can continue to put Canada on the world map as a producer of quality content. Content that attracts new audiences – both in Canada and the fast-growing international marketplace. Your sector's recent success is a tribute to the talented people you employ, taxpayers' investments, a supportive regulatory environment and your past business acumen.

That being said, there's no time to rest on your laurels. BlackBerry CEO, Thorstein Heins, said in a recent interview that the rate of change every year on the Internet is equivalent to 45 years in any other industry. And the Internet is full of opportunities for your businesses. Whether we like it or not, the screen-based sector is now very much part of the broadband sector.

So a healthy discontent with the status quo will be pivotal to continued excellence in a crowded national and international marketplace.

From a production financing perspective, one can ask, for instance, whether the Canadian production sector has fully explored the opportunities provided by the CRTC's Canadian content recognition of international co-ventures. This would be in addition to the better-known recognition of official co-production arrangements, which was the subject of an announcement yesterday by the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages.

Similarly, have you asked yourselves whether you have maximized the opportunities to connect with new audiences and attract more advertising revenue? How do you stand out and brand yourself in the international marketplace?

Are you cashing in on the vast array of distribution networks to connect with new viewers in a world that knows no borders?

To paraphrase the Red Wilson report, Compete to Win, Canadian businesses need to step up their game and become more competitive, both here at home and abroad.

To succeed in a broadband world, the production industry needs to move beyond individual projects. We need well-financed global champions producing content for the world stage. We should be creating international brands that can compete with the best on the planet.

However, that's not an outcome we can achieve through regulatory edict. It requires entrepreneurship.

Promotionist, not protectionist

There's no question: the CRTC is a serious supporter of Canadian creators and the stories they want to tell. But, under my watch, you will not see a protectionist. I'm a promotionist.

That is why the CRTC is pleased to be sponsoring a working group, along with the Canada Media Fund and Telefilm Canada, to promote the increasing success of Canadian film, television and digital media.

For instance, we want to build on the success of programs like Flashpoint, Heartland and Bomb Girls, which are being bought by distributors in every corner of the world. In 2011-2012, Canadian TV shows racked up $440 million in international sales – a new record for the sector.

We also want to build on successful international co-productions, such as The Borgias, The Tudors and Resident Evil.

But it is not only our productions that are attractive to foreign audiences. Canadian concepts, such as Starbuck and Les Bougon, have proven there's a market for our creativity. And we have always been world leaders in documentaries, animation and children's programming.

Our job at the CRTC is to make sure the conditions are right for you to create compelling programs and adopt ground-breaking business models.

When I use the word "creator," people often assume that I am referring to the actors, screenwriters, directors, set designers, and so on.

But business leaders, such as you, are also creators. Imagination and innovation are every bit as essential to your companies' welfare as are the stories you tell.

How do we leverage the investments Canadians have made, and are making, in the production industry to fuel innovation, create more jobs and produce world-class storytelling in a diversity of forms and formats?

How do we grow Canadian production companies into businesses that can successfully compete with the best the world has to offer?

Connecting with audiences in the 21st Century

As I said at the outset, I think it comes down to delivering what Canadians want to watch. And that means, as a first step, determining what it is they want.

Just look at what's happening around you. In addition to more traditional platforms, the media world now revolves around social media, emerging aggregators of content like Netflix and big data.

I was recently in California where I saw, first hand, how search engines using sophisticated algorithms that mine data, such as previous purchases of screen-based content and social media posts. These search engines are reshaping the media world.

This is especially true in the San Francisco area where companies like Roku and xTV are coming up with entirely new business models. The region is the centre of experimentation, and where the future of media is unfolding.

It's essentially about creating curatorial tools to enable the discovery of content by a viewer in a very crowded marketplace. It's about leveraging digital technology to assist the audience in finding the content.

As Fred Forster, CEO of Omnicom Canada, told a group of broadcast executives in Toronto last month, big data is taking over. He made it clear that the old metrics don't apply in an "ad-skipped, channel-shifted, time-shifted, place-shifted, device-shifted" content world.

But, it's not just data. The innovation involves social scientists analyzing trends and psychologists evaluating how "taste" is defined and shaped.

Thanks to technology, audiences have increasing control over how, where or when they view your audiovisual works.

But, by the same token, content creators are not passive passengers on this technological roller coaster.

Today, a screen-based content producer has to find the innovative means to harness tools of discovery, to become a platform curator, to be a maker of taste—in short, to connect the potential viewer to the content.

Rather than replacing the traditional role of media as mediator, technology has made the task more complex. But even more essential.

So what are the means of shaping "discovery" today? Here are a few initial thoughts.

First, there's no question that real-time content—news, sports, reality TV, live talent competitions, elections coverage—will continue to be the basis for appointment viewing, drawing audiences to traditional forms of broadcasting for the foreseeable future.

Second, trusted brands influence discovery. Clearly, content producers want to leverage existing relationships—with conventional and pay TV services as well as cable and satellite companies. These broadcasters and distributors have well-established brands that are familiar to a large portion of today's audience.

In fact, part of my message to you, the independent production sector, is that broadcasters and distributors are, have been and will continue to be your key partners. But there are also emerging brands owned by less traditional aggregators that must also be leveraged. You might not know who they are, so find them.

Third, a sense of "buzz" or excitement that gets the attention of social media and conventional media without the need to invest in traditional and often more costly means of promotion.

For instance, even if you are creating great professional-quality content, we are living in a time when amateur videos make multinational stars out of the kid next door. People who can barely dance, act or carry a tune get hundreds of thousands, and even hundreds of millions, of YouTube hits—drawing advertisers eager to cash in on new audiences. We can have a long, philosophical argument as to whether this content is good or even in good taste. And whether these trends strengthen or weaken our cultural fabric.

But that won't change the simple truth: people can now choose if and when they want to watch screen-based content. And well before you get to enlighten or entertain those viewers with your compelling narrative, you must find ways to help them discover your content. You must use the promotional, analytical and technological tools to help them.

Some of you are doing a great job of that already. Société Radio-Canada's tou.tv, Quebecor's illico.tv, Rogers' Anyplace TV, Shaw Go and CTV.ca—these are excellent examples of experimentation and risk-taking, which is so vital to creating the business opportunities of tomorrow.

It's those last five words that really matter – creating business opportunities of tomorrow.

As broadband networks spread around the world, content is what attracts investment and talent, promoting prosperity in the digital economy. The producers that succeed in this environment will be those which create content that people want to watch, that investors are willing to pay for and that advertisers want to be affiliated with.

Onus on industry

Canada's production community has unparalleled opportunities to be successful in this environment. This could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to grow your business in new directions. But you will need to compete, just like any other sector.

Easier said than done? Maybe. I appreciate that one of the challenges for the creative community is to set aside, for a moment, their passion for the content in order to embrace the skills of entrepreneurship.

No amount of taxpayer subsidies will ever be able to match it. And there's no guarantee that the subsidies will always be there.

The future

I don't have a crystal ball. I can't predict what the future holds.

Are you asking the right questions and doing the right things to secure your future?

Do you have the necessary sense of urgency?


I think this industry is at a fork in the road.

Has the independent production sector done what is required to remain independent? Do you have your own capital? Do you have a strategy to build your own successful brands? How do you take more risk to guarantee your future?

You are the experts when it comes to both creativity and business. It's up to you to put the first foot forward.

I foresee great opportunities if you do. And the CRTC will be there promoting your success each step of the way.

I'm in agreement with one of this country's most successful business people. Thomas Bata advised that business executives should demand excellence and not be content with the way things are.

So think big. Give us WOW. Help us discover that we want to watch.


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