Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Scratching Up Millions for Canadian TV

Who knew that the answer to the lack of funding for Canadian television has been right at our fingertips all along!

For its been discovered that all the while our governments have claimed they were providing all they could and beating each others brains out with local tax incentives, they were spending millions on supporting already successful foreign TV shows and movies.

And I’m not talking about tax credits or production incentives. I’m talking about cold, hard, ready cash that flows into Provincial coffers daily and is quickly turned around and shipped offshore.

This is a literal fountain of available cash that wouldn’t cause one single person to bellyache about funding “crappy Canadian TV” because it doesn’t come from tax dollars.

Yes, there really are tens of millions that could be diverted to assisting local production without impacting anyone --- except the Hollywood studios who are cashing million dollar cheques from supposedly cash strapped Canadian governments as we speak.


It used to be that when you went into a gas station or corner store in Ontario, for example, the counter was littered with lottery style scratch tickets with names like “Pot of Gold”, “Royal Flush” or “Lucky Dog”. You’ve all seen their like, no matter in what part of the country you live.

For anywhere from $1 to $5, you get to scratch off little squares to reveal a “Thanks for Playing” stamp and be reminded that lotteries are a tax on the stupid.

But lots of people still play them regularly and our various Provincial governments use that money to support amateur sports, local arts organizations and hospitals. So, you lose. You still had five minutes of imagining life on that beach in the Bahamas and helped make sure your kid has ice to play on.

But according to an article in today’s Toronto Sun, Ontario’s Gaming Commission is sending between 0.6 and 2 % of the price of those scratch tickets to American studios for the right to now call those tickets “Survivor”, “Family Feud” and “The Price is Right”.

During the Christmas season, they got on the blockbuster bandwagon and began selling clearly branded “Sherlock Holmes” tickets – even though Sherlock is now in the Public Domain.


That means the Ontario government is regularly cutting cheques for up to $2.5 Million to Hollywood multi-millionaires like Mark Burnett or Billion dollar multi-nationals like Fremantle and Warner Brothers.

According to an OLG spokesman, these “branded” games sell much quicker and therefore return money faster to the government. But in the words of talk radio host Mike Stafford, “They’re the only game in town! They could call a game ‘Kill a Kitten to Win’ and make money!”

So why can’t they call their games “Being Erica”, “Flashpoint” and “Crash & Burn”?

Why can’t money they are shipping offshore be used instead to both support and raise the audience recognition of shows the people who live in their jurisdiction make?

Canadian producers struggle to cobble together production funding, often knowing they can make the show but will never see an additional penny of profit once it’s on the air. They’re constantly working for fees and never finding the additional income they need to build their companies.

But if they were rewarded by having their produced series “recognized” on scratch tickets or slot machines or any of the other gaming options for which our governments buy rights from foreigners, the benefits could ripple through the industry and have an enormously positive impact.

Perhaps a producer could elevate the production budget to make his series more competitive with big-budget US shows. Perhaps he’d have more money to put into script development on his next project. Maybe he’d finally be able to shoot that low budget feature that’s been languishing in the top drawer.

Trust me, Mark Burnett and Warner Brothers don’t need the money. And as Mike Stafford asserts, the punters are just there to play. They don’t care whether the face on their ticket belongs to Robert Downey Jr. or one of “The Kids in the Hall”.

This is found money that could help an industry that needs it right now and might even encourage players to take a peek at a show that was off their radar before they needed a bag of milk and didn’t want to walk away with a pocket full of change.

Suddenly, we could start getting off the welfare treadmill and maybe soon start being able to survive without any government subsidies at all.


Brandon Laraby said...

Honestly, when I started reading this I thought you were going to tell us we're better off just going out and buying scratch tickets in the hopes of funding our independent projects.

Even worse, I was tempted to agree.


The White Wolf said...


Sam said...

Thank you for alerting us all to this unfortunate reality
Sam Jephcott