Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Worth The Reminder

death star

The enduring image I'll take away from "CMPA 2011", last week's Canadian Media Producers Association conference of all those concerned with the Canadian film, TV and new Media Industries, was provided by Etan Vlessing in The Hollywood Reporter; an item which began…

"Canadian film and TV industry players are coming together Friday in Ottawa to discuss how to deal with Netflix. Local broadcasters, cable and satellite TV services, indie producers and unions and guilds will overcome rivalries and in-fighting to address concerns that the upstart Netflix Canada service undermines their industry’s revenue model."

It would appear that the Industry had met, discussed all of the problems facing it and concluded, "Hey, let's make the new kid pay!"

You could just visualize everybody running off to find a windowless room where they could quickly draft "Policy" before they had to beat the "Winterlude" traffic out of town. has a less polite assessment of the moment here.

Once again, the movers and shakers in our industry continued to follow what's become the traditional strategy of people unable to understand the simple economic reality that if you make a product people want they will pay for it.

But because the Canadian film and TV industry is more about regional job creation, bureaucratic job retention and cultural mandates nobody can ever quite define, we do something different.

First it was "make the government pay". Then it was "make the cable companies pay" which evolved into "make the ISPs pay".

Where once we were threatened by American hegemony, then DirectTV and then Specialty channels crucifying local TV, now we're all going out of business because Canadians might want to spent eight bucks a month on Netflix for all the streamed movies they can consume instead of six bucks a month for the cable portal which allows them to look at what they can rent for an additional charge from Shaw or Rogers or Bell.

Despite everything that Luke Skywalker and the Ewoks have done for us, there's always another Death Star lurking amid the Northern Lights.

And so we had Norm Bolen, CMPA's president and CEO, insisting the CRTC needed to force Netflix to bankroll the local industry even while it was already doing that by way of paying pretty good money to his Indy producer members to buy Canadian movies and TV shows it felt its subscribers might also pay to see.

Meanwhile, ACTRA National Executive Director Steve Waddell was declaring that Netflix was "unfair competition". Unfair to who, Steve? To Government funding agencies who might not wield as much clout over what gets produced in this country? To your own membership, whose work went unseen in local multiplexes but could now be easily accessed and appreciated via a video stream?

Part of me is eternally surprised that things move so slowly in this country while another portion keeps witnessing how readily those in control band together whenever it's time to hold back the hands of the clock.

Following "CMPA 2011", I spent the weekend catching up on some archived podcasts, which included the February 7th episode of CBC Radio's culture monitor "Q" (available for free on iTunes).


That morning's debate revolved around Usage Based Billing Fees and included University of Ottawa Professor Richard French, a former Vice-Chair of the CRTC. At one point it touched on whether the CRTC is representing the best interests of the Canadian Public.

Professor French's views on this would have been jaw-dropping if I wasn't already convinced that the CRTC had long ago undergone a regulatory capture by the corporations it supposedly regulates.

After explaining that most of the small ISPs hardest hit by Bell, Shaw and Rogers imposition of UBB only existed through the beneficence of the CRTC via a process he described as "Regulatory Arbitrage", Professor French took issue with the Public being unhappy at usage caps or what they were being charged for their Internet services.

"The Public can quote unquote decide anything it wants… But at the end of the day, people have to spend billions of dollars to build network capacity and they're not guided by what the Public quote unquote decides!"

In other words, this country is run by corporations who make the decisions -- not you, your government or any regulatory agency mandated to ensure the Public is fairly treated. You got that!?!!

Later, as the discussion turned to the possibility that Bell, Rogers and Shaw were imposing usage caps to protect the broadcast networks they own from Netflix competition and the CRTC was assisting in that strategy, Professor French seemed almost aghast at such a tinfoil hat conspiracy theory.

"…To imagine that somehow they're all perversely motivated to line the pockets of the shareholders of the big network operators is to imagine the world working in a way that it doesn't work."

Maybe the learned professor needs to do a little reading. Because if he happened to crack open Michael Lewis' "The Big Short" or Matt Taibbi's "Griftopia", both brilliant and 'take no prisoners' best sellers on the current financial crisis, he might learn that's EXACTLY how the world works.

Somehow we've got a lot of people in influential positions in this country who are either naive or completely out of their depth when it comes to divining how new technologies are going to impact the status quo.

And while that's disheartening, it reveals how incredibly ill-prepared the country as a whole is to the waves of change about to swamp us if we don't get our act together.

A year ago, this site and many others featured a video that Sony presented to its Annual shareholders meeting. Entitled "Did You Know?" it itemized the significant ways the future will be different from the past. If you missed it, take five minutes…

Today, our newscasts are filled with images of Social Media fuelled revolutions that network journalists struggle to understand. They and the political pundits they interview all swear nobody could see any of this coming.

Meaning, I guess, that they didn't see either "Did You Know?" or this follow-up video from last summer prophetically entitled "Welcome to the Revolution".

The message of both these videos is clear. The models of the past no longer apply.

In the case of Canadian film and TV, whose models didn't ever apply anywhere outside the country, we're even further behind and all our attempts to re-jig the future to save those overly invested in what worked before will ultimately prove futile -- and may even destroy any chance we have of catching up.

Stop trying to hold back the hands of the clock. It'll tear your arms out!


Clint Johnson said...

I did some napkin math on Usage Based Billing over on my website. It was addressed to the telecoms themselves in an attempt to guide them in the right direction for a reasonable UBB service. It isn't like they are actually listening, so it is just me ranting into the wind.

I did mention that they should also be looking at alternative revenue streams once they have the ISP camel's nose inside the tent- I didn't go into particulars.

One of those particulars is that they shouldn't be trying to trap their customers into a walled community while keeping their own services inside and blocking anyone else from getting to play with their toys. That screws their own service and is certainly not in the best interests of their customers.

Bad capitalist- bad! (Picture me swatting them on the nose with a rolled up Reason magazine- I do, it is fun.)

Instead of trying to keep Netflix out, BellShawRogers needs to buy or replicate it, then open it up to anyone with broadband access. And by anyone I mean anyone anywhere on the damn planet that you can get to. Don't try and block out a better service, you become the better service and then go eat their lunch.

But no, they bitch and moan about how small their market is and how they need to be protected. That is all wrong, they have the exact same market, the whole fracking Internet.

Grok that and move forward or get the hell out of the way and stop crippling our country in the name of protecting short term profits.

John McFetridge said...

"…To imagine that somehow they're all perversely motivated to line the pockets of the shareholders of the big network operators is to imagine the world working in a way that it doesn't work."

Well, as a shareholder of Bell I can tell him that, yes, this is the motivation. And it's not perverse at all, it's why I bought the shares in the first place.

Why does he think people buy shares?