Monday, October 20, 2014

Why Isn’t The CRTC Regulating Movie Theatres?

Until not too long ago, movies were delivered to theatres in heavy metal cans. They arrived on planes, trucks, trains or buses to be carted up to the projection booth and threaded onto the movie house projector.

But that doesn’t happen anymore.

Now, virtually every motion picture theatre in Canada (and indeed around the world) has been converted to digital. Kodak even recently announced that it will stop manufacturing movie film altogether next year.

The movies you pay to see at your neighborhood multiplex now arrive either on a hard drive or –- most often -- they are streamed to the theatre over the Internet -- you know, just like Netflix sends their movies into your home.

Over the last while, Canada’s Broadcast Delivery Units (BDUs) have lobbied our Federal regulator, the CRTC, to regulate Netflix and force it and other OTT services to carry a prescribed percentage of Cancon while at the same time paying into the Canadian Media Fund.

They argue that Netflix, by producing its own original content, and arriving on TV screens by way of the same cable their shows do, is operating as a broadcaster.

But if the CRTC wants to decide that Netflix’s online delivery system means they must adhere to Cancon rules, why are they not applying the same logic to feature film distribution and requiring Canadian theatre owners and/or the studios who supply them to meet the same Cancon rules and pay into the same production fund?

Because the arguments that our BDUs are using to define Netflix just as accurately define every single American, British, Australian, French (and so on) studio.

Via their 300Mb/sec secure streams, these studios or their distributors are sending content into Canada while taking huge profits from the country and returning nothing to the domestic production industry.

Every single charge levelled by those who support regulating Netflix applies to every single new feature film being beamed into the country by Warner Brothers, Paramount, Disney and every other studio or distributor with a movie in a Canadian theatre.

Why do they get a pass while the CRTC browbeats Google and Netflix on behalf of the BDUs?

Why are these OTTs called “parasites” while Disney (which uses exactly the same tech to service Canadian theatres) uses its CRTC appearances to fear monger -- threatening to pull out of the country rather than see its content unbundled?

Either the CRTC is playing favorites, doesn’t fully understand how new media functions or has revealed itself once again as looking out for the interests of Canadian BDUs and broadcasters over the consumers (and film creatives) they are mandated to protect.

1 comment:

Zaza Napoli said...

The theatrical movies are not being taxed because of historical reasons. Remember in the 80s, whenever Jack Valenti sniffed even the slightest Canadian protectionism, he got on his high horse and threatened to pull American movies from Canadian screens?

In the 1940s, when we were thinking of putting a tariff on movies coming into Canada (to pay for local production, hopefully), Hollywood wined and dined Pearson who was the External Affairs minister. He fell for it and made the concession that foreign films wouldn't be taxed as long as Hollywood helped to boost Canadian tourism. That begat movies like Niagara and I Confess.

When Pierre Juneau was working on his report, I sent a letter stating that the things which were harming Canadian culture should be the things which should help to pay for Canadian culture. Why should the Canadian taxpayer have to pay to preserve Canadian culture when there were other ways to do it? I cited the Italians after WWII. Every non-Italian movie coming into the country was taxed. Every Italian movie theatre had to show 84 days of Italian product per year. The money from the tax helped to pay for the Italian production. The reply I received? About a year after the Juneau report came out I got a form letter from Sheila Copps telling me about all the funding for Canadian product (of course it was on the backs of the Canadian taxpayer).

So, unless there is some paradigm shift, the horse has left the barn on this one.