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Ontario creates $10-million fund to aid 'screen-based' companies Add to ...

The so-called "creative industries" in Canada have been prone to grousing that governments at all levels have failed to sufficiently recognize and support their activities.

But at least one government seems to "get it," and that's Ontario's, which likes to tout that "creativity-oriented jobs" now make up 30 per cent of Ontario's employed labour force, the third highest in North America, after California and New York.

On Thursday, the province's minister of culture, Aileen Carroll, is announcing an investment of $10-million in something called the Intellectual Property Development Fund. It's a one-year pilot program, retroactive to April 1 of this year, that reimburses Ontario "screen-based companies" for expenses they incur in getting a feature film, TV series, video game, "webisode" or Internet property off the ground.

Applications for the program, first bruited in March in the 2009-10 provincial budget, are going to be available Monday through the Ontario Media Development Corporation, which is administering the IPDF through its tax-credit and finance division.

Until now, "the vast majority of OMDC programs, the investments, have gone into the production end of the value chain and a little into marketing," said OMDC president and CEO Karen Thorne-Stone in an interview yesterday. With the new fund, the hope is to ensure "there's enough quality and quantity of stuff going into the pipeline."

"It meets a niche that needed to be addressed," adds Carroll. "It stems from a recognition that it's at the beginning [of a project]that screen-based content developers face the biggest challenge."

It's part of a larger recognition, too, of the creative sector as a whole, which "is doing very well; it's out-performing other sectors of the Ontario economy," she said. "Now seems the most important time to keep feeding, enhancing and growing that sector."

The fund permits an Ontario company with at least two years professional experience to get a rebate on 30 per cent of the development expenditures incurred in its fiscal year, to a maximum of $150,000 per company. There's also the possibility of a bonus of up to $20,000 if the company can show it has secured a third party who has invested at least 25 per cent of the total cost of development. Applicants may apply up to twice during the span of the pilot program for expenditures incurred after March 31 this year through to March 31 next year. The OMDC will continue to accept applications until July 31 next year, subject to the availability of whatever's left in the IPDF.

Among the activities eligible for fund assistance are the optioning or acquisition of story rights, script-writing (including editing and work-shopping), design creation, preparation of game design documents and technical specifications as well as market research (including prototype testing, focus groups, audience analysis) and the preparation of proposals for submission to potential financiers.

Unlike other granting programs, which use peer assessment or juries to determine who gets what, the new fund is "entitlement-based" - that is, if a company can show the OMDC that more than 50 per cent of its annual revenue derives from "screen-based content products" and that its early-development expenditures meet a minimum threshold of $30,000 during the taxation year being claimed, then its application will receive consideration.

Among film and TV projects not eligible for funding are talk, reality, current events, sports and awards shows. Broadcasters like CTV, Global and CBC are ineligible, too, as are digital companies whose operating-system software, hardware, technology and applications lack a "significant content component."

Jennifer Blitz, director of OMDC's tax-credit and finance division, acknowledged "it is possible we might run out of funds before July 31, [but] we think the $150,000 cap will enable us to be able to rebate that many more companies," instead of "a handful of companies that could have come in and, depending on their developments, could have used up the entire amount right away." Added Thorne-Stone: "There may be a flood of applications at the front end but we don't expect it will drain the fund" before the pilot's official conclusion.

 

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