It is a tough time to be a Canadian content creator. With the recession, an unclear future after the passing of Bill C-11 (also known as the Online Streaming Act) and unprecedented competition for viewership, our homegrown screen industry remains in flux. Yet the tone was hopeful as hundreds of Canadian producers, buyers and other industry players congregated in Ottawa this past week to hear from content leaders at the Canadian Media Producers Association’s annual Prime Time conference.
In between dozens of panels, idea blasts and pitch markets, global leaders sat down for a discussion about the unpredictable media landscape and to share their strategies based on perceived trends ahead. Here are the five big take-aways from that on what to expect for Canada’s small-screen industry over the coming year.
Streamers may finally pull trigger on real-deal CanCon
The conference coincided with the Senate passing Bill C-11, a 56-page document designed to ensure global streamers such as Netflix contribute to Canadian content. At one session, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said the bill could become law as early as this week. That sparked plenty of conversations surrounding C-11′s many amendments, interpretations and financial implications – onstage and off.
In anticipation of the bill’s passing, major entities (Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, Paramount+, Apple TV+) have set up shop in Canada over the past several months, building out local content teams and calling for pitches from Canadian creators (with a relatively low number of commissions to date).
As decision-makers continue to debate what constitutes CanCon, Katrina Kowalski, vice-president content for Paramount+ and Pluto TV Canada, revealed that her five-month-old team is “this close” to making key Canadian announcements.
“We’ve already made incredible strides,” she said. “We are really proud of where we are and I know we’ll have more to share in the coming weeks or months.”
Potential labour shortages ahead
Canada is in the beginning stages of implementing CanCon regulations on streamers, but France has already experienced the effects of such legislation. As of last year, international streamers are required to reinvest 20 per cent of what they’re making in France into French creation. Sened Dhab, the vice-president of streaming drama at France Télévisions, revealed the financial influx has resulted in major production issues, something Canada is already facing with the increased number of U.S. productions filming here.
“We’ve faced a huge deficit in crews, creators, screenwriters, all of it,” he said. “It’s driven all the costs up. You add inflation and it’s a kind of a free-for-all fight out there.”
He adds that it has become increasingly difficult for France Télévisions to finance projects. However, unlike streamers that want to retain intellectual property and licensing, the national public broadcaster is able to compete creatively by building strong relationships with creators and working with independent producers who want to retain the rights to their work – something many Canadian producers are also fighting for.
Time to share
From an acquisitions viewpoint, Kowalski predicts streamers and broadcasters will be more likely to share content rather than seeking exclusive rights. In Canada that’s particularly relevant given that some U.S. streamers, such as NBC’s Peacock, dole out content across media companies here – and not always at the same time as a shows airs in the U.S.
The results are often confusing for Canadian viewers, who are unclear on how to find the latest buzzy show or film. For example, recently, Bell Media’s partnership with Showtime ended and Paramount announced a merger between Paramount+ U.S. and Showtime. As a result, some key Showtime content quietly shifted to Paramount+ Canada from Crave.
Get ready for “lean-back” viewing
David Eilenberg, the head of content for Roku Media, revealed the company has seen “hockey-stick growth” in the free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) space. Notably, FAST services Pluto TV and CBC News Explore both launched in Canada at the end of last year, joining TUBI and hybrid service CBC Gem.
With inflation and a potential recession top of mind, audiences will continue to look for the best value. That could mean ditching increased subscription costs and relying instead on FAST services, which often allow viewers to – in industry speak – “lean back” and enjoy so-called comfort content and recognizable properties without mulling over what to watch next (as opposed to regular streamers, which require viewers to select shows). Streamers may explore potential FAST services to coincide with these viewer trends, offering more hybrid models or partner services.
More reality, reboots and sports
In April, Paramount+ debuts Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies and the Fatal Attraction reimagining starring Joshua Jackson and Lizzy Caplan. Disney+ continues to build out its Star Wars library, Netflix recently renewed That ‘90s Show, and later this month Starz is bringing back Party Down for Season 3 after a 13-year hiatus (catch it on Crave in Canada).
As services continue to bolster content libraries in the tough financial months ahead, streamers may also lean on sports and reality programming.
“You’ll see a tilt toward unscripted,” Eilenberg predicted. “I would flag that as a probable near-term trend across the industry because people can’t stop commissioning. In the end, all of these services need content.”
Special to The Globe and Mail
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.