Platforms such as Netflix and YouTube will have flexibility over how to promote Canadian films, TV shows and songs after the online streaming bill becomes law, broadcasting regulator Ian Scott says.
He told a Senate committee on Wednesday evening that the platforms could use a “bunch of things in the toolkit,” including advertising campaigns or curated music lists, to achieve the goal of Bill C-11 to promote Canadian content.
The chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said the regulator has no plans to order streaming platforms to manipulate their algorithms to make Canadian content more visible, though that is a “tool” they could use.
“We can encourage them to advertise, we can encourage them to use lots of tools,” he said. “We need to use a variety of approaches that are equitable, that would be dynamic and flexible to achieve objectives of the act. And the use of algorithms by players is a tool they use, but we’re focused on outcomes.”
His remarks suggest that the broadcasting regulator may use a lighter touch than previously thought with the online streaming bill. Platforms could be asked to report back to prove what moves they have made to actively promote Canadian content after the bill becomes law, he said
Pablo Rodriguez, the Heritage Minister, has already shared with CRTC officials elements of an unpublished draft policy direction that would spell out the minister’s view of how the regulator should implement Bill C-11, Mr. Scott disclosed.
The bill seeks to modernize Canada’s broadcast laws, applying regulation to streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime and Disney +, and making them promote Canadian content, as traditional broadcasters now do.
Mr. Scott said platforms, rather that posts by individual users, would be of interest to the regulator.
But he indicated that Facebook – which was not previously thought to come within the scope of the bill – may also be subject to regulation.
“Sometimes Facebook is a broadcaster. They have had on their platform live coverage of the Blue Jays baseball in the past. When they engage in broadcasting, they will be of interest to the CRTC,” he said.
Mr. Scott backtracked on remarks at an earlier hearing of the committee in June when he told senators the CRTC might ask platforms to manipulate their algorithms to promote more Canadian films, videos and songs.
He said in June that the regulator might tell platforms: “I want you to manipulate [the algorithm] to produce particular outcomes.”
His remarks raised fears about the reach of the regulator and questions about whether a federal body should be dictating what people should watch or listen to.
However, Mr. Scott said on Wednesday evening that he wanted to clarify that the CRTC wouldn’t tell platforms to manipulate their algorithms to ensure more Canadian content is served up to their customers.
He said the regulator would encourage streaming platforms to use their algorithms “if that works for them.”
“Algorithm is one tool they would have at their disposal,” he said. “There are several other ways of doing it and yes we would encourage them broadly, using every tool at their disposal. My point is simply that they can use their algorithm to help achieve that objective.”
Laura Scaffidi, spokeswoman for Mr. Rodriguez, urged the Senate to speed up consideration of the bill so it could become law.
“The Senate has performed an exhaustive study of Bill C-11. Senators have been studying this bill for six months now and have heard from 120 witnesses to date. This is on top of the comprehensive work the House has undertaken on the bill,” she said.
Indigenous TikTok star Vanessa Brousseau told The Globe and Mail Wednesday that she had felt disrespected by Heritage department officials at a tense meeting last month about the implications of the bill.
Ms. Brousseau, whose videos about Indigenous crafts as well as her missing sister, Pamela Holopainen, have received 2.6 million likes, said staff working for Mr. Rodriguez were “very intimidating and disrespectful” after she and other TikTok creators met them to discuss the bill.
She was one of several TikTokers meeting with officials at the end of October, and said she was made to feel that as an Indigenous woman her “perspective didn’t matter.”