Banff TV Panel Turns Into Food Fight

 Jin Lee/Bloomberg/Getty Images

BANFF, ALBERTA – As Banff World Media Festival delegates braced for game six of the Stanley Cup playoffs between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins, an American-Canada debate on the future of television turned into a partisan sniping match over who most supports Canadian consumers.

Norm Bolen, president and CEO of the Canadian Media Production Association, representing major Canadian producers, said Netflix and other giant U.S. digital platforms should subsidize homegrown Canuck series because they encourage and sustain Canadian citizenship.

“Public policy isn’t just about consumers. It’s about citizenship. It’s not just about consumers driving everything, it’s not just about the bottom line,” Bolen told a Banff panel on so-called over-the-top digital services now active in the Canadian market.

Canadian cable operators and broadcasters have urged the CRTC, the country’s TV watchdog, to order Netflix Canada and other U.S. digital platforms to contribute to Canadian content production because they operate as online broadcasters.

Mistrusting Canadian broadcasters complain the U.S. digital players take dollars out of the Canadian broadcast system, and need to put financing back in homegrown production.

The Americans and Canadians also faced off over who most had the interests of Canadian online video consumers in mind.

“I don’t believe there’s any genuine conversation going on at their organizations about the long term success of the Canadian broadcast system,” David Purdy, vp and general manager of television at Rogers Cable, Canada’s biggest cable operator, told the panel.

“I don’t believe they’re out to destroy the Canadian broadcasting system. But there’s laws of unintended consequences,” Purdy added.

For their part, the U.S. players insisted they were aiming their services at consumers, and needed Canadian product to reach them.

“It would be dumb business for Google TV to try to have the Canadian production community wither. What is the point of that? The aim is a vibrant content production community. The question is how to do that?” Donagh O’Malley, global head of content at Google TV, told the Banff panel.

And David Hyman, general counsel for Netflix, argued Netflix Canada was doing business with Canadian content distributors because “we’re another market for them to distribute into. I see the Internet creating a more vibrant marketplace. The internet provides an amazing market that broadcasters weren’t able to create."

But the Banff panel deteriorated into a local food fight when Canadian distributors defended Netflix Canada for snapping up local product.

Victor Loewy, head of Alliance Films, the country’s largest indie distributor, insisted Netflix Canada was acquiring library product that Canadian broadcasters and distributors were not buying up.

“Netflix is paying more for Canadian films and I don’t understand how that isn’t helping the system continue,” Loewy questioned.

The veteran Canadian distributor added nothing stood in the way of Rogers or other Canadian content carriers launching an over-the-top service like Netflix Canada or Boxee.

“Canada has been talking about this for three years and nothing came of it,” he added.

But Rogers’ Purdy defended Canadian content carriers for warning about the perils of over-the-top U.S. digital platforms.

“They’re (Netflix Canada) buying library product and product you’re having problems moving. As an industry, we should have a discussion about whether movies are being windowed in Canada,” Purdy said.

The Banff World Media Festival continues until Wednesday.

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