Banff 2012: Canada's Distributors Tell Broadcasters to Support Local Movies

A festival panel on vertical integration turned to how little domestic networks invest in Canadian indie film as they favor Hollywood efforts in their primetime schedules.

BANFF, ALBERTA – After Canadian broadcasters bulked up to fend off Netflix Canada amid industry consolidation, local film producers on Monday urged domestic TV networks to stop replacing local movies on their schedules with Hollywood fare.

“What we’re really worried about is that we’ve seen a reluctance on the part of cable operators and broadcasters to carry Canadian films,” Victor Loewy, CEO of top Canadian indie distributor Alliance Films, told a panel on vertical integration at the Banff World Media Festival.

“We’ve seen a huge erosion on Astral (Media) and a complete disappearance on Rogers/Citytv,” Loewy added.

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Canadian indie producers in recent years have complained that Astral Media is shrinking its license fees for Canadian films that air on its pay TV service, The Movie Network, while the Citytv network is shifting acquisition dollars to other programming genres.

Falling local broadcaster support for Canadian movies follows domestic networks bulking up to deal with Netflix Canada and other U.S. digital platforms that offer rival on-demand viewing options for Canadian consumers.

Loewy said Global Television, which was acquired last year by western Canadian cable giant Shaw Communications, has done its part to support Canadian film, and he anticipates Astral Media becoming a better customer for indie film distributors after its recent purchase by Bell Media.

But Loewy fingered Corus Entertainment, which operates the Movie Central pay TV service in western Canada, for not fully complying with its regulatory obligations, and pilloried cable and mobile giant Rogers Communications for not taking a risk on Canadian film.

“To actually produce something is to take a risk, and Rogers is not in the risk business. It’s in the guaranteed return business,” he told the Banff panel.

But David Purdy, vp of TV and video product at Rogers Communications, rejected that cable and mobile giant should be shaken down by indie film distributors.

“Victor (Loewy) looks at Rogers as a giant piñata: the harder you hit, the more money falls out,” he told the vertical integration panel.

Purdy’s remedy for Canadian film calls for the CRTC to give major Canadian carriers more regulatory flexibility to deal with Netflix Canada, Google Canada and other foreign digital platforms.

“Medium to long term, we’re not doing enough to protect the system. When the CRTC made a decision to not regulate over-the-top (U.S. platforms), they should have make a corresponding decision to deregulate the system,” Purdy said.

“They haven’t done that. It’s okay for Netflix Canada to come into Canada, but not okay for us to launch a subscription VOD service on a set-top box,” he added.

But Loewy said there was nothing stopping Rogers Communications from competing with Netflix Canada on its own turf.

“No one is stopping Rogers from writing a check and starting a competing business to Netflix,” he told the Banff panel.

The Banff World Media Festival runs to Wednesday.