BANFF 2012: Competition With Hollywood Looms Large at Annual Canadian Broadcasting Confab

Insiders will debate industry consolidation, diminishing government support and tapping new financing sources.

TORONTO – The Canadian TV industry, sensing an ever-present threat from Hollywood, has long been protected by a Canada-U.S. border and government patronage.

But a borderless entertainment future has Hollywood moving ever closer to Canadian consumers, and converging this weekend on the Banff World Media Festival, which gets underway Sunday.

ABC Entertainment Group topper Paul Lee, Two and a Half Men executive producer Chuck Lorre, and Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter are top-lining Banff as the Americanization of Canadian TV and the local production sector gathers steam.

Canadian broadcast and cable TV heavyweights will debate industry consolidation Monday during a morning panel entitled Vertical Integration: Winners, Losers and Opportunities, as they continue shepherding U.S. channels like Lifetime, Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network, MTV, FX and Sundance Channel into Canada.

Elsewhere, Canadian Media Fund topper Valerie Creighton will unveil a partnership with Telefilm Canada to raise the profile of Canadian content at home and overseas as local producers like Lionsgate, Entertainment One, Shaftesbury Films and Cineflix Media continue to expand their Los Angeles offices.

The exodus of local talent has seen Canada’s best directors, including Atom Egoyan, Ken Scott and David Cronenberg, become hired guns in Los Angeles and London.

Even the country’s best screenwriters are headed to Hollywood, including Chris Haddock, Ryan Belleville, Paul Mather, Will Pascoe, Hart Hanson and Rob Sheridan, as Canadian broadcasters now favor Canadian series with U.S primetime slots and creators with Hollywood experience.

With the Canadian industry at an inflection point, Banff panels on tapping into brand dollars, leveraging social media and making web dramas take place as Canadian politicians prove unwilling, or unable, to continue priming the pump for local film, TV and digital media production.

The result is Canadians converging on Banff for new, and mostly foreign financing options.

So ground zero this coming week may well be the inaugural Banff co-production business market, which gives Canadians even more face-time with international content producers, broadcasters and distributors at the Rockie Mountain gathering.

All of which will fuel a debate in Banff between Canadian players headed to Los Angeles and London to become smaller, and yet more global players, while producers and broadcasters back home urge walls against, and differences with, Hollywood to be buttressed by still more government privilege and protection.

Meanwhile, as the Canadian dollar falls in value against the American greenback, and Canadian provinces continue their oneupmanship with film tax credits to woo Los Angeles producers, Hollywood North is thriving.

Recent industry data indicates Canadian film and TV production is on the rise – at $5.49 billion in volume last year, according to government estimates, and up 8.9 percent year-on-year.

On the domestic front, $2.39 billion spent in 2011 for mostly local TV production was down 1.4 percent from 2010 levels, according to CAVCO and CRTC data.

Much of the remaining production activity -- $1.87 billion in expenditures in 2011 -- came from foreign location and service production, mostly by or for the major studios and other Los Angeles producers.

The foreign business in Hollywood North last year was 25 percent up on 2010 production levels.

Banff is also hosting this year a Chinese delegation, to include the Huayi Brothers, the Hairun Movies and TV Group and the Zhejiang Huace group, and an Irish contingent, which in recent years have pacted with Canadian producers on co-productions like The Tudors, Camelot and The Borgias.

The Banff World Media Festival is set to run from June 10-13 in the Canadian Rockies.