Canadian Distributors Sound Alarm on Film Investment By Local Pay TV Operators

Critics call out broadcasters for shifting dollars from acquiring indigenous movies to foreign fare to retain audiences.

TORONTO - Canadian film distributors have sounded the alarm over domestic broadcasters slashing their investment in homegrown movies to make way for Hollywood or other foreign titles.

Mark Slone, senior vp of Alliance Films, Canada’s biggest indie distributor, took aim at Astral Media, a major Canadian pay TV operator, during license renewal hearings Friday by the CRTC, the TV regulator.

“In recent history, Astral bought virtually all Canadian films made in a year, but now even some of the best and most successful movies struggle to find a place among the imports and made-for-pay sitcoms that populate much of their daily schedule,” Slone told the regulator.

Hussain Amarshi, president of Mongrel Media, demanded a commitment from Astral Media that it acquire all theatrically released Canadian films.

“This is the bare minimum that a service that is called The Movie Network should make to Canadian films,” Amarshi told the CRTC, alluding to Astral Media’s pay TV operation, which depends on output deals with HBO and Showtime and the major Hollywood studios to draw viewers.

Canadian film distributors are reacting to a steadily declining supply of broadcasters willing to acquire and air homegrown movies.

Indigenous film producers took a hit when the Citytv over-the-air TV network was allowed by the CRTC to stop airing at least 100 hours of Canadian movies in primetime each year.

That regulatory change allowed Citytv-parent Rogers Media to shift acquisition dollars to other programming genres.

Unlike Europe where domestic broadcasters are major investors in national cinema, Canadian broadcasters have been allowed to pay meager license fees to acquire and air local films.

Now the distributors are back pleading their case to the CRTC as domestic pay TV operators follow conventional and cable TV channels and shift investment to other programming genres, including dramas and comedies.

“In the months since the announcement of licence renewals for English language broadcasters, there has been a sharp decline in licence fees for Canadian feature films offered by the pay services owned by Corus,” Ted East, president of the Canadian Association of Film Distributors and Exporters, told the regulator, pointing to rival pay TV operator Corus Entertainment.

"The conditions of licence changes proposed by Astral will further erode their support for feature film in favor of more made-for-pay sitcoms,” he added.