Canadian TV Boss Accuses Netflix of "Imperialism"

Courtesy of Duopoly
Catherine Tait

CBC/Radio president Catherine Tait told Netflix's Canadian lobbyist during an industry conference that the globally-expanding streaming giant reminded her of the former British and French empires.

Catherine Tait, the newly installed president of CBC/Radio Canada, the country's public broadcaster, on Thursday associated Netflix with cultural imperialism as it makes its programming available worldwide.

"So I'm going to just go a little off script, because I was thinking about the British Empire, and how if you were there and you were the Viceroy of India, you would feel that you were doing only good for the people of India," Tait told a panel at the Prime Time conference in Ottawa.

As she shared a stage with Stephane Cardin, Netflix's director of public policy in Canada, Tait added: "If you were in French Africa, you would think, 'I'm educating them, I'm bringing their resources to the world, and I am helping them.'" Canada's top public broadcast exec then warned her country stood to pay a steep price if it allowed its film and TV industries to be swamped by Netflix and other insurgent U.S. digital players.

"Fast forward to what happens after imperialism and the damage that can do to local communities. So all I would say is, let us be mindful of how it is we as Canadians respond to global companies coming into our country," Tait said.

Other rival Canadian broadcasters also took aim at Cardin during the industry panel, as they called out the U.S.-based digital player for refusing to be regulated and be subject to content quotas and spending obligations as it marketed its U.S.-based streaming service north of the border.

"We're not here (in Canada) to chase a low dollar. We're here because of the quality of the creators, the infrastructure and the crews," Cardin told the gathering of Canadian indie film and TV producers. "We think we too can provide an opportunity for Canadians to make stories in English and French that can get to the world like they never could before. We're complementary. We're not here to diminish (the Canadian system) or do it any harm," he added.

As Netflix's dominance of the Canadian TV business continues to eat into the traditional business model of the CBC and other local broadcasters, Doug Murphy, president and CEO of Corus Entertainment, outlined a "Fortress Canada" strategy among big Canadian TV networks to battle U.S. streaming players by doing more to target marketing and advertising at domestic TV viewers, using improved analytics and audience data.

"Why should we allow Netflix to own the bingeable world?" Murphy questioned as Canadian broadcasters and producers in the audience looked on. Netflix's Cardin after the panel told THR that competition, and not regulation, should govern how his company operates in Canada, where its local production levels are surging.

"Canada year over year ranks either number two or three in terms of production activity," Cardin said, as the UK and Canada vie for Netflix production dollars, while the U.S. market remains the streaming giant's biggest production hub. Cardin added Netflix has produced film and TV content in eight of the country's 10 provinces, though mainly in Vancouver and Toronto, as it looks to greatly exceed a commitment of $500 million to be spent in Canada on local production over five years.

"It's going to be significantly more than $500 million," he forecast, without specifying dollar figures. Netflix is also producing on a number of fronts in Canada, as it makes both scripted and unscripted TV, feature films, comedy specials, animation and kids programming.

"And we're doing programming according to different models, where some shows we own, and others it's more of a co-production model," Cardin explained. "We've co-produced with just about every major broadcast group in English (-speaking) Canada, with the CBC, with Bell Media on Frontier, with DHX Media on Degrassi, with Rogers on Between and Corus on Travelers," he added.

Despite Tait's comments about Netflix in Ottawa, the streaming giant has acquired a number of series developed by the public broadcaster, including the mommy-comedy sitcom Workin' Moms by Black-ish star Catherine Reitman, Schitt's Creek and Kim's Convenience, all for territories outside of Canada including the U.S.

And Netflix has co-produced with the CBC local dramas like Anne With an E, which hails from Emmy-winning writer Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad), and the Alias Grace miniseries, an adaptation of a Margaret Atwood novel.

Cardin argued Netflix in Canada is good for local content creators because it offers one more door to knock on to sell their shows. "We are absolutely engaged and we are providing opportunities to creators that, given the level of concentration in the Canadian industry, we're offering options — not just Netflix, but other online services — new opportunities to creators and producers that just weren't there before. And a lot of creators in this room are thankful for that," he told the industry conference.