Canadian TV Producers Told Sink or Swim in Global Business

The Prime Time conference heard YouTube and Netflix is making globetrotters of Canada's best content creators, leaving the rest to risk going down faster than the Titanic.

OTTAWA -- Canadian players in sink-or-swim throes on Thursday were urged to move beyond their own market to find international partners and buyers for their global product.

The Prime Time conference of Canadian indie producers in Ottawa heard how increasing competition from Netflix and other emerging digital platforms is making globetrotters of the country's best content creators, leaving those too focused on the Canadian market to risk going down faster than the Titanic.

"For most content creators, it's not just about Canada and the regulatory system here. It's about how to make our shows work globally," John Morayniss, CEO of Entertainment One Television, told a Canadian TV panel Thursday.

A domestic industry on flood watch pondered the paradox of Canadian TV, where it's increasingly difficult and costly to match U.S. series such as The Walking Dead and House of Cards for audience appeal, and yet the most talented Canadian players are playing in that global pool.

"As a Canadian producer, that's challenging. I want to go for the gold ring. But if I can't get Kevin Spacey in my new show or the next big format, how will I sell my shows?" Christina Jennings, chairman and CEO of indie producer Shaftesbury, told the panel. "So there's a place for the CRTC in a market that's shifting," she urged.

On the broadcast side, top execs debated a recent request by the federal government to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to consider unbundling cable TV channels and what impact that would have on broadcasters and consumers.

Louis Audet, president and CEO of cable giant Cogeco, urged the CRTC, Canada's TV regulator, to introduce smaller packages as part of an evolving pick-and-pay regime here.

"Consumers say they want more choice on the platforms they use. Sure they use over-the-top. But they also say, 'I want to pay only for what I watch,' " Audet told Prime Time delegates.

But Michael Hennessy, president and CEO of the Canadian Media Production Association, insisted the CRTC needed to redefine what homegrown channels would remain protected as part of a must-carry basic cable package, and how weaker channels could survive when Canadians are allowed to choose which TV services they purchase and watch.

"The commission [CRTC] has to establish -- what are the trade-offs you're going to make; what are you going to put on basic?" he argued.

The Prime Time conference concludes on Friday.