Canadian TV Producers Urge Public Subsidy Boost for Original Web Series

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Faced with Hulu, YouTube and other U.S. digital platforms hooking Canadians with online dramas like "The Guide" and "Tekzilla," local content makers want in on the action.

TORONTO – Canadian TV producers are doing what they do best when faced with stiff global competition from Hollywood and other foreign behemoths.

They’re putting out the begging bowl.

The Canadian Media Production Association, representing major producers, on Tuesday released a report into their digital future that urges the country’s funding programs and regulators to redirect public and industry subsidies into original pure play web series.

The 35-page report said Canadian broadcasters already fund digital extensions of TV series, while ignoring U.S.-originated linear series like The Guide, Tekzilla and Red vs. Blue that live solely online.

“The greater opportunity… is to begin developing original properties for the web and for online audiences as a new line of business,” the producers urged as they gather from Wednesday in Ottawa for their annual conference in the shadow of their government patrons.

Canadian taxpayers already finance much of the local producers' risky digital content, and the CRTC compels domestic cable and satellite TV operators to further subsidize that digital media.

But little progress is apparently being made in winning global audience share from dominant U.S. platforms like YouTube, Hulu and Netflix.

If anything, Canada is losing ground, the producers argue.

And the culprit, of course, is government largesse and regulation.

“Government policy focus has been on bringing traditional television producers into the digital world through initiatives such as the Bell New Media Fund and Canada Media Fund convergence and experimental streams, to the exclusion of pure play linear web creation,” the report argued.

“Canadian producers risk missing the opportunity to participate in a burgeoning new sector of activity, should the financing environment not adapt to this new reality,” the report added.

There are pockets of innovation north of the border when it comes to original web series production, especially at the National Film Board of Canada, the public filmmaker, and Rogers Communications, which has a minority stake in Michael Eisner's web studio Vuguru.

But local producers claim Canada has nothing to match the online reach of Google/YouTube, MSN or Yahoo, all of which have offices in Canada, or U.S. web video services like Break, College Humor and Vice, which enjoy growing Canadian audiences.

“Sitting next to this roiling hotbed of change – arguably one of the most innovative periods in media history – Canadians are blessed with an extraordinarily valuable system of public support for the creation and distribution of content, but one that is still rooted (with some exceptions) in a food chain of the past,” the report warned.

“Without the flexibility to respond and adapt to the tidal wave of change we currently face, we risk losing the important ground gained for Canadian content over the past three decades,” the producers concluded.