Canadians told to face down digital threat

New technologies encroaching on traditional content

By Etan Vlessing

TORONTO -- To stay relevant with Canadian audiences shifting online, local TV producers, broadcasters and funders need to work closer and faster to compete against American broadband content flooding into the Canadian market.

"The threat is an influx of U.S. content that will dwarf, or obliterate the Canadian industry, if we don't take measures to survive," Toronto consultant Alan Sawyer told an Interactive Ontario panel on the future of Canadian broadcasting.

Sawyer, a principal of Two Solitudes Consulting, argued U.S. websites like Youtube and Tunes are increasingly broadcasting "into" Canada via streaming technologies, where previously they could only broadcast "in" a protected Canadian TV market with regulatory permission from the CRTC.

Emerging broadband technologies un-tethered to CRTC control now allow Canadians to receive a wall of American digital content that threatens to send Canadian content to the sidelines.

Brady Gilchrist, president of Admodo Group, said Canadians cutting their cable/satellite TV services to watch TV content online or via iTunes only encourages "shadow broadcasters" like Facebook and Twitter to target Canadians and other online users.

"If people pull the plug on that (set-top box), it's game over," Gilchrist said.

Stephane Cardin, vp of policy and stakeholder relations at the Canadian Television Fund (CTF), the main source of government subsidies for domestic content producers, agreed the Canadian industry faced a challenge to fund innovation at home as American producers engaged domestic audiences with popular TV and online content.

"We have to be nimble. This pace of change is very rapid. Funding agencies and others need to step up," Cardin told the Toronto panel.

The CTF will shortly morph into the Canadian Media Fund as the federal government looks to shift public subsidies to new media producers, beyond prime time TV series financing.