Old models won't work, Canadian producers told


TORONTO -- Canadian producers on Thursday were urged to put government subsidies and old broadcast models aside and target the U.S. market with digital content that appeals to advertisers.

"Get rid of this bullshit about Canadian content, and think about Canadian creators and a Canadian industry," Michael Hennessy, vp of wireless and broadband at domestic phone giant Telus Corp. said at Toronto's ICE new media conference. "Accept that with the mobile space, your market is 300 million people in North America."

ICE delegates were told that, as advertising dollars migrate online, they largely go to U.S. Internet portals and Web sites that producers need to target.

"There has to be a new entrepreneurial approach. How we look at Can-con (Canadian content) has to change. The difficulty is, if we try to take the old definitions and structures, we'll fail," said John Barrack, national executive vp of the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn.

That challenge also faces domestic broadcasters, who operate between an old world where they depend on U.S. primetime series to drive audience and advertising revenue, and a new digital one where they must create new content to forge new audiences and advertising dollars.

"We have a dual responsibility," said Pary Bell, vp of content at CanWest Digital Media, a division of domestic broadcaster CanWest Media. "There's the pressures of being the ancillary part of the business, shovelling the content onto a different platform that has an audience. But to really engage new users, we need to separate ourselves our from the broadcast platform, and have commissioning heads acquire content strictly for the different mediums."

But the ICE panel repeatedly returned to the theme that Canadians has to look beyond their borders and traditional government patronage to the U.S. market to survive and thrive in the digital age.

"There's no sustainable Canadian content industry. It's only sustainable if you have an American audience." GlassBOX Television co-CEO Raja Khanna argued. At the same time, he cautioned that Canadians must compete in a U.S. market where $8 billion was invested last year in digital companies by venture capital firms, against very little VC capital that currently goes into Canadian start-up firms.

"It will come back to advertisers. They will be critical in this," Barrack said.

The ICE conference continues in Toronto until Friday.