Panel: Netflix a Friend and Foe to Canadian Film Business

A poster for Netflix series "House of Cards"

A conference of local industry moguls was told U.S. streaming giants can help as much as hurt, depending on how they reinvent themselves for a fast-changing market.

TORONTO -- Embrace Netflix Canada and other U.S. over-the-top streamers as your best frenemy, Canadian filmmakers were told this week.

"Like it or not, the model in our world is just getting more challenging. But I predict one year from now that over-the-top players in Canada, whether commercial driven or walled garden or SVOD or pure over-the-top, will become a major factor in this industry," Jay Switzer, chair and co-founder of Hollywood Suite, told a Film Flash! Conference panel in Toronto on Wednesday.

Switzer, a veteran broadcaster who packages four movie channels for the Canadian market, said the exponential growth of Internet video options for consumers has local filmmakers needing to reinvent themselves to survive and thrive in a world of increasing on-demand viewing via digital platforms.

"It behooves you to aggressively go after and take the lion's share of the front-end and the electronic guide of their [over-the-top] selections, whether they're curating or using fancy algorithms," he argued.

VIDEO: Full Uncensored TV Executives Roundtable

There were calls for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to order broadcasters that rarely air homegrown movies, and Netflix Canada and other U.S. digital services to be compelled to support the production and financing of Canadian film.

"We have to start talking about over-the-tops coming and how they have an obligation to carry our product," former Entertainment One Films Canada co-president Noah Segal told the industry conference.

The use of protectionist measures to increase exposure for Canadian film on TV sets here was recently dealt a blow when the CRTC denied a bid for mandatory carriage to Starlight -- the Canadian Movie Channel.

Given that setback, Canadian filmmakers were urged to go beyond a fortress mentality sustained by regulation to make movies Canadians want to see.

"I respectfully think regulation is not the way to go. We have to create content that people will want to see, that they pull for and we don't push to them," Kevin Wright, former senior vp programming at Astral Media, which includes The Movie Network pay TV channel, argued.