Will Canadian nets spend doc money on dramas?

Canadian docmakers express concern over the new flexibility broadcasters have in spending their performance envelopes with the Canada Media Fund.
November 3, 2010

As English Canadian documentary filmmakers struggle to wrap their heads around the exigencies of the Canada Media Fund’s POV program, a more worrying question looms on the horizon: have broadcasters used the CMF’s new 50% flex rules to finance dramas instead of documentaries?

‘The POV program is a concern, but the single most important issue for documentary filmmakers is the new flexibility broadcasters have to spend their performance envelopes,’ says EyeSteelFilm producer and head of business and legal affairs Bob Moore.

Most of the CMF money is distributed to broadcasters through the performance envelope system. The amount they get under this system is determined through a number of criteria, including return on investment and audience numbers.

The CMF calculates each broadcaster’s share of credit annually for the performance factors by language and genre. Each broadcaster is then allocated a corresponding share of available CMF funding, which is then directed to eligible productions.

Under the old CTF (Canada Television Fund) fund rules, the broadcasters had a 15% leeway when it came to how to spend their performance envelopes. But this has changed under the new fund. Although broadcasters lobbied to have 100% flexibility, they were given 50%, which means they can spend half of their allocation on the genres which they believe are most likely to draw audiences.

‘This isn’t good for documentary filmmakers because from a business standpoint drama is a priority,’ says DOC Chair, John Christou. In other words, there is no incentive to broadcast docs because networks such as CTV and CBC get more money from the government for airing dramas because they reach larger audiences.

Because audience numbers for docs tend to be lower than for drama, Christou believes their performance needs to be judged under different criteria, such as cultural value.

‘When the CMF board decided to raise the flex from 15% to 50% it was based on the feeling that broadcasters’ conditions of license would ensure that documentaries and children’s and youth programming would remain at a similar level [as under the Canada Television Fund],’ says CMF’s Stephane Cardin.

‘We will know for sure after the final deadline this week. For some broadcasters such as Canal D or TVO, there likely won’t be fewer docs. It’s more of question of keeping an eye on how the new rules play out for conventional broadcasters. We are aware of this issue and we are monitoring the results on a week-by-week basis. We are still a fund supporting the four genres and we will support them.’

While CTV did not return requests for an interview for this article, CBC spokesman Jeff Keay observed: ‘As CBC and other broadcasters haven’t yet completed submission of their proposals for CMF funds, it’s too soon to say whether there will be significant changes in allocations among genres. However, we remain committed to our broad range of programming genres, including documentaries, children’s programming and drama.’

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