Bell Fund awards $2 million to nine TV projects

The fund's inaugural TV program will support drama, comedy and lifestyle programs in English and French.
July 6, 2018

The Bell Fund has awarded nearly C$2 million in grants to nine TV projects, including the second season of Blue Ant Media’s Crazy Beautiful Weddings

All told, two English lifestyle series and three English-language dramas received funding through the Fund’s inaugural TV Pilot program, as did two French-language scripted comedies and two French dramas.

The Bell Fund first introduced its TV Pilot Program in September 2017. It was one of four pilot programs that the Fund introduced in response to the CRTC’s updated policy framework for CIPFs. The TV program aims to support market-driven Canadian TV production for lifestyle, drama and comedy series.

On the English-language unscripted side, season two of Crazy Beautiful Weddings (10 x 30 minutes; pictured) received a portion of the funding. Produced by Blue Ant Media, the series follows event planner Lynzie Kent and airs on Blue Ant’s Makeful. Another lifestyle series to receive coin was Riverbank Pictures’ Opening: Spain (6 x 30 minutes) for Telelatino Network. The series follows Canadian chefs Rob Rossi and Craig Harding as they travel across Spain.

On the drama front, the Bell Fund has provided backing to the second seasons of Cineflix Studios’ Pure, and Sphère Média Plus and New Metric Media’s Bad Blood; and an untitled Muse Entertainment-produced murder procedural.

The French-language projects that received funding include File d’attente, produced by ComédiHa!; season four of Like-moi, produced by Zone 3; M’etends-tu?, produced by Trio Orange; and season two of Plan B, produced by KOTV.

In May, several industry organizations issued a complaint with the CRTC against the Bell Fund and its new TV Program, arguing (among other issues), that the TV Program’s process for determining which productions receive funding favors major production funders (MPFs) and that its board is not majority-comprised of independent parties (currently five of eight board members are independent).

In a letter filed June 22 to the CRTC, the Bell Fund addressed the major arguments against its new fund. Regarding the issue of the Fund’s board, the letter states that one of its independent board members has resigned and it is currently in the process of filling that vacancy (so that there would be three Bell-affiliated board members, and six independent members). The Bell Fund also stated that it complied with the CIPF Policy requirement that its independent board members cast no fewer than two-thirds of the votes in a meeting.

It also noted, “In the last year the Bell Fund has had to reinvent its programs in order to align with the revised CIPF Policy. In light of our program redirection, ultimately different skillsets than are represented by our current board members may be required to effectively support the final versions of our four pilot programs. In recognition of this, the Bell Fund Board is in the process of undertaking a skills evaluation in order to make the best possible decision in filling the vacant independent position on our board.”

Regarding the argument that the TV Program favors MPFs (which are defined as the largest private broadcasting groups with Canadian production expenditures of more than C$125 million in English-language markets and C$50 million in the French-language markets), the Bell Fund argues its funding has been allocated to MPFs and other private broadcasters in a manner which reflects their “track record of supporting Canadian programming,” and has relied on Canadian Programming Expenditure reported by the CRTC.

In structuring the TV Program, the Bell Fund also stated its aim is to reward companies that invest in the types of programs the pilot supports (drama, comedy and lifestyle programming). “This approach, which places the emphasis on spending on particular types of programming and not simply on the application/adjudication process, is similar to the envelope model employed by the CMF, which rewards the historical audience success of programs and is driven by the investment commitment that broadcasters make in particular types of programming.”

MPFs can also file unlimited applications to the TV Program, subject to the CPE-based envelope funding caps, whereas all other broadcast groups are limited to two applications per broadcast year. To this, the Bell Fund responded that there are more broadcasters with eligible projects than there are funds.

“Given there is a finite amount of funds available for the TV Program (approximately C$8.54 million in total for 2018), the Bell Fund wanted to avoid a situation where all or most of the funds within the public broadcaster or private broadcaster allocations could potentially be granted to programs related to only one or two broadcasters. By capping the applications for funding at two per private or public broadcaster, this ensures that there is equitable access to funding and that funds are spread across a diversity of independent producers.”

The Fund also stated that MPFs typically have multiple discretionary services operating under various genres, and the “TV Program funding mechanism will ensure an appropriate diversity of content from independent producers.”

The complainants, which include Blue Ant Media, CBC/Radio-Canada, CMPA, Groupe V Media, TVO, Groupe Media TFO, OUTtv, Tele-Quebec and TV5/Unis TV, have until July 17 to file responses to the CRTC.

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