Supporters and critics weigh in on Online Streaming Act in Canada

The pressure is on for the Canadian government to swiftly pass the Online Streaming Act as Canada’s screen entertainment industry reacts to the newly tabled bill. Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo ...
February 4, 2022

The pressure is on for the Canadian government to swiftly pass the Online Streaming Act as Canada’s screen entertainment industry reacts to the newly tabled bill.

Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez tabled Bill C-11 on Wednesday (Feb. 2), a new iteration of the previous bill to amend the Broadcasting Act, which aims to bring digital giants operating in Canada under regulation and grant the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) more flexible power to ensure compliance.

The vast number of reactions from the screen industry focused on the plan to regulate digital streamers such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon’s Prime Video, from the perspective of creators that will benefit from additional contributions to the cultural sector and broadcasters that have struggled to compete without a level playing field.

The Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA) lauded the legislation and encouraged collaboration between political parties to pass the bill, adding that the association will analyze the legislation and begin a consultation process with members.

“The Online Streaming Act will reinforce Canadian cultural sovereignty, requiring that foreign tech giants play by the same rules as Canadian companies,” said the CMPA’s president and CEO Reynolds Mastin in a statement, adding that it “must ensure that Canada’s indie producers have a fair opportunity to negotiate with content buyers to own, control and monetize the intellectual property that they develop and produce.”

“We’ve been saying for several years now that any media companies that profit from Canadians’ love of content should also contribute to the creation of Canadian-originated programming — just as domestic media companies continue to do,” said Emma Iannetta, senior specialist, media relations, strategy and public affairs at CBC/Radio-Canada, in a statement issued to Realscreen sister publication Playback Daily.

Kevin Desjardins, president of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, doubled down on the urgent need to update the Broadcasting Act, saying the association welcomes Bill C-11 as a “critical step towards recognizing and addressing” a lack of regulation of foreign streamers. “A decade of exemptions from regulatory oversight has given an unfair advantage to foreign streaming services, allowing them to capitalize on the Canadian market while avoiding any of the obligations imposed on our domestic broadcasting sector,” said Desjardins.

Stéphane Cardin, head of public policy for Netflix Canada, said in a statement that the streaming service is currently reviewing the legislation, adding that it supports “a forward-looking and flexible framework that recognizes how different players contribute to our creative system.”

The reaction to the bill isn’t unanimously optimistic, however, as critics maintain that the governing Liberal party has not made enough changes to Bill C-11 to ensure user-generated content on social media won’t be regulated.

The original bill had been stalled after the Liberal party proposed removing section 4.1, which exempted user-generated content on social media from CRTC regulation. Among the key critics was Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada research chair in internet and e-commerce law, who the Conservatives called as part of an expert panel to discuss the bill during its review with the Standing Committee of Canadian Heritage.

In a blog post published Thursday (Feb. 3), Geist says the newly added section 4.2 opens the door for social media content that generates revenue to be regulated by the CRTC, noting that the bill still lacks clear language on what is and isn’t exempt.

“There was an opportunity to use the re-introduction of the bill to fully exclude user-generated content (no other country in the world regulates content this way), limit the scope of the bill to a manageable size, and create more certainty and guidance for the CRTC. Instead, the government has left the prospect of treating internet content as programs subject to regulation in place, envisioned the entire globe as subject to Canadian broadcast jurisdiction, increased the power of the regulator, and done little to answer many of the previously unanswered questions,” wrote Geist.

John Nater, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Canadian Heritage, had issued a letter to Rodriguez in January, urging the government to not attempt to re-table the bill, stating the legislation was “so deeply flawed and controversial that it would not be in the interests of Canadians to reintroduce it.”

IATSE, the union that represents approximately 30,000 screen workers in Canada, has also voiced concern over the potential impact on Canadian crews if regulating streaming services reduces their production activity.

“Should global studios and streamers contribute to the domestic film industry? Absolutely. The jobs that they bring to Canada should be considered in that equation — but even leaving that aside — they already contribute more financing for domestic production than either Telefilm or the Canada Media Fund,” said IATSE International VP and director of Canadian affairs John Lewis. “According to the CMPA’s Profile 2020 report, foreign investment is the second-largest single source for financing for Canadian-owned content production, just after provincial tax credits. Domestic film production should be supported — but that must not be at the expense of job opportunities with the global studios and streamers, which employ the majority of Canadian creative workers.”

Tonya Williams, founder and executive director of the Reelworld Screen Institute, tells Playback Daily the bill is a “step in the right direction” from Bill C-10. “The Online Streaming Act is something we have long needed, and it was good to see the new changes in this bill that addressed many of our concerns about the previous bill. The new changes would specifically affect larger U.S. streaming companies, [to have them] be required to contribute to the creation of Canadian content was crucial. The content creators we support at Reelworld have long been crying out to the government to insist that those U.S. companies not only bring up their content, but invest in Canadians making content,” she said.

Additional guilds and unions shared their positive reaction to the bill, urging its passage to support Canadian creators. “Private, English-language Canadian broadcasters have reduced their spending on Canadian television production every year for nearly a decade, while foreign streaming services have taken over more and more of the Canadian market,” said Writers Guild of Canada president Alex Levine. “This threatens our whole industry, and the tens of thousands of jobs it supports. Canadian broadcasters have long been required to contribute to the culture and economy of this country. It’s time for global streamers profiting in Canada to be held to the same standards.”

“The Online Streaming Act will ensure that our industry can continue to thrive and Canadian creators can tell their stories in the digital age, but the Act will also translate to guaranteed investment in original Canadian programming from multi-billion dollar streaming services and promote a diverse range of world-class content for viewers,” added Directors Guild of Canada president Warren P. Sonoda.

“The new broadcasting legislation signals the government is ready to seize this moment by strengthening our Canadian cultural industries and our economy,” said ACTRA National president Eleanor Noble. “As performers working in English-language productions across Canada, we are pleased the federal government recognizes the importance of investing and promoting Canadian content and its discoverability on all platforms. Swift action must be taken to pass this legislation to support original Canadian programming.”

By Kelly Townsend, Playback Daily

With files from Victoria Ahearn

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor-in-chief and content director for Realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to Realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.