Online streaming bill will generate $1B a year for Canadian creative sector: minister

Pablo Rodriguez

OTTAWA — The online streaming bill will bring in at least $1 billion a year for Canada’s creative sector, including Indigenous programs, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez told a committee of lawmakers on Monday.

Rodriguez announced the number before the House of Commons Heritage Committee, which is considering a bill to update broadcasting laws and apply them to streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus.

Rodriguez said some of the money would be used to support productions by indigenous and minority communities, as well as French Quebec productions.

The Heritage Department originally said the online streaming bill would bring in around $830 million annually by having streaming services fund Canadian creative work like traditional broadcasters now do.

Rodriguez said the total would top $1 billion because — since his original calculation — more people have subscribed to streaming platforms like Netflix.

Other platforms, including Disney Plus, have also come to Canada, gaining popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said some of the funds would support various programs, including in French.

“We’re going to want to be able to hear more diverse voices. We want to hear more indigenous voices. Maybe we can do it with a binding provision. Maybe we can find other ways to do that – and also look at the official languages ​​and maybe other languages,” he said.

“The money will be used for those goals and it will be more than $1 billion a year.”

The minister said “strengthening provisions supporting indigenous peoples and racialized Canadians” in the bill was one of the “great ideas” he discussed in committee.

MPs heard the bill would also require some platforms to carry channels like OutTV that show LBGTQ shows and movies.

At an earlier committee hearing, OutTV said some of the major overseas streaming platforms refused to carry the channel, telling them there would be no demand, which OutTV denied.

Peter Julian, the NDP legacy critic who highlighted OutTV’s problem on the committee, said the $1 billion a year was a “significant sum”.

Kevin Waugh, a Tory committee member, said he was surprised it was so big and asked for more details on how it had been calculated.

Thomas Owen Ripley, deputy assistant minister at Canadian Heritage, said part of the $1 billion could be used to support Canadian productions, including dramas, documentaries and children’s programs.

Ripley said that “just over $900 million” per year would come from “spending requirements” in billing. Streaming platforms like Netflix spend a certain percentage of their earnings on Canadian productions, like traditional broadcasters are now doing.

He said traditional Canadian broadcasters currently spend nearly $3 billion a year on Canadian programming, which includes news.

Ripley said Netflix already has a “huge amount of production activity” in Canada, but “most of it would not currently qualify as Canadian programming,” according to the current definition.

“Part of the impetus behind this bill is to get them to do more on the Canadian side,” Ripley said, including including more “Canadian creatives” and telling “more Canadian stories.”

Rodriguez said he will ask the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the country’s broadcasting regulator, to modernize the definition of what would be considered Canadian content, including a film or television show, after the law passes became.

At a committee hearing last week, Netflix’s Stephane Cardin said that titles produced or exclusively funded by Netflix would not be considered officially Canadian under current rules “even if the majority of key creative roles are filled by Canadians.”

The minister, in often tense talks with Conservative MPs, reiterated his claim that the online streaming law will have no impact on people uploading videos to YouTube.

Rodriguez said the CRTC has “zero” interest in regulating the jobs of millions of people.

The minister said the bill would not cover user-generated content, only commercial material. When the bill was released, Rodriguez said it could include a professional video that will be streamed on Spotify and also appear on YouTube.

Rodriguez faced stubborn questions from Conservative MPs over the definition of “commercial” content, with Lethbridge MP Rachael Thomas repeatedly demanding he put a figure on it.

“What is the turnover threshold? Who’s in, who’s out?” she asked, blaming the minister for not answering her questions.

Rodriguez’s appearance is the second on the committee. Last week he was forced to leave before he had a chance to speak as Tory and Liberal MPs squabbled over procedural issues, accusing each other of delaying tactics.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 6, 2022.