TV Anne Lead Casting 20161021

Netflix debates contributions with Canadian Heritage

Netflix remains wary of regulation as some tout 'Anne' and 'Alias Grace' partnerships

Netflix makes “substantial” investments in film and TV productions in Canada and should not face regulation, argues the streaming company in a submission to Canadian Heritage’s public consultation on homegrown content in a digital world.

The submission, filed Thursday, comes two years after Netflix suggested to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that its service did not fall under the Broadcasting Act since it is not a conventional broadcaster.

“We want to continue to invest in content in Canada in the way we have, which means continuing to spend money but not under a system that’s similar to the Canadian broadcasters, where there’s regulation and paying into the (Canada Media) Fund,” Elizabeth Bradley, vice-president of content at Netflix, said in a phone interview.

“We’ve been doing significant investments on our own and will continue and honestly (it) will only grow significantly over the next couple of years. But regulation is not helping to encourage that for us.”

If Netflix was under the Broadcasting Act, it would be required to make certain financial commitments to Canadian content, which some producers feel it should.

“They’re coasting off the system that existed before and the one thing that’s certain is that you can’t very (well) support a system where half of the system is required to contribute and half the system is not,” said Denis McGrath, a Toronto TV writer and producer who also filed a submission during the consultation process.

“They’ll do several of their original shows, but at the same time, most of what’s driving that content library and why people are subscribing is stuff that was made under the old system. And a lot of the networks in the States are struggling with, ‘This is our competition now and they are sort of in a sense eating our lunch and making it harder for us to do what they do.'”

Still, some other producers back Netflix, noting its investments in Canada have helped boost the quality and reach of content here.

“Our partnership with Netflix on both Alias Grace and Anne has allowed two remarkable Canadian adaptations to be realized with higher budgets than would otherwise have been possible,” Sally Catto, general manager of programming for CBC Television, said in a statement.

Anne is an upcoming retelling of Anne of Green Gables and will screen simultaneously on CBC-TV in Canada and on Netflix internationally.

The upcoming Alias Grace miniseries based on the Margaret Atwood novel and written by Sarah Polley will also be broadcast on CBC in Canada and stream on Netflix elsewhere.

“For me with Alias Grace — and I know I speak for Sarah Polley as well — it’s been a great relationship,” said producer Noreen Halpern.

“This is not a small show. It’s a show that, to be done properly, needed a significant budget and we found a great partner in Netflix.”

Netflix says in 2016 alone it’s commissioned hundreds of millions of dollars of original programming produced in Canada. It’s also made “dozens of commitments in 2016 for Netflix original movies and TV series that will be produced in Canada.”

Its other co-commissions with Canadian producers and broadcasters include Travelers, Frontier and Degrassi: Next Class.

McGrath said while Netflix may make content and contribute to the economy here, it’s still hurting Canadian networks that have obligations to contribute to the cultural funding that creates Canuck shows.

“(Netflix) have no presence here, they have no employees here, they take tons of money out of the country in subscription fees and they don’t even pay HST,” he said.

“So if you were to take this out of the context of an argument about film and television, I would make the case that what we’re talking about here is industrial dumping. We have laws against stuff like this.”

Photography by Canadian Press
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