Canada Passes Bill Requiring Streaming Platforms to Push Local Content

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Canada’s lower house of parliament passed a bill on Tuesday that would make it mandatory for online streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus to promote local content.

Bill C-11 would bring OTTs and other online content platforms under the ambit of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the government’s regulatory body for radio and television content, once passed as a law in the upper house – the Senate.

This bill was introduced by the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, and was passed in the House of Commons by 208 votes to 117. The bill was supported by the opposing New Democrats, and the Bloc Quebecois.

'Bill to Support Local Jobs'

According to the government, the bill will help support local jobs and promote content created by local artists.

Canadian broadcasting organisations also see this as a step in the right direction, as reflected in an opinion piece by Bell Media’s Senior Vice President Karine Moses and Chief Legal and Regulatory Officer Robert Malcolmson on the Toronto Star. Bell Media is one of Canada’s largest media conglomerates.

This bill seems to be an extension of the CanCon (Canadian Content) requirement that has been applied on Canadian broadcasters by the CRTC, since the 1970s, in a bid to promote local content. This requirement states that 50-60 percent of broadcasters’ content screened in one year has to be CanCon.

For a show to qualify as CanCon, it must meet a set of stringent criteria previously determined by the CTC. However, what qualifies as Canadian content is very different today, as the types of content have diversified with the coming of the internet.

Online Content Creators Are Worried

Critics have claimed that the bill was rushed to a vote, as reported by Reuters, and its impact on independent content creators and user-generated content had not been considered.

CRTC representatives have mentioned that under bill C-11, the type of content created or posted cannot be controlled, but the promotion of content can be affected, in turn affecting discoverability of online content.

Rachelle Frenette, CRTC general counsel and deputy executive director, said “user uploaded content can be the subject of some authority by the commission” but argued the CRTC’s powers “in relation to social media platforms, and user-uploaded content, are actually quite narrow,” as reported by the National Post.

The CRTC has been vague about whether or not YouTube content promotion would be affected by this bill, and what kind of content on YouTube would be affected.

Canadian content creators have been worried about what this means. Prioritising their content for a Canadian audience that may or may not be interested in their content would de-prioritise promotion of their content to a global audience that might have more of an interest in their content.

Justin Tomchuk, who runs two large YouTube channels, said that the bill would “potentially destroy” his channels’ international visibility – and 97 percent of his viewers are international, as reported by the National Post.

A Wave of Protective Content Rules in European Countries

Canada is not the only country putting forth rules protective of its regional content. Last month, Denmark called for global OTT platforms to pay a levy of 6 percent of their revenue in the country, money that would be used to support local television production.

Switzerland also held a referendum last month, termed “Lex Netflix,” wherein OTT players would be forced to reinvest 4 percent of their revenue from the country in local Swiss productions.

Portugal and France have also been putting forth similar rules, and Spain has been in talks regarding creating such regulations.

(With inputs from Reuters, The National Post, and Toronto Star)

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