On April 22, 2016, Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Hon. Mélanie Joly, launched a public consultation process called “Canadian Content in a Digital World.” The purpose of the consultation is to examine the federal government’s current “cultural policy toolkit” for the “cultural content” sector in a globalized and digital era.

The term “cultural content” is described more particularly in the announcement as “information and entertainment content as presented in television, radio, film, digital media and platforms, video games, music, books, newspapers and magazines.”

The “cultural policy toolkit” is described as consisting of four tools as specified below:

  1. Funding mechanisms: Canada Book Fund; Canada Periodical Fund; Canada Music Fund; Canada Media Fund; Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit; Film or Video Production Services Tax Credit; Expert promotion funding; and, TV5 funding.
  2. Legislation:Broadcasting Act; Copyright Act; Income Tax Act; Foreign Publishers Advertising and Services Act; Investment Canada Act; Telecommunications Act; Radiocommunication Act;and, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act.
  3. National institutions: CBC/Radio-Canada; National Film Board; Canada Council for the Arts; and, Telefilm.
  4. Policies: Foreign Investment Policy in Book Publishing and Distribution; Foreign Investment Policy in the Periodical Publishing Sector; Foreign Investment Policy in Film Distribution; Policy on Audiovisual Treaty Coproduction; Canadian content rules for TV and radio; and, International Agreements.

It is possible that other items may be added to the scope of the review throughout the course of the consultation.

The focus of the consultation is on how to ensure that Canada’s cultural content sector succeeds in this digital world which has recently been characterized by significant changes, or “disruptions”. There are many changes of concern, for example, the blurring of the lines between creator and user of cultural content, the disintermediation of traditional content distribution chains and the lowering or outright elimination of costs to access cultural content.

The review will be of significant interest to stakeholders in the cultural content industry and regulators like the CRTC.

Next steps

The consultation will be comprised of various phases set to take place over an indeterminate amount of time.

The Department of Canadian Heritage has only made a concrete announcement with respect to the first phase. The first phase of the consultation, which is now in progress, is a “pre-consultation questionnaire” that is available to the public to fill out by May 20, 2016. It will be used to help create a scoping document to guide the consultation. 

The scope and timeline of the subsequent phases have yet to be determined. The second phase of the consultation will be announced in June, 2016 and will take place in the summer of 2016. It will be a series of public, stakeholder and online consultations regarding the strengthening of Canadian content creation, discovery and export in a digital world. The Department of Canadian Heritage will be assisted in this task by an Expert Advisory Group. There are no details released as to the composition of the Expert Advisory Group. The announcement indicates that Canadian Heritage will also be working with the Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Minister of International Trade, in this consultation.

What to expect?

At this early stage, it appears that a broad cross-section of stakeholders could be affected by this comprehensive consultation. Thus, the resulting possible legislative reforms could include small tweaks as well as paradigm-shifts in the legislative regime, such as the convergence of the Telecommunications Act and Broadcasting Act.

The announcement of the consultation follows on the heels of the CRTC’s recent broad-based reviews of certain central matters within its jurisdiction, namely, the creation and distribution of television programming and the regulation of basic telecommunications services including broadband internet. In fact, the CRTC has not yet completed its review of basic telecommunications services. It also follows the initiation of consultations by the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office (part of the Department of Canadian Heritage) on proposed narrow changes to its policies on tax incentives for Canadian audio-visual productions. Those proposed changes are intended to make the tax incentives more applicable in a digital era as well. The consultation also coincides with the statutory five-year review of the Copyright Act which must be conducted by 2017.

Whatever the path or paths taken, the road ahead, from consultation to implementation, will likely be long. For example, the last time the Broadcasting Act was substantively reviewed and amended was in 1991, and it was the result of consultations beginning as early as 1985.