Thursday, March 12, 2009

$310 million fund to replace CTF

by: Etan Vlessing,

Federal heritage minister James Moore, on the Toronto set of Flashpoint to announce the scrapping of the Canadian Television Fund, joked that cast member Enrico Colantoni promised not to lob a grenade in his direction if he said something disagreeable.

Turns out the minister lobbed a few grenades of his own on Monday, as he outlined Ottawa's fix for TV financing: to support more ratings-driven Canadian content on more digital platforms with a new $310 million Canada Media Fund.

Moore said the CTF and the digital-oriented Canadian New Media Fund will be collapsed into the CMF by April 2010.

Ottawa will contribute no new money to the replacement fund, putting in $134.7 million with the rest coming from domestic cable and satellite TV providers.

Moore said he wants to see content funded by the CMF streaming on the internet and mobile platforms.

"The future is digital," said the 32 year-old minister, himself an avid iPod watcher.

Applicants to the CMF will need to offer at least two distribution platforms, including TV, for projects to receive subsidies. Acceptable platforms include webisodes, interactive games and podcasts.

The CMF's early focus will be on funding dramas, comedy and kids programming.

"We want to foster the development of cutting-edge applications and content," Moore said, calling for an end to vested interests and primetime TV dominance in Canadian production financing.

Moore also said he wanted to see more Flashpoints -- domestic dramas that air on both sides of the border and which stream online.

The heritage minister urged that CMF-funded shows use "predominantly Canadian talent" including writers, directors and performers -- vague wording that portends a possible greater use of foreign talent in future productions.

Other surprises: the CBC will no longer receive a guaranteed envelope from the revamped fund. The pubcaster will be forced to compete with rival broadcasters for CMF financing. Broadcasters will also be able to produce their own series in-house.

The CMF will have a smaller, seven-member board: two government appointees and five representing the largest private funders in order to address earlier concerns about accountability and alleged conflicts of interest on the CTF board.

"The realigned fund will favor projects that have achieved and demonstrated the most potential to achieve success, in terms of audience and return on investment," Moore said of the new ratings-driven investment criteria.

Judging by the wide smiles on Rogers Communications' Phil Lind and Quebecor's Pierre Karl Peladeau at the press conference, the cable and satellite providers liked what they heard. Moore's fix promises them far more say over which homegrown shows receive CMF subsidies.

"It's pretty good news," Peladeau said Monday. "The industry will be more efficient."

It was threats in December 2006 by Quebecor-owner Videotron and rival cablecaster Shaw Communications to end their required CTF payments that first prompted Ottawa's review of the industry fund.

Stephen Waddell, national executive director of ACTRA, said giving cable and satellite operators control of five board seats is "like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, especially if the board maintains the power to make funding decisions."

Moore said the CMF will be subject to guidelines -- funding decisions will be based on ratings as well as the seven-member board.

In opting for the CMF, Moore ignored a June 2008 CRTC recommendation that the CTF be split into dual funding streams, one for private networks and another for non-profit broadcasters.

The CTF and the Canada New Media Fund will remain in place until the CMF is up and running in April 2010.



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