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Netflix came, they streamed, then they conquered like the British Raj. That’s how CBC CEO Catherine Tait described the international streaming giant’s relationship to Canada. Tait went on to compare Netflix to the French colonization of Africa, saying our nation was at risk of “cultural imperialism.” She has since apologized for her choice of words however she stands by the sentiment behind them.
This comes on the heels of CBC’s announcement that they will no longer be affiliated with Netflix Inc. It’s hard to understand why exactly why Tait feels this way; it’s a far cry from her opinion of working with them since last December when she described the partnership with Nextflix to be, “absolutely” cost-saving and that their co-productions were likely to be the future of CBC.
What’s more perplexing still is that Tait’s dramatic change of opinion comes after Netflix announced that they’ve already surpassed the $500-million they promised to invest in original Canadian productions by 2022. That promise came upon Netflix setting up a production hub in Toronto in February. The company is based out of Los Gatos, California.
Previous shows that CBC and Netflix had collaborated with such as Schitt’s Creek and Anne with an E and Alias had great success. This also opened up some Canadiana to our neighbours to the south who proved to be streaming those shows often. So it’s confusing as to why CBC is taking this stance all of a sudden.
Catherine Tait told the Content Canada podcast that CBC is “not going to do deals that hurt the long-term viability of our domestic industry.” That stance seems reasonable enough if it were the case.
Kann Yigit is an analyst for Solutions Research Group (SRG) based out of Toronto. Their research indicated that 55 percent of all online households stream Netflix in Canada and that figure is on the rise and is even bigger with younger Canadians aged 18-49.
CBC’s streaming service, Gem, is not as popular. The SRG revealed that 65 percent of online Canadians had not even heard of the streaming service, Yegit told the Financial Post.
“So to say that Netflix is not contributing to Canadian creators or the domestic business is a narrow interpretation of what is going on,” Yigit said. “To my mind, the CBC should be looking for ways to work with Netflix to benefit from its reach and influence, and to benefit creators in Canada.”
The major beef CBC has with Netflix in Canada surrounds the fact that Netflix (along with other streaming services such as Amazon Prime and Disney+) are not required to collect sales tax and don’t have to oblige by the Cancon policies. Canadian broadcasters are currently required to put 5 percent of their gross revenue into the Canadian Media Fund. This fund is designed to help support Canadian creators. The Cancon rules ensure that 60% of the annual content being broadcasted is of Canadian origin.
For my money, the real reason for comparing their former partners to the British Raj is more about fear that Netflix will subsume the CBC arts. One of the reasons that would be likely to happen would be due to the vast lack of restrictions for creating content on Netflix. If it were a concern of finances CBC would not be in a position to complain, with the Trudeau government pledging to give them $675 million which includes $75 million in new funds for the rest of the fiscal year. There was an additional $150 million annually through 2021.
Netflix produced dozens of original films, TV shows and over 50 standup specials last year, (most of which were American, although some were Canadian and their Comedians of the World series included many Canadian comics which were also shot on location). One of the most common reviews content creators have to say about the company is their gratitude for a production company whose mandate is basically, “do whatever you want.” Next to know restrictions surrounding censorship. Hypothetically, if Dave Chappelle had been Canadian, the CBC would have most definitely not produced his most recent special, Sticks and Stones.
That’s because they enforce rather strict guidelines as to what’s acceptable for the brand, as their website states on their submissions page they will not accept “Any of Your Content that is offensive and likely to expose an individual or a group of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disability is prohibited.”
That may sound reasonable, but that doesn’t mean all people are reasonable and it puts them as a broadcaster at the mercy of our most sensitive citizens. Furthermore the submissions form goes on to state:
“By submitting Your Content, you grant us the non-exclusive right to use your content royalty-free, in perpetuity. You also represent and warrant to CBC that you hold all of the required rights and authorizations to Your Content. Your Content may be published on CBC/Radio-Canada owned or controlled platforms, and may even be included in our stories. CBC/Radio-Canada cannot guarantee that Your Content will be published.”
So for most content creators in Canada, going to Netflix seems like a way better alternative. It seems like the more the merrier, the more access small-time Canadians will have to get their art out, the better.
My hunch is that CBC fancies themselves the sole arbiters of what constitutes Canadiana and they fear losing the broadcasting stranglehold they currently have.