Ottawa is proposing new policy changes — with monetary penalties — to ensure online streaming platforms experiencing booming revenues operate under rules that are as stringent as those faced by traditional broadcasters.
The regulations put forth by the Liberal government today in a new bill focus on clarifying that online streaming platforms like Netflix and Spotify will fall under the Broadcasting Act through a new category called “online undertakings,” which some experts call a “long time coming.”
“There’s a lot of people in the industry, from those in the creative community that make and produce Canadian content to broadcasters who air it, that have been asking for changes for many, many years,” said Mario Mota, a media policy consultant with Boondog Professional Services Inc.
The bill also proposes giving the CRTC new powers that would require broadcasters and online streaming companies to make financial contributions to support Canadian music, stories, creators and producers.
Mota said people in the industry want to see two things come from the legislation.
“Number one, they want to level the playing field, and number two, to hopefully inject some new funds into the creation of Canadian content. And this legislation seeks to do that.”
A government briefing note says if the CRTC applies the same requirements around Canadian content to streamers that it applies to broadcasters, online platforms could contribute as much as $830 million worth of Canadian content by 2023.
“We’re not asking these companies to do things they’re not already doing,” said Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault.
“They are investing in Canada. What we’re doing is putting a regulatory framework on how those investments should be made in light of things we’re already asking from Canadian broadcasters.”
The briefing note says the bill could result in the government asking the CRTC to look at which online broadcasters should be regulated and determine whether it is a good idea to give additional regulatory credits to broadcasters producing works about Indigenous peoples, racial communities or in French.
The briefing note also says the CRTC may also be ordered to look into what qualifies as Canadian content and whether that definition takes into account tax credits or intellectual property.
Streaming platforms respond
Asked for comment, several streaming platforms said they are currently reviewing the legislation.
“We all have a role to play in supporting the future of film and television created in Canada,” a spokesperson from Netflix told CBC News.
“We are reviewing the legislation and remain committed to being a good partner to Canada’s creative community while also investing in local economies.”
Crave also told CBC News that it would be reviewing the legislation and “may have more to say in the days to come.” Disney said it would not be commenting at this time.