Friday, November 16, 2007

The "real" crisis with striking Writers...

I haven't been posting much, due to a move and its inherent complications BUT -

the real crisis with this strike is the fact that the writer's issues are but a microcosm of what is *really* happening in the world today. The writer's are you and me for one reason only:


They are more than likely in the vast majority (meaning: how many of us are in the same boat?), and that's the real wake-up call.

Forget not being able to watch a favorite TV show. How shallow is that? TV? What about not being able to "get by" after only a mere two weeks of being on strike. Writer's are the middle-class of Hollywood. They make middle-class money. They're broke after two weeks off the job.

Holy crap we're in for a shit storm. And TV has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gemini's to "shine" with Hollywood Stars

Well, thank God! Finally! Some sexy talent arrives to a Canadian awards show at long last!

Gotta love our "crown" broadcasting corporation for reflecting national identity during prime time. Why ask for what the people want when you can just tell them what they want?

And Strombo has "edge"? Hmmmm.....I'm craving a Big Mac.....


Geminis to shine with Hollywood stars

The Gemini Awards gala, hosted by the CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos, will feature a clutch of Canadian stars from Hollywood including Sarah Chalke of Scrubs, Men In Trees lead James Tupper and Howie Mandel of Deal or No Deal.

A businessman has stepped in and chartered a private jet to bring a group of stars, including Andrea Roth of Rescue Me and Jason Priestley and Kathleen Robertson, who both starred in Beverly Hills 90210, directly from Los Angeles to Regina for the event on Sunday.

CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos will host Sunday's 22nd Annual Gemini Awards, which honours the best in English-language television.CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos will host Sunday's 22nd Annual Gemini Awards, which honours the best in English-language television.

The annual awards celebrate the best in Canadian English-language television.

Stroumboulopoulos, who hosts The Hour on CBC-TV, says this year's Geminis will be unique. The 34-year-old host has brought his Hour team on as producers of the one-hour show.

For the first time, viewers can vote online for their favourite Canadian on a TV series who is not eligible for a Gemini.

There are 22 actors up for the inaugural Viewers' Choice Award including Mandel, Keifer Sutherland of 24, Lost's Evangeline Lilly, Sandra Oh from Grey's Anatomy, Boston Legal's William Shatner and Kristine Kreuk from Smallville.

The 22nd Annual Gemini Awards will be the first live show open to a public audience. Previously, awards shows were only attended by industry insiders.

And, this will mark the second year in which the show will be held outside of Toronto. The show was held in Vancouver last year.

The audience can expect "tons of star power, great comedy and definitely a few surprises," said CBC producer Steve Sloan.

Many awards, in terms of costume, makeup, news and production, were already handed out prior to Sunday night.

The Regina gala will give out trophies for drama, comedy, acting, feature documentary and top news anchor.

The Gemini Awards will be broadcast at 8 p.m. on CBC Television on Sunday.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Telefilm funding frozen


Figures from 2006 show a drop in a share of the box office for Canadian film, especially for French-language films, yet federal funding for film remains frozen.

Actors Patrick Huard, left, and Colm Feore in a scene from comedy Bon Cop, Bad Cop. Telefilm wants to devote more of its funding to comedies.

In a year that spawned box office successes Bon Cop, Bad Cop, Trailer Park Boys and Oscar-nominated Water, Canadian films took just 4.1 per cent of the box office in this country.

Canadian-made productions earned $34.7 million in 2006, down from $44 million in 2005, and market share fell, according to funding agency Telefilm's annual report.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop, the bilingual cop buddies comedy, set a new box office record of $12.1 million, most of it in Quebec.

But French-language box office suffered a steep slide overall and English-language box office, while on the rise, amounted to just 1.7 per cent of total film tickets sold.

"It's a humbling figure, absolutely," Wayne Clarkson, executive director of Telefilm, told CBC News. "But actually that's a huge increase. It used to be just .3 per cent."

The success of films such as Bon Cop and Trailer Park Boys has encouraged Telefilm to put more of its funding toward comedies, as the return seems to be so good, he said.

"What we've noticed is that we were doing too many conventional dramas and not enough comedy," Clarkson said. "There's a wealth of comedic writers in this country."

The decision to spend more Telefilm dollars on comedy in the English market could result in five or six comedy features produced annually, he said.

Wayne Clarkson, Telefilm executive director, is 'hopeful' of receiving more money.Wayne Clarkson, Telefilm executive director, is 'hopeful' of receiving more money.

English-language films made in Canada also get overshadowed by the huge marketing budgets for Hollywood films, so Telefilm is directing money toward supporting the release of new films.

One beneficiary was feature film Shake Hands With the Devil, which received financial incentives for marketing in both the English and francophone markets.

The steep decline in French-language box office — from 26.6 per cent in 2005 to 17.1 per cent in 2006 — was a result of fewer films on offer in 2006, according to Telefilm's annual report.

This supports the position of francophone filmmakers who put pressure on the federal government for more money last year, saying filmmakers with a great track record were being turned down for funding.

Number of films made declines

Just 32 films were made in 2006, down from 36 in 2005 and 47 in 2004. Francophone films had a record box office share in 2004, a year marked by strong productions such as C.R.A.Z.Y.

Although films such as Le secret de ma mère, Maurice Richard, Les Boys IV and Une dimanche a Kigali each earned more than $1 million in 2006, the smaller number of films made resulted in smaller overall box office.

The federal government has yet to commit more money to Telefilm, though Clarkson says he's "hopeful."

However, SODEC, the Quebec film funding agency, is devoting an extra $10 million to get some additional films made.

But as Quebec talent gets more ambitious, the cost of individual films is rising.

"Quebec producers will be looking to international partnerships," Clarkson said, pointing to Denis Arcand's L'Âge des ténèbres which had international financing.

"Ultimately there will be demand for new money, if we want to sustain the growth we've seen so far."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Writers Guild votes overwhelmingly to authorize a strike

In what union officials say is a record turnout, 90% of members approve a walkout if a contract can't be settled by Oct. 31.
By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 20, 2007
Hollywood's film and TV writers are ready to trade their pens for picket signs if they can't reach a deal with their employers by Halloween.

Members of the Writers Guild of America voted by an overwhelming margin to authorize their leaders to call a strike if they can't negotiate a three-year contract with the major studios to replace one that expires Oct. 31. Of 5,507 members who voted, 90% favored granting a strike authorization. Guild officials said the turnout was a record for the union, which has nearly 12,000 members.

"Writers do not want a strike, but they are resolute and prepared to take strong, united action to defend our interest," said Patric M. Verrone, the guild's president. "What we must have is a contract that gives us the ability to keep up with the financial success of this ever-expanding global industry."

The vote -- sought by guild leaders to give them more leverage in negotiations that have been stymied by deep differences -- marked the first time writers have voted on such an authorization since 1988. That vote paved the way for a 22-week strike that cost the entertainment industry an estimated $500 million.

The vote doesn't mean there will be an immediate strike, but it gives guild leaders the option of calling one sometime after the expiration of the contract.

Few were surprised by the results announced Friday, given that contract talks have been highly contentious and both sides have spent months preparing for a showdown. Seeking to defuse tensions, the major studios on Tuesday withdrew a proposed revamping of the decades-old residuals payment system, removing a major stumbling block to negotiations.

But that decision came too late to have much effect on the vote because most guild members had already cast their ballots. Studios have held the line on the union's other key demands, such as granting residuals for shows streamed over the Web free and giving writers a bigger cut of home video sales.

"A strike authorization vote is a pro forma tactic used by every union in the country, and usually the vote is overwhelmingly in favor of a strike," said Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

"We are not surprised with the outcome of this vote, given reports of how this election was conducted. Our focus is on negotiating a reasonable agreement with the WGA."

Writers have rallied behind a theme that might best be summed up by the Who's hit song "Won't Get Fooled Again." Writers maintain they were shortchanged years ago when they agreed to a discounted pay formula for home video sales, only to see that business take off. And they're determined not to make the same mistake again as the digital revolution upends the entertainment industry.

"The guild made a bad deal 20 years ago and they've been angry ever since and they don't want to do it again," said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment industry attorney with TroyGould in Los Angeles and a former associate counsel for the Writers Guild. "That's why we're seeing a line drawn in the sand."

For their part, the studios maintain that DVD sales are needed to offset rising marketing and production costs, and they contend that it's too early to lock into pay formulas for shows distributed online because technologies are rapidly changing and they're still grappling with uncertain business models.

Although the vote drew wide support from writers, one of the guild's more prominent members blasted the union's handling of the ballots.

Writing on his blog Thursday night, Craig Mazin, whose credits include the films "Scary Movie 4" and the upcoming "Superhero!" accused the guild of breaking from a long-standing practice of conducting elections through secret ballot. Mazin wrote that a union "strike captain" called him, saying she had been informed by the guild that Mazin had not voted, and she urged him to do so.

"I'm disgusted with guild leadership for daring to be so bold, and for abandoning such an obvious and necessary prerequisite for a fair and decent democratic referendum," he wrote.

A guild spokesman said, "Members were encouraged to vote, but how they voted was completely secret."

Until recently, conventional wisdom was that the guild would not walk out immediately but would work without a contract until early next year, to line up its negotiations with the more powerful Screen Actors Guild, whose contract expires June 30. SAG representatives have been sitting on the sidelines of the writers' talks, and both unions have been closely aligned on a number of issues, especially concerns about Internet pay. As is often said, writers can't shut down production, but actors can. For that reason, many studio executives have been more focused on preparing for a possible actors' strike next summer.

In an effort to shift the spotlight back on their union, Writers Guild leaders have declared in recent weeks that members are prepared to walk out as early as Nov. 1. The change in strategy was partly an effort to jump-start negotiations that were going nowhere, according to guild insiders. Guild leaders also reasoned that they could inflict more damage by striking during the middle of the fall TV season than by waiting until early next year, when studios would have stockpiled more scripts.

Although networks have enough shows to carry them through the fall season, a strike next month would disrupt midseason programs that begin airing in January and next year's TV pilot season. A prolonged walkout could force the networks to cancel a number of series in advance of the key February sweeps period, when the networks showcase their best shows to drive up ratings that help establish the advertising rates for television stations.

Writers Guild leaders also were said to be concerned that the Directors Guild of America would negotiate an early deal, setting a framework for the other talent unions and potentially undercutting the Writers Guild's own goals. The Directors Guild has laid the groundwork for negotiations to begin this year, well before its contract expires in June.

Walking out next month, however, poses a considerable risk for the Writers Guild. Today's studios are better able to withstand a strike than in 1988 because they're owned by media conglomerates with deep pockets.

For their part, network executives have been preparing for a strike for months and say they will be ready should a walkout happen. They've ordered an unusual number of pilots for next year and have lined up a plethora of reality TV shows, sports programs and shows culled from their libraries to fill the airwaves during a strike.

Writers are rushing to finish scripts by Oct. 31, the deadline many studios have imposed. Some feature film studios have put a moratorium on signing deals with writers until the contract dispute is resolved.

Writers also are trying to grapple with far-reaching strike rules the guild recently announced. The rules could prove especially nettlesome for so-called hyphenates, writers who also work as producers and directors, who find themselves caught between two warring groups. To keep working, and to avoid possible fines and sanctions by their unions, some writers have signed contracts to work as "producer consultants," said one entertainment industry attorney, an arrangement that would allow them to cross picket lines.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Global laying off 200 across Canada

"New digital technology will permit broadcast centres to insert graphics and sets that are tailor-made for the local news markets, while creating a look that will unify the newscasts under the Global and E! umbrellas."

From the Financial Post:

CanWest cuts 200 TV jobs; moves to more digital offerings
Barbara Schecter, National Post
Published: Thursday, October 04, 2007

TORONTO -- CanWest MediaWorks expects to shed about 200 jobs from its news operations over the next 18 months as it centralizes broadcasting operations in four cities and invests in new digital technology.

Christine McGinley, senior vice-president of operations for CanWest MediaWorks, which runs the Global Television and E! networks, said news coverage in cities including Hamilton, Montreal and Winnipeg will continue to be assigned, gathered and anchored locally, but newscasts will be broadcast from control rooms in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto.

The reorganization does not require approval from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission because the hours of local programming required by the broadcaster's television licences will be maintained, said Ms. McGinley.
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"We are evolving from an analogue to a digital world, and we have to be there whether we want to or not," she said, noting a regulatory requirement for all Canadian broadcasts to be switched over to high-definition signals by 2011.

Production staff affected by the cuts announced Thursday are being encouraged to apply for 50 new positions at the four broadcast centres, which are all expected to be operational by the spring of 2009.

CanWest is investing $30-million in the new digital broadcast centres. The annual savings resulting from the job reductions will be determined when the exact number of layoffs is known, a company spokesperson said. One analyst estimated the savings would amount to about $7-million to $10-million a year.

The cuts will go further than production and technical staff in the Maritimes and Quebec, where news operations are unprofitable, said Ms. McGinley.

Six full-time and two part-time employees in Quebec City were given layoff notices Thursday, leaving two full-time news staff to cover events there, she said.

CanWest employs about 2,000 production staff across its broadcasting operations, with about 1,500 of those at its stations across the country.

Steve Wyatt, senior vice-president of news and information at CanWest MediaWorks, said the new digital technology will permit broadcast centres to insert graphics and sets that are tailor-made for the local news markets, while creating a look that will unify the newscasts under the Global and E! umbrellas.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

American TV shows sweep Top 10 in Canada

"Once again, Canada television shows failed to crack the top 20 primetime list despite hundreds of millions of dollars being spent annually by the Canadian television fund."


The first week of the fall television season in Canada is now complete and BBM Nielsen Media Research reports that, for the key adult 18-49 demographic that advertisers cherish, every primetime show in the top ten was produced in the United States and rebroadcast in Canada.

Once again, Canada television shows failed to crack the top 20 primetime list despite hundreds of millions of dollars being spent annually by the Canadian television fund.

The top five primetime shows in Canada among viewers 18-49 for the week of September 24th were House, Grey's Anatomy, Survivor: China, Heroes and CSI.

Nationally, House was seen by 1.93 million adults 18-49 while Grey’s Anatomy delivered 1.42 million and Survivor: China garnered 1.34 million viewers. Among all viewers aged 2+, the top show in the first week of the new fall season was Grey’s Anatomy on CTV delivered 2.6 million viewers while Survivor: China came second with 2.45 million viewers.

The following is a list of the Top 10 Primetime shows in Canada for the week of September among Adults 18-49 according to BBM Nielsen Media Research

  1. House (Global) - 1.93 million
  2. Grey's Anatomy (CTV) - 1.42 million
  3. Survivor: China (Global) - 1.34 million
  4. Heroes (Global) - 1.14 million
  5. CSI (CTV) - 1.11 million
  6. CSI Miami (CTV) - 1.1 million
  7. Desperate Housewives (CTV) - 1.01 million
  8. CSI New York (CTV) - 963,000
  9. Prison Break (Global) - 920,000
  10. Family Guy (Global) - 827,000

Canadian primetime television shows failed to crack the top twenty among Adults 18-49.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Shaw "extremely disappointed" he can't bring U.S.A. to CAN

Shaw Communications disappointed with CRTC denial of access to USA Network

CALGARY - Cable TV company Shaw Communications Inc. (TSX:SJR.B) says it's "extremely disappointed" with the federal regulator's decision to deny access to the USA Network, the major basic cable programming service in United States.

"The CRTC is continuing on a path of protectionism for the benefit of certain Canadian programmers at the expense of Canadian television customers," Peter Bissonnette, president of Shaw Communications, said Tuesday.

"Shaw strongly believes that Canadians deserve access to the best national and international sources of programming - that is what the Broadcasting Act promises."

In January, Shaw applied to add USA Network to the lists of non-Canadian services that Canadians are allowed to receive. The CRTC turned down the application on Sept. 19, citing the need to protect the niche Canadian digital service Mystery TV, which airs three of the same programs.

Shaw said CanWest Global (TSX:CGS), which owns Mystery TV with TVA, acknowledged in its intervention on the issue that "USA Network is truly a general-interest service. It does not limit itself to any one particular genre but is rather a leading provider of original series, off-network television shows, sports events and blockbuster theatrical events."

The CRTC's decision "is particularly surprising given its statements in recent speeches and proceedings about the need to focus on consumers and respond to the challenges of black market satellite, the Internet and other new technologies," Shaw said in a release.

Shaw Communications is a diversified communications firm with 577,000 kilometres of fibre, whose core business is providing broadband cable TV, high-speed Internet, digital phone, telecommunications services and satellite direct-to-home services through Star Choice.

On the Toronto stock market Tuesday, Shaw shares rose 15 cents to close at $25.25.

It's all about the "brand".

Corus revamp includes 53 layoffs
Canadian broadcaster offers 'focused' changes

TORONTO -- Toronto-based Canadian broadcaster Corus Entertainment issued 53 pink slips Tuesday as part of a streamlining process that began in July.

Changes include the merger of Corus' interactive team with Nelvana Studios, its animated division; cuts to broadcast and post-production departments; and the combining of acquisitions and original production at the pay channel Movie Central and its Corus Kids division.

In addition, the company's ad sales group has been retooled with the creation of a "platform innovation team" and a post, VP of non-linear business development, as well as the merger of kids' ad sales teams.

"These changes ensure a strong, brand-focused approach for creating superior content for audiences across all platforms," said a release from the company, whose cable channels include YTV, Treehouse, W Network, and pay channel Movie Central, as well as radio interests.

A publicly listed company, Corus is controlled by the Shaw family, which owns Shaw Communications, Canada's second-largest cabler.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Buy Low/Sell High

Friday, September 14, 2007

Subprime and the Alliance deal take 2

Though this article from the Globe and Mail briefly touches on the issue of the junk bond crisis (Subprime in other words), it's another glimpse into the reality of Leveraged Buyouts (LBO's), and how these nasty little schemes end up enriching the investment bankers who make the deals and hurt those who have no clue (the investors, the little the pensioners who unwittingly hold CanWest in their portfolios).

An excerpt (from Globe & Mail):

If there's a crisis brewing in the markets, CanWest always finds a way to step in the middle of it. After it bought Hollinger International's Canadian newspapers in 2000, it got caught in a credit squeeze, resulting in a horrible bond deal at usurious interest rates. When the company decided to float those papers as an income trust in 2005, it got hurt again; the deal closed just as it began to look like then-finance minister Ralph Goodale was going to tax trusts (he didn't). When it went to finance the Alliance deal this summer ... well, you know - it ran full-speed into the junk bond meltdown.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

What Price Salvation?

This is an article that I wrote for on current industrial relations....

What Price Salvation?
by: Jason Chesworth

While reading the latest report on the Canadian Television Fund (CTF), I was reminded of a friend who put herself on a personal weekly “point system” as a way to reward herself for accomplishing certain daily tasks. If this friend got out of bed before 10 a.m. and made the bed, she received one point. Working on her art that day got her five points. She even had a score for making love to her husband (I don’t know the score of that particular). Throughout the week, she was able to “redeem” certain accumulations of points for prizes, like the latest issue of Wallpaper (25 points) or a new CD (50 points). This scheme had the effect of controlling her personal finances and motivating her at a particular moment in time. However, the CTF report isn’t inspiring, and it isn't a story of self-motivation, unless you view beaureaucratic bodies such as the Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC) as an integral part of the Canadian identity. Regulatory boards such as these can often seem like nagging moms reminding you to eat your broccoli or brush your teeth before you go to bed, and most debate on media regulations is sure to be intensely boring to someone in Anytown, Canada eating a bag of Lays in front of the latest episode of CSI: NY.

click here
to read the rest of the article.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Kim Hume new Director of Policy at ACTRA

From Playback Magazine:

Kim Hume has been promoted to director of public policy and communications at ACTRA National, effective immediately, where she takes over from Ken Thompson.

Hume, who has been with the organization for six years and most recently served as public relations officer at ACTRA Toronto, will oversee all aspects of public policy and communications. Thompson, meanwhile, has been hired as the new director of copyright and broadband law at Rogers Communications.

"Hume brings a wealth of experience in communications, organizing and lobbying to her new position, along with extensive involvement in arts advocacy and the union movement," according to Wednesday release from the office of executive director Stephen Waddell.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Subprime crisis and Alliance takeover


I've been wondering if this whole 'subprime crisis' that is affecting our markets was going to "touch" the Alliance Atlantis takeover by CanWest Global. Why? Because CanWest's aquisition of Alliance is happening because of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (which has really pioneered the use of "commercial paper"....commercial paper, of course being the type of debt at the centre of the "subprime crisis"). In short, it's a leveraged buyout....the kind of buyout that accelerates debt....and who's on the hook, ultimately???

Well....the citizens (read: taxpayers) are always on the hook for everything.

So - the CRTC is stalling the hearings for the CanWest (Goldman Sachs) takeover of Alliance Atlantis to look at some of the paperwork that was late in being 'processed'...

I wonder if they're trying to figure out just how much "junk" is underwriting the borrowed bucks in this leveraged buyout....

Read the Financial Post article here....

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

CRTC officials grill Astral over Standard Broadcasting price

Suggest deal worth more than $1.08-billion


GATINEAU, QUE. -- Astral Media Inc. faced tough questions yesterday from federal broadcast regulators who suggested the broadcaster is low-balling the $1.08-billion purchase price of Standard Broadcasting Ltd. - a deal that will create the largest commercial radio company Canada has ever seen.

At hearings held yesterday to scrutinize the massive takeover, officials with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission indicated they believe the Standard transaction is worth more than Montreal-based Astral is letting on, and that certain items have been left out of the purchase price to keep a lid on regulatory payments.

Astral executives were questioned about the stock price used to value more than two million shares changing hands in the deal, which the CRTC argues is being understated.

Read the rest here

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"We control all of the West. We're a powerful family."

Great long article in the Globe on Jim Shaw. Good to see that the broadcasters are doing so well. Now if only he'd share the wealth with the rest of the industry...

From the Globe:

Confessions of a cable guy The industry is chugging along, and the money is rolling in.


August 25, 2007

KELOWNA, B.C. -- The doorbell rings at Jim Shaw's summer home in the Okanagan Valley and the head of Shaw Communications Inc. answers wearing khaki shorts and no shoes.

It's an unusually hot day, even for this famous apple-growing region of B.C., where the chief executive officer of Canada's second-largest cable company has spent much of August.

"Don't worry," he says, padding through the lakeside house in Kelowna. "We're not too uptight around here."

Casual indeed. Moving swiftly into the kitchen, Mr. Shaw pushes a stack of papers - his work for the morning - to one side of the dinner table and offers up a chair.

Read the rest of the article here

Monday, August 6, 2007

Kenney for Heritage Minister?

At least with Bev Oda, nothing really happened (except for the steady drift into less funding), but if Jason Kenney gets the job of Minister of Heritage....he may actually do something, and that would be terrifying!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Happy Canadian Television Fund Day!!

Yes, while you're out preparing the fireworks and polishing off that Canadian beer to celebrate your Nation - the perfectly-timed release (perfect for the CRTC et al), of the CTF Taskforce report on the Canadian Television Fund is being released in such a manner as to be surely forgotten by even the industry itself.

The CRTC report, released late in the day on Friday (not exactly primetime, eh?), says that while payments from the likes of Shaw and Co. (read: Videotron) should be maintained, BUT - the CTF should be concentrating its efforts on popular programming. a time of war, what does *that* mean? But, I digress...

But, Canadian television's best friend, Jim Shaw, re-instated his firing squad the day the report was released.

Happy Canada Day!!

P.S. - I was recently in touch with Antonia Zerbisias (see previous post here) - who told me that she has stopped covering media issues because (as she says): "I was tired of banging my head against the wall of my own echo chamber."

A sad day for media coverage for sure. A huge loss considering the timing of her "retirement" coincides with so many major decisions being made. You should read her prescient article, BTW.

Farewell, Antonia!

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Death of the Internet?

Canadian TV is crap....

...or so we constantly hear (at least I do when talking to the "regular folk"). But my rebuttal is two-fold:

1. How do we even know what the quality of Canadian programming is, when there is precious little of it being purchased by private broadcasters, and...

2. American programming is considered good?!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Cable cabal

Kevin Baker, Weekend Post

A note on my cable bill says the rate will be "adjusted" next month. The last increase, 8%, came not even a year ago. Now another 11%? Canadians' dollars are hard-earned, our leaders always tell us. We deserve accountability. I take up the phone.
"This makes 19% in under a year, yet I can't find where it says what new services I'm getting in return. Can you tell me what they are?"

Several months before, when I called about the last rate increase, the agent said, "There are so many reasons I could give you." I said let's hear them. He went away to ask someone, then came back to say he'd have to go ask someone else. Did I want to wait? Eventually, he told me MTV Canada had been added to my lineup. "Is that all?" I said. "There are so many reasons I could give you," he said, returning to the top of his script.

Later I found out MTV Canada had taken over TalkTV's licence. There was no additional service, just one unwatchable channel in place of another. I had fallen for a switcheroo scam. If they try pulling that again, I am ready. This time, I will get some accountability.

In January, my cable company's CEO, Jim Shaw, explained why he was stopping contributions to the Canadian Television Fund, saying he was waiting for a "statement of accountability." He wanted to know what shows the CTF paid for, how many people watched them, what revenues they earned. He singled out one CTF-supported show as an emblem of the fund's failure, Trailer Park Boys, "with all those guys running around half-naked, swearing and smoking weed." Besides those crimes, the Boys are satellite-and cable-TV thieves who siphon signals from fee-paying subscribers. The rascals are folk heroes, while cable-TV bosses are folk villains. Jim Shaw makes out like a bandit (his compensation package was nearly $6-million in 2006), yet receives none of the Boys' outlaw glory. The injustice would rankle anyone. So I know Shaw's people will understand the importance of accountability and give me the answers I seek. Here's what the agent tells me this time: "Because we're growing so fast, it costs more to get the service out to you guys."

This paragraph is a few calming thoughts so my head doesn't explode: tranquil lake, Boston Legal, fragrant forest, The Office, resplendent alpine meadow, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. There.

It sounds like there's a flaw in your business plan, I tell the agent. Maybe if you stopped growing, you could keep costs down and pass the savings on to customers. Oh, we're committed to growth, she says happily. Which amounts to telling me I can expect another increase any time.

In Alberta's growing cities, no doubt it costs more to hook up new houses in remote subdivisions than new condos downtown. First, there's the gas to drive out there. But my little old house is already hooked up. The service already gets out to me. Why should I pay higher cable-TV fees to subsidize urban sprawl? And why is robber-baron capitalism fine for a cable boss, but "you guys" are supposed to hold hands and cheerfully embrace kindergarten-variety socialism? I am livid.
An ingeniously twisted circle, then: TV is balm for a psyche bruised by everyday life. Excessive cable-fee increases further pummel the psyche; TV-providers' excuses ravage the psyche even more. TV's soothing relief then becomes that much more precious, worth every extra cent.

© National Post 2007

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Online repression rising: Amnesty International

CBC News

The internet is increasingly being used to repress free expression worldwide and technology companies are complicit, speakers at an Amnesty International webcast discussion of online censorship said Wednesday.

The discussion — marking the one-year anniversary of Amnesty's Irrepressible campaign — featured internet experts and free speech activists from around the world who described a growing phenomenon of censorship and repression being enabled by the internet even as people use the medium to gain a voice.

"Governments still fear dissenting opinion and the new technology, as well as helping out freedom, is giving new tools to those who want to curtail that freedom," Kamal Ahmed, executive editor of the Observer newspaper said in his opening remarks.

Pointing to companies like Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc., which have been accused by human rights groups of helping governments censor free speech and repress their citizens, Ahmed noted that raising awareness of the issues confronting internet users and the companies involved in them is crucial to ensure that access remains free to all.

"It must be one of the most important issues of the century," Ahmed said.

University of Toronto professor Ron Deibert joined the discussion online, pointing out that the amount of content filtering has sharply increased since he began monitoring and tracking such efforts four years ago.

"The picture is rather troublesome," Deibert, director of technology and democracy project CitizenLab, told those present and watching online. "The scope, scale and sophistication of internet surveillance and content filtering is growing worldwide."

Deibert said that when he and the OpenNet Initiative began tracking countries engaged in content filtering, they found such evidence in only four nations out of 41 they looked at. Four years on, that number has risen to 25, pointing to an alarming trend.

Another trend is the increasing amount of content that is being censored. Now they're blocking a much wider swath, Deibert said.

The list has grown to include human rights information, independent news sites, blogs and blogging service sites, and online information in local languages — anything that could be used to help people assert their rights or become more informed about the world around them, he said.

Enabling this effort is technology — commercial software and hardware — much of it made in the U.S., Deibert said.

Companies like Secure Computing Corp., Fortinet Inc. and Websense Inc. are among those whose software is used by repressive regimes, he said. The countries are now using a technique called just-in-time filtering, he added.

"[Countries] leave the internet open most of the time except around special events like elections, then they slowly turn the tap off," Deibert said, adding that by using this approach, the governments maintain plausible deniability that they are behind any censorship but still achieve their goals.

"In light of what has gone on in Estonia, the prospect of an arms race in cyberspace is very real and has to be taken into account," Deibert said, expressing concern about official U.S., Russian and Chinese internet doctrines. "We can no longer take the internet for granted as a tool that helps human rights…. [It] is being carved up, colonized and militarized."

In May, Estonia's internet infrastructure was crippled by a massive attack that coincided with a sharp decline in the Baltic state's relations with Russia, which was threatening sanctions over a decision to move a Soviet-era war memorial. Moscow denied responsibility for the attacks, although they appeared to originate in Russia.

Companies that aid and abet activity that helps repress free expression must be called to account for their actions, said Morton Sklar of the World Organization for Human Rights.

"U.S.-based corporations are playing a major role in the latest iteration of how … rights are being repressed," the executive director of the Washington, D.C., rights organization told the audience after joining the discussion online. "They must be held accountable."

Alleging Yahoo, Google and internet hardware maker Cisco Systems Inc. are just a few linchpins of online repression, he called on them to correct their ways, but added the only way that was likely to happen would be if they were forced to.

'When it reaches a point when a corporation is contributing to torture, contributing to arbitrary detention, they have to ask if this is something they should do.'—Morton Sklar, World Organization for Human Rights
"When it reaches a point when a corporation is contributing to torture, contributing to arbitrary detention, they have to ask if this is something they should do," Sklar said.

He focused on the case of Wang Xiaoning, who criticized the Chinese government online and is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.

The group is suing Yahoo, alleging Chinese bloggers, journalists and human rights advocates have been detained, imprisoned and tortured on the basis of information that Yahoo gave authorities there.

"People need to be more aware of these cases that the internet is being used in this way to create torture and repression," Sklar said, noting that a resolution is on the agenda at Yahoo's June 12 shareholders' meeting would require Yahoo to form a human rights committee to examine how it should handle some cases.

Concerns about censorship and repression should not be reserved only for countries with poor human rights records, according to participants in the Amnesty webcast.

"This is something people in the West should be worried about as well," BBC technology correspondent Clark Boyd told the audience before introducing an American video-blogger.

Josh Wolf served more than 220 days in a federal prison after he refused to turn over to authorities tapes of an anti-G8 protest he recorded in 2005, citing journalistic privilege.

"I go out to gather information and disseminate it to the public," Wolf said. "That's a journalist."

His prison time has earned him the distinction of experiencing the longest imprisonment of any journalist in the United States for refusing to surrender his work to authorities, and has sharply highlighted the need for a federal shield law for the media.

"As we take steps to protect … the professional press, we have to think about bloggers as well," Wolf said

Friday, May 18, 2007

CRTC approves more TV ads

New policies on digital transition, closed-captioning also released

CBC Arts

Canadian viewers won't see a hike in their cable and satellite TV bills because of a new subscription fee broadcasters proposed last fall, but they will likely start seeing more commercials soon, under changes the CRTC announced Thursday.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission revealed its decisions regarding several contentious issues discussed during hearings last November that scrutinized the state of Canada's TV landscape.

The federal regulator has denied the proposal from conventional broadcasters — including CanWest and the CBC — to introduce a subscription fee to cable and satellite companies who carry their signals, currently available free over the airwaves.

Supporters had argued that the so-called "carriage fee" was a necessary measure because traditional broadcasters are facing an increasingly difficult climate where audiences are fragmented and advertising growth is slow.

However, the cable and satellite companies called the proposal a new "tax" that would force a hike to the consumer, which could then cause viewers to drop their service and seek out other TV alternatives, like grey-market satellites from the U.S.

Gradual reduction of advertising restrictions

While the CRTC did not feel the subscriber fee "to be warranted at this time," it recognized the financial difficulties faced by conventional broadcasters and decided to remove restrictions on how much advertising they can air as an alternate way to increase revenues.

Continue Article

Currently, broadcasters can show up to 12 minutes of advertising per hour, including segments promoting programs in their lineups.

As of Sept. 1, this will increase to a maximum of 14 minutes of advertising in prime time — between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.

A year later, the limit will increase to 15 minutes across all time periods. As of September 2008, all advertising time restrictions will be lifted. The CRTC will review the impact of these increased ad times.

"The Commission considers it essential that [over-the-air] broadcasters have the flexibility to maximize advertising revenues to respond to the negative impact of audience fragmentation," according to a statement from the regulator issued Tuesday.

Analog-to-digital deadline

The CRTC also set Aug. 31, 2011, as a deadline for Canada's switch from analog to digital and High-Definition broadcasting signals. An exception will be made for northern and remote regions that lack digital transmitters.

Many other countries around the world have already set their target dates for the switch.

In December, the Netherlands became the first country to switch completely to broadcasting digital signals for television. Other European countries are set to switch this year, while the U.S. is scheduled to end analog TV transmission in 2009.

Japan and the U.K. plan to complete their own move to digital by 2011 and 2012, respectively.

A deadline was necessary, the regulator said, to avoid a situation where Canadian viewers "turn to foreign programming to take advantage of this new technology because there is not enough Canadian digital programming available."

The commission also said that it is confident that the next few years will provide ample time for broadcasters to make the necessary technological transition, as well as give creators enough to time to produce Canadian programming in HD.

Tuesday's announcement also included a new closed captioning policy — English- and French-language broadcasters will have to caption 100 per cent of their programs between 6 a.m. and midnight.

CRTC defers look at Cancon

The commission praised French-language broadcasters for devoting a "consistently high" level of their programming budgets — about 90 per cent — to Canadian content.

The corresponding situation in English Canada was "cause for concern" because the proportion English-language broadcasters spent has decreased to approximately 40 per cent, the regulator said.

However, the CRTC deferred its examination of specific spending by broadcasters on Canadian programming until the licence renewal hearings scheduled for spring 2008.

For years, various groups have criticized the CRTC's 1999 decision to remove the rule forcing private conventional television broadcasters to spend a minimum amount on Canadian dramatic programming. They charge that the result has been a sharp drop in Canadian-made TV shows.

The Directors Guild of Canada; the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada; the Writers Guild of Canada; and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) are among the groups that issued statements Thursday criticizing the CRTC for failing to issue clear directives on what broadcasters should spend on Canadian-made programming.

The CBC said it was "disappointed" with the decision and, in a statement, called it "a great day for broadcasters airing U.S. programming.

"By increasing the number of advertising minutes in American programming aired by Canadian private conventional broadcasters, both English and French, the CRTC has effectively increased the value of this programming, and removed the incentive for private broadcasters to create more Canadian drama," the public broadcaster said.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Internet radio broadcasters dealt setback

LAS VEGAS, Nevada (AP) -- Internet radio broadcasters were dealt a setback Monday when a panel of copyright judges threw out requests to reconsider a ruling that hiked the royalties they must pay to record companies and artists.

A broad group of public and private broadcasters, including radio stations, small startup companies, National Public Radio and major online sites like Yahoo Inc. and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, had objected to the new royalties set March 2, saying they would force a drastic cutback in services that are now enjoyed by some 50 million people. (Time Warner is also the parent company of CNN.)

In the latest ruling, the Copyright Royalty Board judges denied all motions for rehearing and also declined to postpone a May 15 deadline by which the new royalties will have to be collected.
However, they did grant leniency on one point, allowing the webcasters to calculate fees by average listening hours, as they had been, as opposed to the new system of charging a royalty each time every song is heard by an online listener. That exemption counts for last year and this year. After that, the new per-song, per-listener fee structure goes into effect.

Many webcasters say the sharply higher royalty fees will put them out of business. Talk of the ruling dominated a one-day meeting of Internet radio broadcasters being held in Las Vegas alongside the annual conference of the National Association of Broadcasters, a group representing local radio and TV stations.

N. Mark Lam, the CEO of Live365 Inc., a privately held company that aggregates audio streams from thousands of radio stations and other small webcasters, said that under the new royalty rules, "there is no industry."

Lam, who joined the venture capital-backed company about two years ago, said Live365 just barely broke even last year and had about 4.5 million unique listeners every month.

Also on Monday, several Internet radio broadcasters announced a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and encourage listeners to write to their representatives in Congress.

Small broadcasters have received relief from Congress in the past, benefiting from a law passed five years ago that gave them a break on royalty rates. The legislation allowed them to pay about 12 percent of their revenues instead of having to calculate per-song, per-hour rates like larger companies had to.

David Oxenford, a lawyer representing several webcasters, said the next step was likely an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but he noted that process could take at least a year. Meanwhile, he said, the prospects of successfully getting a court to block the decision of the royalty board judges is slim.

SoundExchange, a nonprofit group that collects the online royalties from webcasters and distributes them to record labels and artists, hailed the ruling in a statement and said it looked forward to working with Internet radio companies in order to ensure that the industry succeeds.
Jonathan Potter, the head of the Digital Media Association, which represents several large webcasters including Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN network, said his group was not currently in talks with SoundExchange but may be soon. He said his group and other webcasters would be turning to Congress, where he said he sees "a lot of legislative support."

The royalties in question only cover digital transmissions of music, and don't apply to terrestrial radio stations, as traditional radio play is seen as a benefit for record labels by promoting sales of recorded music. Both digital broadcasters and regular radio stations pay a separate royalty to the publishers and composers of music.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

ACTRA ratifies, Toronto gets a new studio and everything is back to normal...

Or is it?

What is the "status quo" these days anyway?
ACTRA members ratified the new IPA (this isn't really breaking news as it was expected when the strike was ended). Toronto may get a new studio for all those big blockbusters that are just itching to shoot here (although, the rumours of Toronto getting a huge "boost" to its production capabilities are getting as stale as they are old.)

At least actors can't be blamed for sagging production levels anymore.

Viva la revolucion!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Shaw Says Profit Gains 74 Percent

When you're posting profits of the size that Shaw is currently boasting, you can't help but wonder how much of it will actually benefit Canadians (shareholders and subscribers notwithstanding).

The question that occurs to me is this....what is the incentive for the big broadcasters to invest in Canadian programming when their increasing profits are coming from broadband subscribers? With the recent move in the telephone industry and the Canadian Television Fund being "re-evaluated", how much longer will we have to wait to find out that our airwaves have "officially" become taken over by cheap and profitable American programming?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Phone companies flood CRTC with deregulation filings

note: while this isn't exactly a "broadcast" issue on the surface, it is a very important development considering the fact that telecom companies are also broadcasters. This tells us a) how the CRTC can be over-ruled by a sitting government and, b) just how powerful "market forces" can be in the decision-making process.


Canada's established phone companies have wasted no time in exercising their newly won freedom to apply for deregulation of local phone service across the country.

In the last 24 hours, Bell Canada, Telus, and Aliant have all filed applications with the CRTC for permission to relax the stringent rules that currently regulate how the big phone companies market local phone service and how much they must charge.
Bell Canada filed applications that would affect the markets in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau, London, Hamilton, and Quebec City. It said more filings for other markets are on the way. Telus filed similar applications for Vancouver and Edmonton, and also said additional applications for deregulation in other major markets would be coming. Aliant filed for deregulation of markets in the Halifax area.

The flood of applications followed the announcement April 4 by Industry Minister Maxime Bernier that he would open competition in local phone markets where there are at least three different carriers in operation, including cellphone providers.
Canada's established phone companies have wasted no time in exercising their newly won freedom to apply for deregulation of local phone service across the country.
In the last 24 hours, Bell Canada, Telus, and Aliant have all filed applications with the CRTC for permission to relax the stringent rules that currently regulate how the big phone companies market local phone service and how much they must charge.

Bell Canada filed applications that would affect the markets in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau, London, Hamilton, and Quebec City. It said more filings for other markets are on the way.

Telus filed similar applications for Vancouver and Edmonton, and also said additional applications for deregulation in other major markets would be coming.
Aliant filed for deregulation of markets in the Halifax area.
The flood of applications followed the announcement April 4 by Industry Minister Maxime Bernier that he would open competition in local phone markets where there are at least three different carriers in operation, including cellphone providers.

That overruled a CRTC policy that said the existing phone companies would continue to face restrictions in the local phone market unless their competitors had a 25 per cent share of the market.

Bernier said the new policy, which takes effect April 18, would lead to more choice for consumers and lower prices. That's certainly what the incumbent phone companies were saying Thursday.

"Local service deregulation in Vancouver and Edmonton will bring the full benefits of competition to these cities," said Telus executive vice-president Janet Yale in a statement.

Aliant said its customers "will experience the full benefits of competition, with greater value through increased choice and flexible offers that can be delivered in a more timely manner."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lee Iaccoca tears Dubya a new one...

note: this is a remarkable piece of writing considering Lee Iaccoca's experience with being an influential leader. This alone gives hope that *some* powerful people are willing to speak out and "call a spade a spade".

George W. Bush brags about never reading a newspaper. "I just scan the headlines," he says. Am I hearing this right?

Click here to read an excerpt from Lee Iaccoca's new book "Where Have All The Leaders Gone?"

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Apple sells 100 million iPods

note: what's most newsworthy about this ariticle is that (as far as I know), this is the first time Apple has 'officially' acknowledged the number of units sold.


Apple Inc. says it has sold 100 million units of its iPod, with the Cupertino, Calif.-based company declaring the product is "the fastest-selling music player in history."
Since the first iPod was sold in November 2001, the device has become a defining icon in the portable music world.
The iPod has changed the way many music lovers acquire, store and listen to music, the company said. “Without the iPod, the digital music age would have been defined by files and folders instead of songs and albums,” musician John Mayer said in an Apple news release.
The iPod has become so popular that it has spawned spinoff industries that make everything from fashionable cases to speaker systems. More than 70 per cent of U.S. 2007 model vehicles have an iPod link, the company said.

The model and colour of number 100,000,000 are unknown, the website said, but "it appears to be in the company’s possession, rather than on a store’s shelves awaiting sale."
In January, 2005, Apple kept unit number 10,000,000 as a memento, ilounge said.
The iPod sales have been credited with boosting Apple's profits and stock price.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Under-reported stories # 2

Company says the substance will not endanger the environment

I'm not saying that this is under-reported right now. Let's hope this one stays in the news to see if they actually clean it up.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

In Debt We Trust

Independent journalist released from U.S. prison

Independent journalist Josh Wolf has been released from prison after spending over 225 days behind bars. The 24-year-old Wolf spent more time in jail than any journalist in US history for protecting his sources.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Basic cable service basically on its way to oblivion

Countries in Europe already switching off analog connections

Peter Nowak, CanWest News Service
Published: Monday, April 02, 2007

TORONTO - Television subscribers who haven't upgraded to digital won't have a choice for much longer -- basic TV is going the way of the dinosaur.

Basic cable television, where the set receives its signal from a plug in the wall or over an antenna, is being turned off around the world in favour of digital, which offers interactive features plus higher-quality video and sound through a decoder box that connects to the TV.

In December, the Netherlands became the first country to turn off basic television, otherwise known as analog, with all subscribers now on digital.

At least five European countries are set to follow this year, including the United Kingdom, Sweden and Finland. The United States will shut off in February 2009. Even China is tuning out, in 2015.

The governments in these countries have mandated the switch-off for a number of reasons, all of which inevitably come down to revenue. Turning off analog will free up a good deal of airwaves, which the government can auction off for other uses. It will also free up space on cable providers' pipes, which they can use to sell more high-definition programming.

Television makers will also benefit through increased sales of digital sets.

The downside, observers say, is that the consumer will end up paying for it. "It's all to sell more televisions," says Thomas Astebro, associate professor of strategic management for the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. "The equipment producers have an interest in people upgrading. It's giving a boost to this whole industry."

Canada's approach is unique in that the government has not ordered a switch-off and will instead rely on market forces. It won't be a forced death like elsewhere, but analog will still die in Canada.

Toronto-based Rogers Communications Inc., Canada's largest television provider, has 2.27 million total subscribers, 1.13 million of whom are on digital. The company is adding new digital customers or converting basic subscribers at a rate of 220,000 to 250,000 a year. At that pace, Rogers says it will have a digital box in each of its households within three to four years.

Digital is more lucrative for a cable provider in that customers must rent a box -- $3.99 a month in the case of Rogers -- and can use on-demand services such as pay per-view movies for an extra fee. Increased digital uptake is thus translating into better monthly average revenue per user.

The nation's second-largest cable provider, Calgary-based Shaw Communications Inc., has about 31 per cent of its 2.21 million TV subscribers on digital, but the pace of conversion is ramping up as well. In the company's third quarter ended Nov. 31, digital subscriber additions grew twice as fast as basic.

Jim Shaw, the company's chief executive, has echoed Rogers' sentiments saying he would "never" shut off analog.

The choice may not be in the hands of the cable companies, however. Television makers are ending production of analog-capable sets for the U.S. That production will have a spillover effect into Canada.

© The Edmonton Journal 2007

Monday, April 2, 2007

A Red Herring?

This article says that the CTF will increase spending to "$265 million on production of Canadian programming over the next 12 months, a slight increase in its annual budget".

However, the Harper Government has provided no more money in its recent budget.

Does this mean that there will be a slight decrease in the CTF's annual budget next year?

Or, does this mean that the broadcasters are making more money and therefore their CTF contributions are slightly bigger?

Is American programming paying for Canadian production?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Under-reported stories # 1

Forgive my tardiness in posting. The last few posts got "lost in the ether" as I seemed to have a bug in my blog account. (It's a don't find out until *after* you do all of the work that your post will "crash")

So, this will be brief but there is definately more to come in the next few days.

Here's a little story from 2005 that has some interesting relevance in today's world.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

My idea for the *new* Canadian Television Fund

(or, why I'll never become a politician)

I've got an idea! Why not let the broadcasters create their own funds like they want to do so badly. Let Shaw & Videotron put up their own money to finance production and own the rights (in other words: buy) and let them distribute the programs over the airwaves that they control. Fantastic.


Let's keep the CTF and make it 100% Canadian tax-payer owned, for the "Canadian" part of the Television Fund. Let's divert all war-bound money towards the creation of good story-telling as told by Canadians.

Just kidding...

Thursday, March 1, 2007

TV gets closer to the computer

Apple does NOT have the market cornered on video content convergence. Slingbox is taking TV to your computer...not the other way around.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

War?...What War?

Remember how Michael Jackson was bigger news than the Downing St. Memo?

Have you stopped to wonder yet why we all know so much about Anna Nicole , Britney and the Oscars and why we don`t hear about U.S. Warships gathering in anticipation of airstrikes on Iran?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why broadcasters put a high price on the internet

If the word pipeline is not enough to convince; check it out for yourself.

Antonia, my love!

God bless this woman for writing about the CTF and sharing her insight and opinion. I wish she wrote on media every day.

"Last, but far from least, since when does the protection of commercial interests so baldly trump the public interest? How much longer before all CRTC licensing hearings are held in private too? Don't they also deal with "commercial realities?" - Feb 27, 2007 - Toronto Star

Friday, February 23, 2007

Finally...we can start looking at the forest

ACTRA has ended its strike (pending ratification by its members, of course...I'll eat my keyboard if they don't), having won major concessions and stood firm for Canadian labour in the face of strong external pressure. Kudos to the ACTRA negotiating team and to the CFTPA for finding common language that allows us all to move on...for now.

The new agreement made significant gains in many areas for ACTRA members, and identified financial realities that producers face in this new age of content creation.

New Media

Despite reaching a tentative agreement on Feb. 16th, Hollywood flexed some muscle and kept the two sides from reaching a deal until the following week because the studios did not want to set a precedent on new media before heading into negotiations with SAG and the WGA later this year. The Americans have an agreement separate from the Canadian producers which allows them to negotiate on a "production-by-production" basis until the issue is "re-opened" in 2009.

It's ain't over 'til it's over

Let me re-iterate my thanks and support to both ACTRA & the CFTPA for meeting the challenges head on and for working so hard. That is (I feel), the real precedent which has set the stage for the next few years of what I believe will be constant negotiation between all parties in the broadcasting industry.

My concerns?
  1. Will the American studios approach the "production-by-production" basis of negotiation in the same fashion that they approached the IPA negotiations? Meaning: will they try to wear ACTRA down with prolonged disputes over single percentages on a "production-by-production"basis?
  2. Will the production industry (service industry specifically) continue to blame actors for the lack of production? Put another way: when SAG goes to the table with the AMPTP, will the actors be portrayed as "hurdles" on the way to a whole new world of advertising revenue?
  3. Will Canadian television programming even exist for Canadian producers to create and Canadian actors to work on?
But, doesn't Canadian TV suck?

No, the financing of Canadian TV sucks.

Now that we've managed a few of the trees, we're finally able to start looking at the forest. It's not good. The ACTRA strike was a (necessary) symptom of a larger disease. The CRTC has announced the creation of a "task force" which will re-evaluate the Canadian Television Fund. Who is on this task force? The very broadcasters who want it to end. And, to be clear, the very broadcasters who started the fund.

I could turn this into a very long blog post, but will end here and prepare for the next several posts. In the meantime, I'd like to refer back to the very first post I put up on this blog and remind you of "net neutrality".

How does "net neutrality" figure into the debate? Control of the internet is being decided in real time. What was the major sticking point for the ACTRA strike? The internet. Where do producers want to put their content? The internet. Where do the major Hollywood studios want to distribute their product? The internet. Where is video content going? You get the point.

If it's important for the boys at "the top"; why shouldn't it be important for us?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Viacom, Joost strike content licensing deal

Viacom pulls its content off of YouTube and gives it to Joost. Why? Because YouTube and Google are dragging their heels in paying producers of content their share of advertising revenue.

"It's unfortunate that Viacom will no longer be able to benefit from YouTube's passionate audience, which has helped to promote many of Viacom's shows. We have received a DMCA takedown request from Viacom, and we will comply with their request," said YouTube's statement.

James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research said, "On YouTube, if you watch a clip from The Colbert Report, you know he's going to say something funny tomorrow and you might then go watch it tomorrow on Comedy Central. You don't satisfy your urge by watching a two-minute clip. And I think Viacom knows that. They just want to be compensated for it. I don't think they are against it; they just want to make sure they have a cut".
An Army of "Think Tanks"

First of all; let's ask ourselves how an analyst can weigh in on programming matters like this. There are "think-tanks" out there dealing with new media issues. The notion that the landscape of new media is "yet to be discovered", is a red herring. There are a ton of very intelligent people working on new business models for the new world of broadband broadcasting. Bill Gates has said that the impact will be made palpable in the next five years. Bill Gates is very smart and often gets it right. Let's agree on this point for context.

Viacom has a catalogue of material that it can exploit in a new medium where there is great demand for content. For an analyst to say "you don't satisfy your urge by watching a two-minute clip" makes me question his analytic skills. The internet is *all* about satisfying your "two-minute urges". The internet is the internet. Television is television. The internet is not a proxy for the TV. It is the internet. Advertising space is space that is sold independently and its distribution is vast and far-reaching on the internet without being highly regulated.

You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave

The Devil in the Detail

So Shaw says that he'll resume payments as if this was all part of the master plan.
"We have had no attention from anyone on this issue. We say this is a terrible waste of a Canadian asset and that's why we took the action that we did." He also urged producers to create more television programming that appeals to Canadian viewers. "It's a challenge to the industry to be successful," Shaw said. "You can't be successful if you don't produce anything that Canadians want to watch." - Feb 2oth., Heritage Commons Committee appearance
And what, pray tell, is it that Canadians want to watch? I guess we'll have to wait for Shaw's Task Force to tell us.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What's missing from the conversation...

If we're lucky, there may come a time when we stop getting distracted from the real issue.

Everyone wants to tell their story.

Peladeau will pay into the fund. Government wins the day, right? Does that stop the constant mergers and aquisitions? Does it keep Rupert Murdoch more than two degrees separated from shaping Canadian culture?

Who's idea was the Canadian Television Fund in the first place?! The Broadcasters.

Who among us would be willing to pitch: "The Keith Mahar Story"? Not

Forget telling stories that are important to producers and actors; start thinking about stories that are important to the broadcasters.

No wonder we're all fleeing to the web.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Quebecor Fund

The "new Canadian Television Fund"

Now this is Canadian Government subsidies in jeopardy! Corporate broadcaster announces a "new programming fund". No sex scandals in our country, just vigorous policy debate. Doesn't it make the nipples tingle?

Who will win? Heritage Canada or Quebecor? Ooooh, the's like the final episode of Canadian Idol with Bev Oda and Pierre Karl Peladeau making it to the final two. Will the at-home viewing audience vote for the heritage minister or the broadcast tycoon? Who will win the hearts and minds of those glued to the tv with phone in hand just waiting for the phone-lines to open....

Of course, it's not that exciting, but when you consider that Pierre Karl Peladeau has announced a new $109-million fund for Canadian programming in light of his departure from the Canadian Television Fund, it does capture a bit of attention.

Bev Oda finally got enough fire in her to write a letter asking that Shaw and Videotron continue their monthly payments to the CTF, and didn't comment on the announcement by Videotron of the new $109-million fund.

However, it doesn't appear that Peladeau is reconsidering his plan.
"The Canadian Television Fund had been unable to figure out what the technology revolution is all about and it's making the situation very tough down the road to make sure that we will get some good Canadian content," Péladeau said, adding that Vidéotron wants to produce more Canadian content, not less. - Feb. 13/07
Would that be the Entertainment Tonight Canada type of Canadian content, or the Canadian Idol kind?

Working Class Actors?

We Shall Overcome

Actra Maritimes announced today that they will be joining the strike. And, as actors through and through (our "camera-whore" tendencies notwithstanding...meant with due affection), we sought out the very cameras that did not seek us out. That's right...the press didn't really show up for their part of the "press conference". Where were they? Covering Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean's address to the Provincial Legislature. Granted, it was an historic event for the province, but which is more relevant; a pseudo-royal figurehead addressing a roomful of capitalists or a unionized labour-force striking for the first time in its history in response to an industry wracked with turmoil? Hmm...arguments could be made for both sides, but let's stick with the tagline.

Are actors really "working class"?

Yes. It's hard to believe that an actor can be working class, what with the catered lunches and the pretty headshots printed by the hundreds, but actors are about as working class as you can get. Until they actually start working as actors, that is.

It's completely understandable that a producer (who only sees an actor "on the job"), could become embittered by seeing a "day-player" chowing down on a "substantial" snack after a luxurious twelve-hour turnaround, only to spend the day fraternizing with the cast and crew (that should be working) between naps in the trailer. I can see how a producer may get in the frame of mind to cut some costs. Reduce overhead...that kind of thing. But that's "on the day".

What about the rest of the year?

As an independent producer, I budget for the time that I spend developing projects and factor that number into my overall costs. I try to make a reasonable return on the investment of my time, knowing full-well that my producing "fee" will be the very first budget item to be "taken out of the equation" by a funding agency or a broadcaster (for development, that works for free in production). I'm poorly paid, I'll admit it. More people have made money from my projects than I have (I've made nothing, yet I've paid thousands). Sad hoo...I'll go stand in line with the other independent producers.

Fact is: in order to retain the rights to my "brainchild" of a project, I need to pay everyone what they expect to be paid as professionals. I don't quibble with my sound editor. He quotes his price, if I can't do it and he can't do it; we don't do it. I don't call him names or berate him publicly or chide him for not giving me my way because it would be unprofessional to do so.

So, how are actors working class?

As an actor, I've become a far better bartender than I had ever hoped to be. I've served dignitaries, I've served celebrities and I've served grease-monkeys. I can tell you with absolute certainty that they are all the same when it comes to an open-bar or whether they're the ones picking up the tab. They work hard and feel "entitled" to your service. That's not a glorious life in art; that's working-class.

I know actors who are more practiced at customer service than they are with their "art"; actors who make more money through carpentry and drywalling than from the commercials that supposedly "pay the bills" between "real" auditions. I've seen actors spend more money on acting classes than they have made that year as "talent". I've watched colleagues spend years paying "dues" not only in theory, but actual financial dues just to "belong" to the industry. These people work multiple jobs in other industries (industries that are actually in a position to give them paying jobs), only to fund the habit of auditioning with the money that they make. For the average Canadian actor (not the ones you see on TV regularly), landing a gig or two does not exactly become a "cash windfall", rather, it may just cover the costs incurred due to the lifestyle of just "being an actor".

Are artists "working class"? You bet we are.

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