Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Where's the CTF money going?

In all fairness to Jim Shaw and Pierre Karl Peladeau (of Shaw and Videotron, respectively), accountability is a fair thing to expect from a fund made up of private and public tax money. I know that the little bit of money that comes from my small income tax return will never amount to the $74 million per year that those guys carve off of their revenues for the money that gets divided among how many independent producers after the "Crown", under the auspices of the CBC, takes their 37% cut.

I share the private sector's beef with the "ceeb" because, truly, the CBC sucks at programming. Big time.

Not that I don't love Peter Mansbridge or enjoy waking up to Heather Hiscox every morning. I won't even hold Jian Ghomeshi responsible for the rash that I get every time I hear is voice (I do however, hold George Stromboulopolous guilty as charged for agreeing to be the face of The Hour), but it truly falls in the laps of those few people at the CBC who make the "decisions" that piss of people like Jim Shaw and Pierre Karl Peladeau. Why shouldn't the private contributors be able to have a hand in influencing the programming that their $$,$$$,$$$ are paying for? Maybe Shaw or Peladeau have some people working for them who know how to make a CBC show that's a) Canadian and, b) entertaining....nah, they'd just program something that the 1st AD on Survivor: The Outback produced in Studio City. But anyway...

The CBC does not know what it means to be Canadian...

...because they keep showing stories about anything *BUT* what is happening in Canada (note: they do however love spinning yarns about what has happened in the past). Why? Because they are a Broadcaster themselves. Why should broadcasters (i.e. - anyone paying into the TV fund) be paying "tax" to another broadcaster?

None of the posts about the CTF in this blog should be construed as praise for the fund, but rather, as an alarm bell for how money gets taken out of Canada by large corporations who could give a s@*t about anything other than shareholder confidence and a "bottom line". It's harsh, I know, I apologize - I do. It's a Catch 22, "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario when discussing out loud - the funding process for production in this country that producers and actors depend on.

We haven't even begun to talk about the audience.

Canadian Art. Canadian Stories. Canadian Canadiana.....let's just start telling stories that we each care about and stop waiting for the government sanctioned broadcaster to tell us that "it's here!".

The following video is an example of Canadian taxpayer funding gone terribly wrong:

Statement following the meeting with the principal funders of the Canadian Television Fund (CTF)

OTTAWA, January 30, 2007

By the Honourable Beverley J. Oda
Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women

Recognizing the importance of the situation last week, I called this meeting and also announced Canada's New Government's contribution to the CTF of $200M for two years. This announcement was made to demonstrate the Government's commitment to Canadian content and the Canadian broadcasting system. It was made to provide some stability to the production of quality Canadian programming.

Our Government is committed to our Canadian production industry and to a strong broadcasting system.

I am pleased to have met with the principal funders of the CTF today. It was an insightful meeting.

I understood that there have been concerns with the CTF for many years, and that those concerns of the private sector contributors have not been fully satisfied.

Today's meeting allowed me to have a fuller explanation of the concerns of some funders from the private sector, and the reasons why their positions are being taken.

As they wrote in their letters that I received, they expressed their concerns regarding the governance of the CTF and the CBC/SRC's envelope. However, they also strongly pointed out that they believe that the broadcasting system's new realities are not being recognized by the current structure of the CTF.

I am looking forward to meet with the Chair of the CTF to pass on to him their concerns and the discussions of today's meeting.

They All Laughed At Christopher Columbus

When He Said The World Was Round.

And they thought Bill Gates was nuts when he predicted that there would be a computer in every household. Now the Microsoft Chairman is claiming that the Internet is set to revolutionize television within five years, due to an explosion of online video content and the merging of PCs and TV sets.

The interesting part of this statement (to me at least), is that it was made during the 2007 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting (this year's meeting was ironically titled, "The Shifting Power Equation") which draws top political and business figures throughout the world to discuss relevant economic issues. It's further evidence that the broadcasting of TV quality programming on the internet is of economic interest to a wider audience than just actors and producers.

Goodbye Canadian TV Fund?

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Quoted from today's Globe & Mail:

"Behind closed doors, the four companies (Shaw, Videotron, Bell ExpressVu & Rogers), raised concerns over how the fund is structured, who is eligible to receive money and whether the dollars are producing enough worthwhile programs -- a criticism raised by Shaw."

"Where The Dogs Of Society Howl".

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What the "F" do phones have to do with actors?

In yesterday's post, I made reference to the fact that broadcasters are getting into the telephone industry.
"What does high-speed internet mean to an ACTRA member?
It means that phone companies are going on-line (i.e. - VoiP). It means that the companies that will be contracting actors are ultimately producing content for subsidiaries of parent companies who will be exploiting that content far beyond the "Tuesday night at 8pm" timeslot."
The Globe and Mail ran an article today titled, "Cable Firms Seen
Pushing Into Phone Market" saying:

"The cable giants, including Rogers Communications Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc. will roll out phone service across their entire territory during the year, reaching more clients...the push into the phone market is also helping other cable businesses...It's bolstering demand for basic and digital cable and Internet service, and letting cable operators raise rates"
While this news may not exactly set your hair on fire, what it describes is an environment in which players like Shaw (which has pulled its funding to the CTF), are not only able to influence the creation of content (via: the funding of independent production), but also able to control the distribution of content by being a sole provider of cable, internet and high definition video programming (not to mention your phone service - land and wireless - where you can also receive their programming via mobile cell phone content).

"Video on Demand" takes on a whole new meaning.

One-stop shopping.

The problem with one-stop shopping is that it usually has one person deciding what gets sold behind the doors.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Why fight to work?

"Let's Call The Whole Thing Off"

Let's just say, for the sake of arguement, that ACTRA and the CFTPA work it all out over the next week. Maybe they call each other at the same time, you know, and have one of those awkward chuckles and say at the same time, "Oh, I was just about to call, you go first", and they both agree to resolve their differences and the memberships of both associations are reasonably satisfied with a new collective agreement with the new media issue going to a joint committee for the next year. Highly improbable, but let's just....say.

Where's The Work?

I don't know about you, but the strike hasn't really changed my life as an actor. I'm getting about the same amount of auditions and therefore the same amount of work (read: zero. Granted, I no longer live in Toronto, but I do live in Halifax. Anecdotal evidence tells me that my fellow ACTRA members are having a similar experience to mine).

To be clear, I support ACTRA and the decision to strike against Producers who continue to believe that they are the employers and we are their employees. As mentioned in previous posts, the entire industry is being renegotiated from the top down, so why shouldn't ACTRA be guarding our wage minimums? (note: where there are new channels of distribution; there are new channels of revenue...capiche?) AND, I certainly don't hold ACTRA responsible for the "drought" of production in Canada. BUT...

Seriously, where's the work?

The strike shows no signs of ending in the near future, what with the CFTPA taking ACTRA to court and challenging, not only the legality of the strike, but ACTRA's legality as a trade union.

How long can it last? Who knows? There aren't any press releases or bulletins being released saying "there's a light at the end of the tunnel". Some producers who feel "extorted" by ACTRA have stock-piled work in anticipation of the strike (which would somewhat undermine the "extortion theory" since they stock-piled in advance under the old rules, knowing full-well what was "blowing in the wind"...). Others could begin outsourcing the work to circumnavigate ACTRA's jurisdiction. So, while we have producers storing their proverbial "nuts" for this "winter of our discontent," having assured their own productivity - and therefore - cash flow; ACTRA members may find themselves in the future with a new collective agreement in an industry that looks wildly different than the one that was covered by the last IPA.

The "new" industry looks a whole lot different than the old one.

The topic of "the new industry" will be the focus of this entire blog site. But, it begs the question; how do we know what the 'new' industry will look like? Answer: by looking at what the producers and broadcasters are fighting for.

What are they fighting for? Well...they don't really fight per se, as it's "unbecoming" of a CEO to "pitch a fit" in public, but don't kid yourself; when Jim Shaw or Karl Peladeau pull tens of millions of dollars out of something like the Canadian Television Fund, they know exactly what kind of statement they're making. Sure, they "say" that they'll be pouring the money back into Canadian productions, but what does that mean exactly?

While a Videotron or a Shaw may pay lip service to investing in Canadian production, they may only mean; productions that are considered "Canadian" under the CanCon rules which are laid out by the CRTC, which is currently becoming even more "market friendly" and receiving an extreme makeover. (note: Jim Shaw is "fine" with the appointment of the new CRTC chief...does this mean that Shaw feels that the head of the CRTC will be "on his side" when they start negotiating the pull-out of funds with Heritage Minister Bev Oda?)

Where are they spending their money right now?

In order to understand what the industry will look like "post-strike", we need to understand that what is happening in "real-time" (read: while we're looking the other way - and by this I mean, the membership, not the executive of ACTRA), is that the industry is undergoing another phase of deregulation. It comes in phases. They can't deregulate an entire industry at once, this is but a "phase", albeit a massive phase which will definately go down in the history books.

The broadcasters are dumping their money into investment in telecom and broadband infrastructure. (meaning: high-speed internet) Why? Because broadcasters, by and large, are also telecommunications companies, or "wholly-owned" subsidiaries of telecom companies or about to become wholly-owned subsidiaries of telecom companies.

What does high-speed internet mean to an ACTRA member?

It means that distribution - and therefore advertising revenue - possibilities have been blown wide open. ACTRA is a union that stands in the way of producers, distributors and broadcasters who are finding new and exciting ways to get their projects into previously difficult territories. Corporations hate unions. Upset union-leaders in turn, upset shareholder confidence.

It means that phone companies are going on-line (i.e. - VoiP). It means that the companies that will be contracting actors are ultimately producing content for subsidiaries of parent companies who will be exploiting that content far beyond the "Tuesday night at 8pm" timeslot.

It means...

Video on Demand is the "new industry".

ACTRA is doing the right thing by drawing a line in the sand when it comes to new media. However, we'd better start figuring out what the entire landscape looks like before we draw all of our "borders". Presumably, that's why ACTRA wants to put the issue to a joint committee to see "how it pans out."

As one ACTRA member to another, let me suggest that this discussion should not be left solely to the boys in the boardroom. Supporting our union with a mandate is of course crucial.

Supporting them with our informed opinions will be critical in the coming year.

"Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss"

The "Barker Channel"

A "barker channel" is described as "a TV channel that is used almost entirely for promotion and advertising, usually marketing various features of the service carrying the channel."

Made me think of the occupation of a "barker".

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why We Should Care About TV...

Well...we shouldn't. Sorry...but really, why should we care for TV? Does it care for us? Of course not. Television, as the audience thinks of it is the place to find their favorite shows. Television, as the advertisers think of it (and therefore broadcasters and networks), is the "thing" that happens between commercials. Like it or lump it, that's what it is.

Why should we care about Broadcasters (Shaw Communications & Videotron) pulling their monthly contributions out of the Canadian Television Fund? For the same reason that you should care about 'Net Neutrality'. Why should you care about network neutrality? If you are an actor, producer, writer, journalist, director... if you are a person that makes even a modicum of money in this business, you should care about network neutrality and the consolidation of the broadcast industry in the same fashion that you should care about the reasons behind the majority of produce in your local supermarket bearing the stamp "U.S.A. Grade A" when you're living in the middle of a Canadian agricultural centre.

The internet and the "airwaves" belong to the public. You pay for the service that connects you to that domain (ie. Sympatico for Web & Rogers for TV). The problem is: the general public isn't aware of this and doesn't understand how programming reaches them, probably because that information is far less entertaining than watching people crash and burn on American Idol.

Let's back up a bit.


Goldman Sachs, under the auspices of CanWest Global has purchased Alliance Atlantis for an estimated $2.3 billion.

Alliance Atlantis is one of the largest distributors of media content in Canada. It is also a broadcaster of 13 "specialty channels". CanWest Global owns newspapers, radio stations and of course, a few very well-known television stations. Goldman Sachs is an investment bank, but not just any investment bank. It's a "primary dealer" which means that it is one of only a few banks allowed to do business directly with the Federal Reserve (the U.S. central bank). I guess if you're gonna ask to be backed for $2.3 billion, you need a few friends in high places (note: current U.S. Sec. of the Treasury had to step down as CEO of Goldman Sachs in June of 2006 to answer the "call" of Pres. Bush). And if you're spending $2.3 billion, you have to have some pretty specific goals on paper to "sell" your plan.


7 of 13 seats open for new Commissioners on the CRTC

Appointments are made at the Prime Minister's discretion. He's clearly stated his intention to appoint commissioners who are "market friendly". I don't see how they could get "less market friendly" than they already are. I guess it's just a matter of nuance, but it's a big enough "nuance" to be of great importance to the Prime Minister's Office.


Shaw & Videotron pull out of the Canadian Television Fund.

Not that the funding model for Canadian television isn't flawed (that's why the Auditor General wrote a report calling those flaws to national attention), but the question has now become: is flawed funding better than no funding at all?

Considering that Brian Mulroney is part of the corporate governance of Videotron's parent company, it's reasonable to assume that these CEO's (Jim Shaw & Pierre Karl Peladeau), who signed the letters addressed to the Chairman of the CTF, have received "advice" from reliable sources. If Brian Mulroney needs to know from Stephen Harper whether or not the CTF is still a "good bet" for his company's $14.3 million annual contribution, don't you think he could find that info out "from the horse's mouth"?


Federal funding of the Canadian Television Fund to be 'reviewed' in 2007

PM Harper has a mandate to re-evaluate whether or not the Federal government should continue to provide half of the funding for the $200+ million Canadian television programming fund. Granted, Heritage Minister Bev Oda (a former Broadcasting exec. and CRTC Commissioner herself), has recently announced that they will continue to contribute for the next two years, but the "review" is still going to happen and may happen sooner than expected.


ACTRA strikes and the CFTPA "fiddles while the industry burns"

(Full disclosure: I'm an independent producer and an ACTRA member)

For the first time in ACTRA's 64-year history, it's membership has gone on strike. Let's get one thing straight: actors are on strike . Not teachers, not auto workers, not coal miners or nurses; actors. They're not trying to keep their full-time jobs or even be guaranteed a job; they're trying to guarantee that when there is a job they don't make less than they did in previous years.

The key issue?

Digital distribution, new media and the internet.

Although the CFTPA has decided to take ACTRA to court rather than negotiate, I was able to get an idea from ACTRA of the rates that they are asking for with regards to internet distribution. The residual payments for internet distribution that are being requested by ACTRA are very similar to the percentages that a producer would have to pay for "theatrical distribution". Meaning: in terms of distribution, the internet is not seen as an equivalent to television, and is viewed more on par with film projects which are "on demand" (you can see a film in different theatres at different times and rent/buy the DVD) and do not require a schedule - i.e. "Thursday night at 8pm on Global". Perhaps the additional 25% residual payment (i.e. - 130% buyout for film as opposed to 105% buyout for TV), is not something which the TV producer is accustomed to, but this is an industry which is being renegotiated from the top down.

What we see is an industry that is undergoing massive change. For lack of a better term, it's a feeding frenzy. Google buys Youtube. Rupert Murdoch (owner of Fox) buys everything he can.

To put it bluntly: the Television Industry is not dying because of a lack of money...there's a shitload of money being spent precisely because everyone at the top (i.e. - broadcasters), believes that there is an even bigger shitload of money to be made. To be made where? On the internet. Broadcasters know this. Distributors know this. Producers know this. ACTRA knows this.

Is it unreasonable in this climate for ACTRA to stand firm and not give away wage standards that it has fought for in previous years? Is it unreasonable for ACTRA to refer the new media issue to a separate committee for a year while we see how things develop?

If the broadcasters and distributors are allowed to negotiate and make money; why can't actors?

We're in for a helluva fight. Not just as actors, but as citizens.




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