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.




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was just commenting on this on my own blog. I didn't realize this thing had been brewing up. Would this effect Degrassi?

BTW, my blog is

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