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.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Producers have "rights" too...don't they?

It Pays To Belong

The heart of any issue comes down to "rights"; who has them and at what price can they be paid/sold for.

For the musician it's "copyright" to the song that he/she has written. For the actor it's the "right" to have their work be compensated in the form of a base wage and a "royalty" for it's commercial exploitation in various "markets". For the auto-worker it's the "right" to be paid a fair wage for his/her time in the creation of each vehicle valued against the "market price" and overall "profitability" of the product. For the producer it's the responsibility to secure the "rights" of everyone involved in the project and be able to provide documentation that a) the "rights" have been secured and, b) the "rights" have been paid for.

It's a real f%@*in' headache!

But a lucrative headache if you know what you're doing.

The CFTPA has its own "rights" collecting body: the Canadian Retransmission Collective.

A hundred million dollars… and counting! Film and television producers increasingly recognize just how valuable – and essential –retransmission royalties really are.”
- Guy Mayson, President & CEO, Canadian Film and Television Production Association (CFTPA)

Producers collect these very lucrative royalties as the "rights holder" to a project. That means that they have paid everyone out in advance. Organizations such as SOCAN for the rights to a particular song to create a mood. Or the DGC for hiring a director whose vision gave the piece it's shape. Or the WGC for the writer that provided the script. They're even protected against an over-zealous caterer who may feel that they gave the producer some "advice" on set that ended up in the final cut through "E&O insurance". The point is: everyone gets paid the wage that they agree to work for. If a producer feels that the license fee offered by the broadcaster isn't worth the cost of doing business, the producer is within their "rights" not to sell.


Dean Ferris, Fox Entertainment Group exec. VP, labor relations (meaning: he's the one that negotiates labour disputes with unions on behalf of Fox - on behalf of Rupert Murdoch, no less), has said on behalf of the CFTPA's American counterpart:
"We're up here in an effort to create employment, and we refuse to fight ACTRA on these proposals. If they don't want us to bring work to Canada, we'll go home. No fight, no problem."
If it's "no problem", then how can we be devastating the industry? If the American producers are up here to "create employment", then how does the responsibility for a faltering industry fall upon those actors who do not create work?


There are Actor/Producers aplenty (think: George Clooney, Drew Barrymore, Paul Gross, Don McKellar), but how many Producer/Actors are there? Point being; do you think there's any correlation at all between actors desiring to produce and producers *not* desiring to act? It may be that the economics of producing hold a better return on investment with more creative control in the long run.

Perhaps it's a bit flippant to speculate at this early date, but suffice it to say, Canadian actors should look at this round of negotiation as an introduction to the costs of doing business from a production standpoint since they may be producing their own projects in the near future. This isn't necessarily a negative outcome, but an outcome that is entirely possible given the radical shift in the industry from "subsidized" production to "market friendly" production.

There are worse things than artist-driven projects, and producer-driven projects will always leave us sitting in the backseat. Maybe this year will bring about a real change for the acting world in Canada and who knows....maybe we'll be able to get a piece of the "hundred million dollars and counting" when we start creating our "Syriana's".

Thursday, February 8, 2007

We Are The Machine

Web 2.0

This is an interesting take on the internet as we know it. I wish Marshall McLuhan was still alive.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

How we got hosed...I mean "soaked" Pt. 1

The Canadian Television Fund...illegal?

Antonia Zerbisias has brought to light some great info should you be interested to see how corrupt the system has gotten. Keith Mahar has been taking on a huge battle and we would do well to support him in getting his message out there. The following is an excerpt from Mahar's letter to PM Paul Martin regarding CRTC corruption:

CRTC Chairman Keith Spicer addressed the fact the CCTA proposal would allow the cable television industry to overcharge basic cable subscribers in order to subsidize other business ventures that had nothing to do with broadcasting, and that subscribers would probably not even notice this happening. The CRTC Chairman, however, did not object to the industry's unorthodox proposal. He did, however, object that the $100 million amount to be diverted to the Canadian production companies under the industry plan was inadequate in his opinion.

"First we saw $100 million and then we found out very quickly it was over five years. It was only up to $100 million. We learned yesterday it's voluntary. I appreciate that your company made a firm commitment. ...
Still, we haven't got money on the table, numbers on the table that we can count on. I don't think you would ever sign a business deal in which the other guy had to give you $100 million but on a voluntary basis.

"You are asking us to soak -- well, let's say to invite the Canadian subscribers to come up with quite a lot of money for your industry to build an infrastructure which would be used no doubt to defend Canadian programming, but also down the road five years a whole lot of other services that have nothing to do with what normal people call television what with home shopping, banking, and things in which the industry will make some honest money, and good for them. But we should know what we are asking these people to pay for.

"It seems to me the quid pro quo is not as firm as the demand you are making upon the subscriber. Your industry wants the subscribers commitment to the industry to be absolutely firm and to come right off their cable bill. They probably won't even notice it. But the industry's commitment to the subscriber and to Canada and to the creative community, which will be the immediate beneficiary, is very shaky.

"We have to take that into account. If there is anything you can do within the industry to firm up that commitment, that major quid pro quo which I say in the name of my colleagues, we find extremely promising. It's a new door that you have opened. We think it is a very useful and exciting path for the industry to consider. But if we are going to really consider this range of proposals you are putting forward, that among other things would have to be firmed up very considerably." [emphasis added]

*Transcript of CRTC public hearing, CRTC Chairman Keith Spicer, 4 March 1993, p. 1153-54

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The climate change of Canadian production

R.I.P. "Producer/Writer"

I just spent the past two days at the NSFDC "Business Issues 2007" meeting (was it a seminar, or a conference?), where I learned more about the business of television in two days as a producer than I did in 12 years as an actor.

The event, moderated by Paul Kimball, was a fascinating discussion on "Maximizing Revenue for your Production Company" that began with Michael Donovan (who was compelling, if not jaundiced, in his stream-of-consciousness take on the industry which was decidedly unencouraging to the "little guy"...perhaps to save us a lifetime of heartbreak), and ended with Stephen Comeau telling us "how easy" it is to promote your wares on YouTube and MySpace (seriously...that's what we call in the acting world - "phoning it in" - no disrespect to the NSFDC intended; they put on a great forum for discussion, but we didn't need two full days of focused discussion to culminate in a "pep talk" of how YouTube and MySpace are "free" and "easy" ways to promote "your property").

What I found most stunning, and ultimately disappointing, was the utter lack of mention for the state of the Canadian Televison Fund under the current circumstances of Shaw Communications and Videotron withdrawing their funding from this fundamental source of financing for all Canadian independent producers. It wasn't until the last moment of the last day when the moderator asked, "any last comments?", that one producer piped up to ask Claude Galipeau of his opinion of the actions by Shaw & Videotron. Galipeau gave an answer befitting a broadcaster (that is ulitmately owned by an American investment bank - and of course, it's shareholders), without burning any bridges within either the private or public sphere, and erred on the side of saying "it's scary for all of us", knowing full-well that his publicly traded company owns a controlling interest in the CSI: Franchise. (Translation: Alliance Atlantis doesn't rely on CTF funding the same way that independent producers do - they have access to capital when the proverbial "shit hits the fan")

How can it be, that "industry experts" (it truly was an impressive gathering of knowledgeable speakers), get flown all the way to Halifax on the taxpayers dime and not one of the discussions were focused on (arguably) the most important issue facing the industry today? How can we even begin to discuss "maximizing revenues" when the funding is "dead" and "gone"? How is it even possible to get a room full of producers to *NOT* talk about the ramifications of the death of the CTF? Why was the CTF not considered a "business issue" in a forum titled, "Business Issues 2007"?

This fund provides 20-30% of an independent producers budget. To be clear, it's not that producers or the presenters didn't have opinions on the matter (some could be overheard in corners during the coffee-breaks), but it wasn't a talking point on the agenda. Apart from Claude Galipeau giving a small (and welcomed), rant on the topic the only other utterance on the subject was Michael Donovan suggesting that we should "be thinking about it morning, noon and night". (uh...we do...why didn't we talk about it?)

The age of "Producer/Market Analyst"

Producers aren't being asked to find good stories anymore; they're being asked to find "their target audiences". Those audiences that we can figure out how to monetize and ultimately seduce advertisers with which to coax the dollars out of. Capiche?

As wonderful as it was to be sitting in a room with people facing the same problems and looking for the same answers, it struck me that we were learning to speak the language of advertisers instead of learning to speak with our own voices. Perhaps I'm slow in coming around to this understanding, while the rest of the producers in the country are miles ahead. I'm young(er), I'll admit that.

Financial Risk Transfer

At the end of the day, all financial risks have to be accounted for by the producer. Who will watch this? Who will pay for advertising around this? Who owns the rights? Who pays the copyright holder? Who has to be paid more and who can be talked into taking less? Who pays for the E&O insurance?

Maybe this all feeds into the CFTPA's resentment of ACTRA since the actor gets an "upfront fee" as opposed to a "backend profit". (translation: the actor is guaranteed payment for a day's work while the producer who has spent years developing the project has no guarantee of payment and all of the responsibility for the finances)

It was truly fascinating to watch Stephen Comeau lecture the room on the new and exciting ways to capitalize on internet-based models for promoting and distributing content throughout the world of new media and still maintain that actors are unreasonable for expecting to negotiate a fair payment structure within this new framework. It's like an Industrialist saying to a labourer, "I've just discovered a way to make a cheaper product and reach a wider consumer light of this, you're getting a pay cut." Sure, the CFTPA's position is that the new media landscape is still too new and unknown, but they are certainly aware of the possibilities on the horizon and are doing *everything* within their power to exploit those possibilities (read: advertising revenue).

There's something happening here, but you don't know what it is.

Hello Highspeed Internet, Goodbye Canadian Television

Not that "I" told you so: "They're" telling us "it is so"

Videotron (who has pulled their funding from the CTF), has announced that they will be introducing a new ultra High-speed internet to its client base that is 400% faster than current service. CBC states, "Videotron said the higher speeds could transform its offerings, especially with the explosion of online video." (emphasis added)

Is media consolidation really happening in Canada?

Yes Virginia, days prior to the announcement of the new ultra High-speed internet service from Videotron, Rogers announced an "on-line content deal" with Videotron's parent company Quebecor (who boasts having former PM Mulroney on its executive staff). The deal bundles, "content from 11 magazines on the Internet, in a deal that will create a major online presence by combining stories from some of the country's best-known magazine websites". Hmmm...what else could they possibly bundle on-line?
I guess it makes sense to pull out of the Canadian Television Fund when you believe that television "ain't where it's at" for your advertising bucks anymore.

You say Goodbye, I say Hello

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