The Liberal government has released its final policy direction for the Online Streaming Act, which requires digital giants to contribute to Canadian content while leaving individual content creators alone.
The controversial legislation aims to modernize Canada’s broadcasting regime. Canadian content has benefited from billions of dollars contributed by those broadcasting on TV, radio, cable and satellite, but Canadians are increasingly consuming content online.
On Tuesday, the Department of Canadian Heritage issued its final direction to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on the legislation in order to scope in streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and Apple because they also broadcast commercial content.
This marks the end of the government’s direct role with the law formerly known as Bill C-11 — the Liberal government’s second attempt to bring major online-streaming services into Canada’s broadcasting system and eventually have them contribute to supporting local music and stories.
“The sector needs to adapt to where the Canadian public is today. And we know Canadians look for their news and content online,” Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge said Tuesday in Montreal.
“This is a really important step to modernize this sector and to make sure that our Canadian voices are strong and alive in the online world.”
The final policy direction, which is binding, will apply to broadcast services, not content creators. That means those producing content on social media, podcasts and video games will not be regulated under the law, the policy direction shows.
Contributing to Canadian content
The CRTC has also said it will not regulate content creators, whether they upload makeup tutorials, review restaurants, dance to music trends, promote their local businesses or criticize the government.
Canadian Heritage said the act targets the kind of professional, licensed commercial content that is found in traditional broadcasting, such as TV and radio.
The possibility that content creators would fall within the scope of the Online Streaming Act had sparked a strong reaction, including from the Opposition Conservatives, who had argued it would amount to censorship — a claim St-Onge denies.
The New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois supported the bill.
While the implementation of the law is years away, it will require online broadcasters to contribute to the creation, production and distribution of Canadian content without changing their algorithms.
It also seeks to support Indigenous content and original French-language programming.
“The industry is getting more money to achieve their goals, to have good cultural products that can go into competition with everything,” said Tania Kontoyanni, president of Quebec’s Union des artistes, on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the Conservatives promised to repeal the act should they form government, arguing that imposing Canadian content rules on online-streaming services still amounts to overreach.
“Instead of removing barriers and giving creators and consumers freedom, the Liberal government is telling homegrown talent they will not succeed unless they meet the approval of government bureaucrats in Ottawa,” Conservative MP Rachael Thomas, the heritage critic for her party, said in a written statement.
The CRTC is now tasked with creating the regulations, work which will include major public consultations on defining, or redefining, Canadian content. This will include speaking with Indigenous, ethnocultural groups and official language minority communities.
Once a definition is in place, the CRTC has said it will start looking at streaming companies to see whether the new broadcasting rules will apply to them. But that is still years away.
Since the law follows years of consultations, St-Onge said, the final policy direction is similar to the draft version from earlier this year.
The Canadian Association of Broadcasters said the final direction creates a level playing field for local broadcasters that compete with foreign platforms for audiences, subscribers, advertisers and program rights.
“To continue their contributions to the creation of Canadian content, especially essential news and information programming, Canadian broadcasters must be provided with an equitable framework,” said the association’s president Kevin Desjardins in a statement.
The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists said the law will strengthen the Canadian screen industry.
“Today’s directives give hope that Canadian content producers and performers will be supported,” said Eleanor Noble, its national president.