THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORT
OTTAWA, Wednesday, October 29, 2014
The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications met
this day at 6:45 p.m. to examine the challenges faced by the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation in relation to the changing environment of broadcasting
Senator Dennis Dawson (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, I call this meeting
of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications to order.
Today, we continue our study of the challenges faced by the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation in relation to the changing environment of broadcasting
We have two organizations before us today. From Telefilm Canada,
we have Ms. Carolle Brabant, Executive Director; Mr. Dave Forget, Director,
Business Affairs and Certification; and Mr. Jean-Claude Mahé, Director, Public
and Governmental Affairs. From the National Film Board of Canada, we have
Mr. Claude Joli-Coeur, Acting Government Film Commissioner and Chairperson; and
Ms. Deborah Drisdell, Director General, Accessibility and Digital Enterprises.
I will invite each organization that wants to make a presentation
to do so, but I think we'll be starting with the National Film Board.
Claude Joli-Coeur, Acting Government Film Commissioner and
Chairperson of the National Film Board of Canada, Commissioner’s Office:
Good evening. To begin, I would like to thank the committee for inviting us to
participate in the study of the challenges faced by the Société Radio-Canada in
relation to the changing environment of broadcasting and communications.
We have been asked to talk about the NFB’s mandate and its
specificity in comparison with other government cultural agencies. We will also
present in some detail the terms of our collaboration with la Société
Radio-Canada/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and identify potential areas of
The National Film Board of Canada was created by an Act of
Parliament in 1939 and is a federal agency within the Canadian Heritage
portfolio. Our mandate is to produce and distribute original and innovative
audiovisual works that add to our understanding of the issues facing Canadians
and raise awareness of Canadian values and viewpoints across the country and
around the world.
As a producer and distributor of Canadian audiovisual works, the
NFB produces documentaries, auteur animation, interactive content and mobile
applications. Since it was founded, the institution has garnered more than
5,000 awards for its works, including 12 Oscars.
Since its creation, the NFB has been committed to reaching
Canadians where they live, by every means possible. Today, the advent of new
technologies has enabled the NFB to begin writing a new page in its history by
regaining this proximity with its audience.
Deborah Drisdell, Director General, Accessibility and Digital
Enterprises, National Film Board of Canada: In 2008, we recognized the
potential of digital technologies to reconnect with Canadians, to further engage
with our audiences, at home and around the world. We also foresaw the
marketplace disruption that would ensue, not by the technology per se but from
the evolving consumer behaviour that technology enables. We then undertook an
ambitious digital distribution strategy to increase accessibility, in addition
to our continued efforts in traditional markets.
In 2009, we launched our online screening room, streaming 750
titles in English and French, and we also deployed an aggressive expansion to
mobile platforms. The development of our digital infrastructure enabled us to
create mobile applications that further enhance our audience's experience and
encourage the rediscovery of our collection by new audiences.
Audiences can now download or stream over 2,500 films from the
NFB collection and view them online, on mobile devices or on connected
televisions. Since our launch, we have registered over 57 million views of our
programming on nfb.ca and our partner sites. There have been over 2.4 million
downloads of our various applications.
This strategy helped us to follow the evolution of the commercial
marketplace, which was felt more particularly by the niche content that we
produce. Though historically, broadcast revenue was a significant portion of our
revenues, it now comprises less than 25 per cent of the revenue earned by the
Film Board, and Canadian broadcast audiences represented only 32 per cent of our
total audiences last year.
Though CBC and Société Radio-Canada are important partners for
the NFB, we also broadcast our content on a number of other Canadian
broadcasters, such as Silver Screen, TVOntario and Télé-Québec, to name a few.
In 2013-14, CBC broadcasts generated 10 per cent of our Canadian television
audience, Société Radio-Canada generated 6 per cent and the Doc Channel
generated 15 per cent.
Mr. Joli-Coeur: The National Film Board stands apart from
other Canadian arts and media institutions for its unique mandate of producing
and distributing audiovisual works that focus on Canadian society and culture.
The CBC/SRC, as a public broadcaster mandated to “provide radio
and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs,
enlightens and entertains”, has traditionally included a broad array of
documentary productions in their programming offer — including some NFB
productions and co-productions. Its journalistic approach to documentary,
however, differs from the NFB’s emphasis on point-of-view documentary
Thus, with the growing fragmentation of the industry, the space
for auteur animation and creative documentary on television (public and private)
has drastically diminished. However, the NFB remains firmly committed to
producing and distributing auteur animation, interactive programming and
point-of-view documentary work — a form that some have argued should be
officially recognized as Canada’s national art form.
The collaboration between the CBC/SRC has existed for many
decades and has many dimensions. This collaboration has changed over the years
and today primarily revolves around the following elements: sales and pre-sales
of NFB productions and co-productions, the Documentary Channel, the Concours
Tremplin for emerging filmmakers, and the distribution of archival footage
through the Web site NFB/ONF Images.
Over the last five years, CBC, SRC and the CBC-operated
Documentary Channel have acquired a total of 396 titles from the NFB. The vast
majority of our business links with CBC/SRC are indirect as they consist of
presales agreements with our co-producers for broadcast on one of the
corporation's conventional networks or on one of its specialty services, such as
RDI, or on Nouveaux médias, Radio-Canada's web platform.
In the last three years, presales agreements have been signed
with the CBC/SRC for six English-language co-productions and 10 French-language
One good example of a successful collaboration is the recent
launch of the centennial tribute, The Van Doos, 100 Years with the Royal 22e
Regiment, in which the SRC participated financially. In the week this
documentary launched, over 500,000 people saw this work on the airwaves of RDI.
The NFB is involved with the specialty television station the
Documentary Channel, which has belonged to the CBC since June 2007. The
Documentary Channel has acquired numerous documentaries from the NFB, both
collection content at a set price and new productions at a price based on market
The Concours Tremplin is one element of the NFB's initiative to
discover and promote the talent of emerging filmmakers from the country's
minority French-speaking communities. The SRC is a major partner, providing not
only financial support for the competition, but also broadcasting the works on
its airwaves. In March 2014, we launched the eighth edition of the Tremplin in
collaboration with the SRC, which enabled the four winners to create short
Finally, the NFB has two agreements with the SRC to distribute
and sell archival footage through the NFB Images website. At present, 135 hours
of SRC archives are offered for sale on the NFB Images site.
Mr. Joli-Coeur: For many years, there have been multiple
avenues of collaboration between the NFB and the CBC/SRC. These joint efforts
have made it possible to take advantage of the synergy between the two
institutions and the complementarity of their respective mandate. As the market,
technologies and audiences evolve, there is great potential for new
collaborations in the future between the institutions. The NFB wishes to salute
the Senate’s efforts to examine the challenges facing the CBC and SRC, and we
hope that your reflections help preserve the vitality of our public cultural and
radio-broadcasting institutions. Thank you for your invitation, and we would be
pleased to answer any questions.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Joli-Coeur. From Telefilm, we
welcome Ms. Brabant. Go ahead, Ms. Brabant, the floor is yours.
Carolle Brabant, Executive Director, Canadian Heritage,
Telefilm Canada: Good evening, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. I
would first like to thank you for the invitation to take part in the committee’s
examination of the challenges faced by the CBC/Radio-Canada in relation to the
changing environment of broadcasting and communications.
My comments will focus on the following three areas: an overview
on Telefilm Canada and our strategic priorities vis-à-vis the evolving
broadcasting landscape; the role of the CBC/Radio Canada in support of Canadian
content and in particular, Canadian feature films; and our perspective on the
future of the audiovisual industry in the context of convergence.
Telefilm Canada is a federal cultural agency with a mandate to
foster and promote the development of the audiovisual industry in Canada. In
this regard, we play a leadership role through financial support and initiatives
that contribute to the industry’s cultural, industrial and commercial success.
Our funding programs provide financial support to dynamic Canadian production
and distribution companies across the country. Last year, we supported some
90 feature films in both production and marketing. We also promote Canadian
audiovisual success and talent at festivals, markets and events, regionally,
nationally and around the world.
Telefilm values regional and diverse perspectives, including
those of emerging talent and of linguistic minorities, as well as culturally
diverse viewpoints from Aboriginal communities. Telefilm also administers
programs for the Canada Media Fund (CMF), which totalled $354.5 million in
We also make recommendations regarding the certification of
audiovisual treaty co-productions to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and
In 2011, Telefilm embarked on a “dare to change” campaign by
fostering cultural success with a focus on stimulating audience demand for
Four strategic pillars drive Telefilm's strategy moving forward.
They are to maintain and expand Telefilm's core role of funder; develop our role
as promoter; provide thought leadership by developing and sharing industry
intelligence; and reinforce Telefilm's organizational excellence.
In the last three years, we have redesigned our programs,
introduced a new Success Index that provides a broader measurement of success
beyond the box office; increased marketing efforts to showcase talent and our
successes in Canada and around the world; sustained and improved external
communications to strengthen relationships with stakeholders; partnered with the
private sector on the promotion of Canadian talent through B2C events; and
established a new talent fund that has raised more than $14 million in private
contributions, including long-term, tangible benefits from the Bell, Astral,
Corus deals. These results have helped us to set the stage for the industry to
better connect with Canadian viewers.
In an intervention Telefilm submitted to the CRTC in 2013 in the
context of the CBC/Radio-Canada’s licence renewal, we pointed out the critical
role played by the CBC/SRC in support of Canada’s audiovisual industry. We noted
at the time that the CBC/Radio-Canada, together with other public agenc1es
including Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board of Canada, form a strong
foundation for the audiovisual industry in Canada. Together, we have a large
imprint on defining, developing and defending Canadian culture.
Strong national public institutions such as the CBC/Radio-Canada
that supply, distribute and broadcast high-quality information and entertainment
are essential for all regions of Canada. The CBC/SRC also has a long history as
the largest supplier of original Canadian television content. We recognize their
valuable role in this regard: their investment in original Canadian content
provides a platform to nurture Canadian talent, provide opportunities for
emerging artists and acts as an outlet for established stars to showcase their
As the CBC/Radio-Canada points out in a 2013 environment scan,
the economics of original content creation in Canada are challenging in
comparison to acquiring content from a larger market. Perhaps more than any
other type of content, Canadian feature films are the most challenging to
finance, taking on average a minimum of four years between the time a script
begins development to when a product makes its way to the screen. The CBC/SRC,
as Canada’s premier broadcaster of Canadian programming, has an important role
to play in supporting the production and promotion of Canadian feature films.
Between 2009-2010 and 2013-2014, the CBC and Radio-Canada
supported the production of 69 Canadian feature films. This support represented
a total investment of almost $10 million.
In 2009, CBC and Telefilm Canada launched an initiative to
support the development and financing of films that had an initial theatrical
release, followed shortly thereafter by broadcast on CBC Television and
distribution via other platforms. Under the approach, CBC, in collaboration with
Telefilm, worked with independent producers, their creative teams and
distributors on the production and promotion of films. This unique initiative
led to the production of the following films: Barney's Version,
Midnight's Children, and the development of Book of Negroes.
We are hopeful similar joint initiatives could be established in
the future, ones which would see the CBC/Radio-Canada take on a more significant
role in the development, production and promotion of Canadian feature films.
The broadcasting environment is changing profoundly with the
digital age yet television is still the way we reach most Canadians, as our
consumer research demonstrates.
At Telefilm, we believe that promotion and marketing on all
platforms hold the key to increasing the reach of our product, at home and
abroad, and to giving maximum exposure to our stories.
The technological developments we are witnessing in our
television system impacts all of us involved in the development, production and
promotion of Canadian content. The television screen can now connect to a
universe of apps, networks and devices.
The four-screen phenomenon is now the standard with a variety of
platforms — television, tablets, smartphones or computers all used
simultaneously. The one question that concerns us all as an industry is: how do
we work together to create compelling and engaging content that will reach
Canadians and audiences around the world on multiple platforms?
We are passionate as funders, broadcasters, distributors,
exhibitors, producers and policy-makers to ensure that the most creative,
innovative, diverse and high-quality content makes its way to screens so that
audiences can share in it.
Just consider the overwhelming success of Xavier Dolan's Mommy:
$2.5 million and growing at the domestic box office; profiled on magazine covers
in France, foreign sales to more than 50 countries; an Oscar buzz in Hollywood;
close to 800,000 entries in France alone.
Our industry is experiencing great successes as our stories
resonate with domestic and international audiences. The talent, creativity and
skills of our industry are world class. The time is now for us to partner
together to successfully give our talent the greatest opportunities to keep
realizing their potential.
I thank you once again for inviting us to appear today. I welcome
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Brabant and Mr. Joli-Coeur. I am
going to start by asking you each a question comparing your relations with
CBC/Radio-Canada and your relations with the public and public sectors in terms
of your partnerships, currently and especially in the future. Do you have
partnerships with people from the world of private production?
Ms. Brabant: As we mentioned in our presentation, Telefilm
has really wanted to create new partnerships for about five years because we
believe that we should be working together. We have talent, we have stories to
tell and we have a record of success. We believe that Telefilm Canada, the NFB,
Radio-Canada, or even private partners must work together, not alone, to promote
that talent and tell those stories.
We have worked with partners and with the NFB, as well as with
Radio-Canada and the CBC. We have also tried to develop new partnerships.
We have also worked with private partners. We have partnered with
Rogers and with Chorus, all with the idea of promoting the talent we have in
Canada and making it known.
Mr. Joli-Coeur: Along the same lines as Ms. Brabant has
just explained, we are producers and distributers. We deal with the two entities
of Radio-Canada/CBC, the French and English networks, with the specialty channel
Documentary as with any other broadcaster. We are truly dependent on the
internal organization of those Radio-Canada networks.
The networks are certainly different. The people involved are
different by definition but, generally speaking, our business practices evolve
in the same economic context. We have co-production partners. Our range is
The Chair: As you develop co-productions, are your
partnerships based on a working model that is different for the public entity
than for the private one?
Mr. Joli-Coeur: When we work on co-productions as
producers, our partners are private producers. They are the ones in a business
relationship with Radio-Canada, CBC or Documentary. If we are producing the
program ourselves, we then have a direct relationship with them. It all depends
on the way the project is designed.
Senator Eggleton: First of all, give us some indication as
to how much of the programming on CBC would come from your respective
organizations. Do you have any measurement of that? Is it a big amount of time
that they're putting on your productions? Do you have any statistics to that
Ms. Drisdell: We wouldn't have statistics on what the
percentage of overall CBC programming is. We know what percentage of our content
that CBC represents in the broadcast. We have a small number of productions that
go on the CBC network or on Radio-Canada. They do attract large audiences, but
there are a small number of documentaries that would go there. We would be able
to furnish the percentage of our content that goes there, but not how much it is
in their overall programming.
Senator Eggleton: What is the percentage of their content?
Ms. Drisdell: On our audiences and revenues, I can give it
Senator Eggleton: While you're looking, maybe Telefilm
Canada can answer the question.
Dave Forget, Director, Business Affairs and Certification,
Canadian Heritage, Telefilm Canada: Keeping in mind that the arrangement
that we have is with independent producers, Telefilm is not an in-house
producer, in and of itself. So our producer clients who are investing in the
project then make arrangements with CBC to have the film licensed for broadcast.
So neither CBC nor Telefilm in this mix is the owner or creator of the
production itself. What we understand in terms of what part of their programming
is that, for example, in the English market, two Canadian feature films per
month are airing on CBC. So how many of those are feature films that would have
had Telefilm investments? Generally speaking, the vast majority of Canadian
films have us as participants, so I imagine that number would be fairly high.
Ms. Drisdell: I have them here. CBC broadcast generated
about 10 per cent of our Canadian audiences on a small number of projects;
Radio-Canada, 6 per cent; and Doc Channel about 15 per cent of our overall
Canadian audience for broadcast.
Senator Eggleton: What is the last one?
Ms. Drisdell: The Doc Channel is about 15.
Senator Eggleton: Good-quality production isn't
necessarily popular. One of the discussions we've been having here is the
question of ratings. This is in relation to the CBC, of course. How important
are ratings, and what other factors do you think are important?
Ms. Brabant: I would have to disagree with your first
statement. Just taking as an example the film Mommy that I was referring
to, I think everyone would agree that it has been selected at the Cannes Film
Festival in competition. It won an award there, and it's getting significant
When we're measuring success for feature films, as I was
mentioning, we develop the success index and take into account box office,
international sales, prices and festivals. This film world is scoring on every
element of that. We're considering that $1 million box office in Canada is a
success for a feature film. This year, I think we've had nine films that reached
the criteria of $1 million in box office.
Senator Eggleton: I'm talking about the CBC, though.
Ms. Brabant: I was commenting on the fact that
good-quality content is not necessary popular. For me, it's not necessarily the
Senator Eggleton: But the ratings of CBC have been the
subject of discussion here. They're not always impressive, to some people,
Ms. Drisdell: We operate, really, in the niche market
of documentaries, which tend to be slightly less popular.
For instance, last year three documentaries were shown on CBC,
and they reached roughly 300,000 to 400,000. They're small audiences in the
ratings of CBC, but still important for documentaries. For documentaries, those
are important audiences. That's one of the reasons that, for the Film Board,
it's really important to diversify how we reach audiences. Broadcast is one
component that's important, but it's really only one and the documentary market
is one niche, and one where people seek out that content.
Senator Housakos: If you're getting $1 million in box
office revenues, it's because people went to see it.
Ms. Brabant: Absolutely, yes.
Senator Housakos: When people are seeing something, it
gives you revenue and it's a success. I know some people have a hard time with
it, but to me ratings, in whatever form, equate to success in the communications
Is CBC/Radio-Canada providing enough support to people in your
industry? Are they doing enough and providing enough time for the Canadian art,
culture and film industry to expose the gem that we have in this country
culturally? Are they doing enough to get that exposure for you? I'm talking
about in addition to what they are forced to do by the CRTC.
Ms. Brabant: From what I've been reading, but I'm a third
party on commenting on that, their programming is a significant amount of
Canadian content at prime time. They are programming feature films. As we
mentioned, we have looked into getting into partnership with them for different
As Dave mentioned, we're not owners of the content so we're
trying to do most of our partnership with CBC/Radio-Canada with the intent of
promoting the talent that we have. We have an initiative in Halifax about short
films. We are also involved with CBC and NFB as well for The Shortest Day to
promote the talent.
Are we doing enough? My answer is no. We want to do more. We
would like Canadians to know about this talent and that's why we've been
involved in promotion and working together.
I've often given the example of cheese. In Quebec not so long ago
we were only eating French cheese when having guests, and in 10 years it has
changed significantly. We're now looking at very nice cheese being produced all
across the province, and I think it's the same for wine in Ontario and B.C.
I would like Canadians to be as proud of our talent and do the
promotion the same way for the talented people we have. The answer is, no, we're
not doing enough, but we need to be doing more collectively, I think.
Mr. Joli-Coeur: To come back on the example of what we did
with Radio-Canada and our recent project with the Van Doos, and I'm following
what Ms. Brabant said. When there is a will and partnerships, we can do very
Having 500,000 people over a weekend watching our film, it's
significant. It's a major rating. But there was a willingness to partner, and
the way we released that film and the way Radio-Canada promoted it was perfect.
When there is that willingness we have an organization with the power to reach
an audience. It's a matter of doing it together.
Senator Housakos: So far in our study I've come up with
some conclusions, and I don't know if they will withstand the test of time as we
go forward in this study. But the federal government, in my mind, has an
obligation, given the challenges we have from our southern neighbour who is the
world's leader in culture and promoting their culture, to get involved and
support our arts and cultural industry, especially filmmakers, producers,
writers and actors. To me, the mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada historically, as a
Canadian, has been to promote Canadian content.
In the course of our study I've come across, and members of this
committee have seen it, that right now CBC/Radio-Canada spends anywhere from 40
to 50 per cent of resources — based on information we have gotten from them — on
news. They spend another 30 per cent of their production on radio. These are
rough figures. And the rest they spend on Canadian content of shows,
documentaries, film, whatever the case may be.
As a parliamentarian, I think that's not good enough. There are a
lot of companies already in the news business and a lot of competition in the
radio business. Is my statement and assessment that you don't have enough
platforms promoting Canadian producers, writers and filmmakers, where we promote
and highlight your work, correct?
Again, for argument's sake, I like to think outside of the box.
Tomorrow morning the federal government says we found $1.2 million because we're
taking it away from some Crown corporation and we're putting it all into the
Canadian film industry. But we want 95 per cent of that $1.2 million, because
there are administrative costs, to go to producers, writers and actors to
produce Canadian films and documentaries, things that will speak to Canadians
about being Canadian coast to coast to coast.
And the CRTC steps up and one day gets into the regulation
business, and God knows they do that well enough, and they go to all the private
broadcasters of the country and say, “If you want licensing you have to carry
this Canadian content and film on your platform or else we won't licence you.”
Now I'm really thinking outside of the box and being radical. What kind of an
impact would that have on our Canadian production and film industry?
Ms. Brabant: That's certainly something we've been talking
about to promote our Canadian content better.
One of our filmmakers once said that he went to Cannes, and
Cannes is a huge competition. If you compare Cannes to any sporting event, it's
the Stanley Cup of the film industry. Being selected in competition at Cannes is
a huge achievement for a filmmaker. The Quebec filmmaker was wondering why he
was not waited upon at the airport, on returning from Cannes, as a sports person
would be. That's something we would like to see happen. We would like Canadians
to be as proud of our filmmakers, actors and writers as they are of their sports
We've been supporting the fact that we need to promote the
success stories that we have better. I think it's working together to stop
talking about the things that are not working.
The film industry is a research and development industry. If you
take the example of Denis Villeneuve, he didn't make an American film as
successful as the first film he made. We were there to support his first, second
and third film, and now he is accomplished. He was from the beginning, but now
has reached the level of a star in his field.
I think we need to be there and support their first initiative,
of course, and we need to promote them better for sure.
Mr. Forget: Maybe I could add two comments. The first
merits mentioning. When we talk about Cannes there is a glamour component and
profile creation component to have the films be better known. It's also worth
reminding ourselves that Cannes is also the biggest marketplace in the world for
the exchange of rights and selling of feature films on the international market.
Part of the initiative to have our auteur filmmakers celebrated in that
context — it raises profiles and is obviously gratifying — is because it is also
an industry and an export business. Our films are seen around the world, and
there's an element to that that needs mentioning.
With regard to where the money is spent vis-à-vis production and
promotion, we're living in a world where our competitors are, for example with
American films, the equivalent of, on average, spending 25 per cent of the
production budget on promotion. When we look at those numbers we don't have
those kinds of ratios. We're in a small market and there are economies of scale.
I'm not suggesting we need a critical mass of production activity — that's a
given — but the emphasis on promotion is important.
Without making my answer too long, I think the other thing going
on in the marketplace is we're all aware there is a change in the milieu
happening, and for many years there was an order to the timing of availability.
We are limiting our comments here to feature films. You had a life in a movie
theatre, followed by a life on DVD, followed by pay TV and specialty
programming, and eventually down the chain was your over-the-air broadcaster
like CBC that came into the mix. So the proposition was, historically, this is a
terrific feature film, we want you to get on board, in three years you'll have
it on the air and we want you to be excited about that.
In fairness, when we were looking to collaborate, there was this
notion of the cannibalization of the audience; I need to preserve the
exclusivity. Over the years, we noticed — I'll provide an example of a film we
helped finance a few years ago called Passchendaele. Paul Gross wrote and
directed it. It was a major success at the box office, followed by the best
performance on the DVD market and the best audience on the CBC. At every stop
along the way, it outperformed every other Canadian film in terms of audience.
What that speaks to is if you build audience, it's actually not true that you
cannibalize it. When you build profile and audience, you get it across the board
on all platforms.
To make a long story short, if you will forgive me, part of the
idea of promotion and bringing people together is to start thinking outside of
the box with the timing. Part of the discussion with the CBC is whether we can
move up the food chain and have our films be present for our audiences earlier.
Can we share platforms with others? There is a lot of interesting thinking
currently going on in the industry about how those things can be redefined. Our
take on it is if it results in greater audiences on all platforms for Canadian
content, it's a plus. I'm not sure if that answers your question.
Senator Housakos: In short, my view is simply that I find
the CBC — and I'll be blunt — has too much news, too much sports, too much
Olympics. They do all kinds of things that everyone else out there is doing;
everyone is doing sports, everyone is doing news. And they are out there
competing with all the other people in the marketplace, the three other major
competitors, and as a result, they can't compete with them at all. They can't
get ratings. So if they can't get ratings, they can't get revenue. They eat up
the budget they're getting from taxpayers, and that budget, in my view, is there
to promote Canadian content.
From my point of view, if I get a reporter giving me a summary on
what happened in the House of Commons on one channel, I can get the same summary
on another channel and a similar one on yet another channel. At that point, why
am I as a taxpayer putting money into one out of the four newscasts? Yet, I
remember as a kid growing up, I used to see from time to time on a Friday night
or a Saturday night a major feature film. I remember seeing the film Malarek,
for example. I don't know if any of you would even remember that film. It just
so happened that one of the stars in that film was a neighbour of mine growing
up, and he went on and became a pretty big star in the U.S. He got his chance
through your industry; otherwise, this young actor would never have been in
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and all the other films he went on to do and
become a popular Canadian actor. Michael J. Fox would not have become as big of
a star as he did if he did not get a shot here. He got his shot through the CBC,
I don't know if I'm in the majority or the minority here, but I
feel really strongly about that, that the CBC has to re-engineer itself and get
back to doing promotion of Canadian content. We as a government and a Parliament
and the CBC itself have to consult with Canadians as to what that Canadian
I went on for a long time. Again, I understand you already have
an important relationship with them, but I want to have your comments. Do you
agree with me that they could be doing more to give you more space to promote
Canadian films to Canadians so we know they are out there?
There are a lot of films that receive international acclaim, and
I found out about them watching CTV News. You guys were successful at the Cannes
Film Festival. I never had an opportunity to hear about it elsewhere or to get
promoted elsewhere. I would like to have your comments on that and figure out
whether I'm on the right track. If I'm not, please feel free to disagree with
Ms. Brabant: As I was saying, we agree on more promotion.
Part of the collaboration we are having with CBC/Radio-Canada is to make sure
there will be coverage of the events that we have.
Senator Housakos: You mentioned earlier two of your films
a month —
The Chair: I'll put you on second round pretty soon.
Senator Housakos: This is my last question. You mentioned
earlier two films a month are shown on CBC, for example. What was the case 15 or
30 years ago?
Ms. Brabant: I would not be able to answer that.
Senator Housakos: Would it still have been two films per
month or would it have been four or five? If that information can be dug up, I
think it would be important for the committee.
Ms. Brabant: Okay.
Senator Demers: Thank you for your presentations.
Canadians now access and consume television and films on multi-platform devices,
such as traditional televisions, computers, smartphones and tablets. In your
opinion, is CBC/Radio-Canada disadvantaged in the emerging multi-platform
devices offered now? There is so much technology. How do you see that?
Ms. Drisdell: It's certainly a more complex environment
than it used to be and much more fragmented. The broadcast licences are
fragmented, and that is a more competitive environment for CBC.
Absolutely, there is a consumer migration into on-demand, and
this is a challenge for all broadcasters and all distributors. It is definitely
a more competitive marketplace than it used to be as consumers migrate to more
on-demand, I guess we can say, whichever platform it is, but more on-demand
viewing than appointment viewing, which is more what a traditional broadcaster
provides. Many broadcasters are using a bit of a hybrid or catch-up model to
maintain their audiences and migrate into this new technology.
Ms. Brabant: I agree with Deborah when she says that the
environment is much more fragmented; a lot more issues are involved, but it also
brings opportunities. At Telefilm Canada, we assessed the consumption habits of
Canadians in terms of feature-length films. For us, understanding consumption
habits is important.
It is interesting to see that, yes, probably 6 per cent of
viewing is done on tablets. But the vast majority of film viewing is still done
on the big screen. Canadians are still largely viewing their audio-visual
content, particularly their films, on big screens. That is why it is our
priority to work in collaboration with broadcasters, including Radio-Canada, to
make sure that the content is more visible and more available on all platforms,
but also on television screens.
Senator Demers: Thank you for your answer, madam. How do
costs compare in producing a film for television and producing a film for
digital distribution only?
Mr. Forget: I think I understood the first part of your
question. For most films, the categories would be films intended for theatrical
life and films intended to go directly to TV in the first instance. If you'll
permit me, that might be a fair comparison.
In the world of films and of what we call “movies of the week” —
that's the jargon for it — films made directly for TV are within a certain
budget range that is not very elastic. It ranges in the $3 million to $4 million
One of challenges on the feature film side is that we see
projects of the 60 or so productions that we help to finance a year. They range
from a low of $150,000 to a high of $25 million, depending on which partners
come into the mix internationally. So in the feature film world, there is such a
variety of scope of project, and that's actually one of the challenges. I'm not
sure if that answers your question.
Senator Demers: Yes, but the cost to make it for TV and
the cost to make it for digital — you've answered part of it. There is obviously
a different cost. You make films for TV and you make films for distribution
under digital, hopefully. Does that make sense what I'm asking?
Ms. Drisdell: With today’s technology, shooting can often
be done quite similarly for each type of screen. Let me talk about that a little
more. With a documentary, it is more about post-production and then distribution
because now, thanks to technology, the shooting is done digitally and then it
can be distributed. So the decision has to be made whether it has to be
completed in 35 mm and if the final sound will be in 5.2 and so forth. So the
distribution shop sort of determines the costs.
Mr. Forget: Almost no films are shot on 35-millimetre.
Almost everything we fund, the quality of digital is so high now that films are
made digitally from the first instance. So we don't see the world of cameras
with film in them anymore. Movie theatres are now equipped to run films
digitally. We have passed from a digital environment in production to a digital
environment in exhibition and on broadcast. There's almost no time when you have
a physical film.
Senator Plett: I apologize for my tardiness this evening.
If some of my line of questioning was answered in your presentations, again I
One of my questions is who all do you partner with? Do you
partner only with CBC? Who do you partner with?
Ms. Brabant: We have a very large range of partners. We
have a program for documentaries that we're partnering with Rogers. We have a
partnership with Corus for kids' entertainment. On promotion, we're partnering
with the distributor, with private sector, with Birks. It's important for us to
find, as much as we can, partners in the private and public sector. A good
example is the screenings we do in Ottawa for our Canadian films. On each event
we have five, ten; depending on the films, we could have as many as ten
Senator Plett: Senator Housakos named a couple of stars
who have made it in the United States after starting here. I guess my question
would be how many of our films have made it in the United States.
Passchendaele, clearly, I think was an example of a great film, by all
standards. Is it possible for you to compete in the United States?
Ms. Brabant: That's something that we've thought a lot
about at Telefilm, and that's why we came up with the idea of the Success Index,
to measure our films and the success of our films, to take into consideration
that we're in the independent film business; we're not in the big action film
As Dave was saying, on average, our films are made with a budget
of $3 million. This is not saying that, on a quality basis, they're not as good
as any other films that are being made, but it's a very different product. Yes,
some of our films are competing and are being sold internationally. A lot of our
films are being sold internationally and are competing with the best of the best
in festivals around the world. But at the same time, and again the comparison
that I often use, we're a tenth of the population of the United States. We're
producing about a tenth of the films they're producing. They have probably 20
films that you remember; I don't know. Of the 800 films they produced last year,
I don't know if you're able to name 20 of them. I'm not. Of the 80 that were
produced in Canada, we were mentioning that 9 surpassed the $1 million box
office in Canada. For us, that’s an indicator of success.
Senator Plett: Listen, I don't dispute that. A film that
makes $1 million at the box office, what kind of a deal would you be able to
strike with CBC on a film like that?
Ms. Brabant: It would not be us to make the deal. It would
be for the distributor, for the owner of the rights to make the deal with the
CBC. We're not the owner of the films. We're not producing the films. We're
financing. We're helping with the financing. I can tell you that some films and
some talented filmmakers, they're able to sell those films on the advance at a
better price than others.
Senator Plett: The National Film Board received some
$67.5 million of federal funding last year, and they generated revenues of just
over $6 million. Is that a good mixture of revenue for the amount of subsidy, if
you will, that the National Film Board got? Are you happy with that?
Mr. Joli-Coeur: We would be happy with higher figures, of
course, but the measure of our success cannot be seen in terms of revenue
generation alone. It's much more the reach, the audience that we're getting for
our product. We're a public service. How many Canadians, how many people around
the world are seeing the Canadian point of view, the Canadian values that we
reach with that? We are in an economy where —
Senator Plett: Sorry for interjecting, but how do you
measure success then? You're saying by the number of Canadians that are
watching. This is something that Senator Housakos has raised and I've raised, is
that we believe — and even our friend opposite is starting to agree with us, I
think, that ratings — he mentions it almost every meeting now, so he must be
agreeing — that ratings, in fact, are an indicator of success, in my opinion.
Mr. Joli-Coeur: Absolutely.
Senator Plett: So how do you measure success if you say
you don't measure it by revenue?
Ms. Drisdell: Revenue is one element we look at, but we do
look very much at what the audience has generated. For instance, we have 2,500
films online that we provided for free for Canadians to screen. In a year, we
have roughly about 28 million Canadians who have viewed films of the NFB, either
on television, online, in theatres or in community screenings, and also, and
very importantly for us, in the education market. We make our films available at
a fairly reduced price for schools to be able to make sure that Canadian
students are seeing Canadian films.
Senator Plett: That's part of your mandate.
Ms. Drisdell: That, for us, is part of the mandate. The
accessibility of the content that Canadian taxpayers have paid to be made over
the 75 years of the film board, for us, that accessibility is very important.
Sometimes screenings, particularly in a remote community, will never be
cost-efficient. That's part of our mandate, to make sure those films are
available in those communities.
Senator Plett: It sounds to me like you're trying to play
the role that my friend Senator Housakos is promoting for CBC.
Ms. Brabant: If I can add to that, it's an ecosystem. The
NFB plays a role, the CBC plays a role, we play a role, as well as the private
partners play a role. It's an ecosystem that contributes at a level of
$5 billion to the economy of Canada. We're working together to make the system
I think that, yes, part of our mandate is to develop talent, and
I think we're succeeding in developing talent that is shining in the films
they're presenting. Radio-Canada, CBC, part of its mandate is to showcase those
talents, and the same thing with NFB, production and showcasing the talent. I
think it's an ecosystem that needs to be working together to make it efficient,
and that's important to me.
Senator Unger: Thank you all for being here. Although I
find it very interesting, it is also confusing. I'm from Edmonton and I cannot
relate to any of the movies, films or anything else that you're talking about.
My first question is: What, if anything, do you do in the West? I know you have
an office in Edmonton.
My second question is: would you explain a comment from your
corporate plan? You make a comment that's repeated throughout this document,
which is that you:
. . . must become a broader catalyst for success by
refocusing our efforts and resources on stimulating audience demand.
This new goal re-energizes our mandate, and aligns our activities more
closely with industry needs.
Would explain that for me?
Ms. Brabant: Five years ago, we did the strategic plan. We
felt that we had worked a lot on what we could offer, by developing the industry
and the talent. But, there was work that needed to be done on the demand side,
such as making sure that the content was available to Canadians, wherever and
whenever they wanted, on small or big screens. We felt that we had a role to
play in enhancing that demand.
That's when we started to put the foundation in place to answer
that demand. One of the things that we quickly realized was that the awareness
was not there. Your introduction made that point. We realized that Canadians
didn't know about Canadian films or about Canadian talent. We felt that we
needed to be a leader in terms of knowing Canadian consumer habits and what we
could do to raise that demand.
So we started doing studies, which was interesting. We did a
survey three years ago. We realized that only one out of three Canadians were
able to name a Canadian film. We started doing some small promotional
initiatives and partnering with the private sector. We did screenings in Ottawa,
partnering with the Calgary Film Festival, and with the Newfoundland Women’s
Film Festival, in St. John's. We were able to change the number of Canadians
that could name a Canadian film, to one out of two. By the end of my mandate,
one of my goals will be to make it two out of three.
We've changed our director of communications' mandate to include
marketing and to start new initiatives. We realized quickly that one of the new
elements was that new filmmakers needed to be able to make not just one film,
but a second and a third one. The expectations were very high for new filmmakers
to be successful in Canada.
In the regions, we started an initiative that we call “the
micro-budget”. We partnered with schools and co-ops from across Canada to
finance the filmmakers' first film. We are very proud that this year at TIFF,
there were unprecedented Canadians films coming from all regions. The first
eight films that were made from our micro-budget, including a film from Calgary
filmmaker Clive Thomas, who was preselected in many festivals around the world,
had very good comments. We're hoping it will help raise their profiles and start
Senator Unger: Do you think that Canadians care about
Canadian-produced films or do they care more about content?
Ms. Brabant: They do care more about content. That was
clear in the study we did. We did a study in collaboration with UBC and HEC to
better understand the viewing profile of Canadians. It's clear that the most
important factors are the content, the stories and the genre. People will first
pick a film because they want to see a comedy or a drama. That is the most
Mr. Joli-Coeur: At the NFB we have production offices
across the country: in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Our mandate is to tell
stories from across the country. We have producers anchored in those
communities, working with local creators, and telling local stories. For me,
that's key. Content is everything. It's also our mandate to make and create
those Canadian stories and distribute them across the country and around the
world. We cover the country equally. I'd just like to mention one film We
Were Children, which is an outstanding documentary on residential
Senator Unger: I've heard of it.
Mr. Joli-Coeur: That is a lot of impact.
Senator Unger: My last question goes to Telefilm.
Experience has taught us that box office figures simply don't you tell us the
entire story. If they don't tell the entire story then you're looking at other
factors. Are these other factors measurable?
Ms. Brabant: Absolutely. We felt that it was very
important to measure success differently. We're in the independent film making
business. The most important opportunity that we now have for independent films
is that the market is worldwide. We're in a global environment. It's not just
about the local box office. It's also about international sales.
Our mandate is to build a career for filmmakers and talent, which
includes selections, festivals, and prizes. Our index is measuring three
elements, as you would for a financial index. My background is as a chartered
accountant, so you'll have to deal with that. I wanted to have something that
would be measurable and that would help us to measure the success of the films,
of the production companies, and of the individual attached to the film. It's an
index that's composed of commercial factors. We're measuring international
sales, other national sales, like TV sales, and sales from the box office. We're
also measuring the prizes and awards that the films received from festivals and
its selection by important festivals. We have a list of 40 worldwide festivals
that are covering genre. As it's important to us, we're also measuring the
capacity of the production company to attract private financing. It's a
combination of elements that measures, not only the box office success, but also
the success of the film and the production company. I will give you an example.
There was a film five years ago, Blindness, a Canadian
co-production, that did okay in Canada in terms of box office, $700,000. It did
not reach the $1 million bar. It went under the radar for success stories. At
that time, I was the Director of Finance at Telefilm Canada. Because of the
immense success of that film internationally, we were fully reimbursed on our
investment in less than one year. It made a huge amount of money
internationally. I said, “If this is not a success that we should be proud of,
we need to be,” and because we were only measuring the box office, we were not
telling that story. I thought it was important to include in our measurement of
success not only the Canadian box office but also the international successes of
the films we're financing.
Senator Greene: In terms of competition for the U.S.
market, it seems to me that Australia has an advantage over us. They're a
smaller country and yet they seem to produce bigger, more popular movies in the
United States with big international stars, et cetera. In terms of a measure of
success such as a box office, Australia seems to beat us. I wonder if you have
any knowledge as to what Australia does to support their system that we don't do
and that we could do.
Ms. Brabant: I don't have the numbers. We're often
comparing our cinema with other countries. I might be mistaken, but I think that
one of the things that Australia is doing better than we do is promoting the
success of their stars that are making a living in the States. They're proud of
their stars who go to the States and make films there, while we often don’t even
know that our Canadian stars in Hollywood are Canadian. I think that's one thing
we would like to be doing better.
As an example, we started to hold an event in Los Angeles last
year in partnership with the CMF and Bell Media to promote Canadian stars. I
think they are doing it. But it's not our indication that Australian films are
doing on average better than our Canadian films. Are you in agreement with that?
Mr. Forget: No. We could look at that.
The Chair: If you did have the numbers and could send them
through the clerk, it would be appreciated.
Ms. Brabant: We would be willing to, but it's not the
impression that we have.
Mr. Forget: I wanted to add this because the topic has
come up a number of times, so I think it merits mentioning. Canadian films do
quite well in terms of selling into the U.S. market. We've seen over the last
couple of years, with the coming on-stream of subscription VOD services and
other platforms, there is more of an appetite for Canadian independent feature
films than there has ever been.
It's more of an anecdote, and I could get the numbers, but as an
example, five to ten years ago, if a handful of films showcased at the Toronto
festival found homes in the U.S. either from broadcasters or distributors, we
would consider it a good year. Now if they don't all sell we wonder what went
wrong. Almost everything finds a place in the American market in some form or
another. Canadian films, in particular, the English-language films, for obvious
reasons, do well in terms of selling into the U.S. and internationally. I wanted
to mention that.
Senator Greene: That leads me to my next question. In
terms of sales in the international market, excluding the United States, do
films from Quebec do better than films from English Canada?
Mr. Forget: English-language Canadian films tend to do
better internationally writ large. French-language films from Quebec, not
surprisingly, do very well in francophone countries. The example of Mommy
that you heard about earlier is a terrific hit in France now, doing really well
at the box office. The general rule of thumb has been that English-language
films travel very well internationally and not only in English-language markets
but writ large they do very well.
Senator Housakos: I want to take the study back to the
CBC. I think all of us are very supportive of what both of your organizations
do. At least, I speak for myself.
In short, my question is: What is it that you'd like to say to
this committee regarding CBC/Radio-Canada and your experiences in terms of what
you would like them to do more of to help what you guys do? What could the
public broadcaster be doing to facilitate the work of both of your
organizations, in addition to what they've already been doing?
Mr. Joli-Coeur: More partnerships and more opportunities
to team up from the very beginning of the project, with the strategy to do it,
uniting our forces. That's key. The example I was giving you about the Van
Doos documentary is perfect. If it had been done in other projects we have
with them, the impact would be terrific. It's the willingness of the leaders of
the organizations to make it work.
The Chair: Anything to add?
Ms. Brabant: Going back to what we were saying, I think
promotion for us is key. CBC/Radio-Canada is an important partner in that.
Showcasing the Canadian content and including films for us is key as well. Going
back to the study that we've made where Canadians want to see their films on the
big screen, I think it's important that CBC/Radio-Canada is showcasing those
Senator Housakos: When you say “promotions,” what exactly
do you mean? Do you mean running the films on air? What specifically?
Ms. Brabant: Partnering with us in screening Canadian
content, partnering with us in events like we did for the short films in Halifax
and any initiatives that will help to get to my objective that two Canadians out
of three are able to name Canadian films in a year and a half.
Senator Housakos: Do you find you get more exposure for
your films in terms of promotions through CBC radio than television? I'm talking
about in terms of advertising or bringing in stars of films for interviews.
Would they have more programming where they promote culture by radio than TV?
Mr. Forget: Whether they do more, I think you touched on
an important component of the whole promotion, just to flesh it out a little
bit. Those are the opportunities. Any time we're promoting talent we're
promoting the works as well. Those talk shows where there are interviews,
whether on TV or radio, are all opportunities to showcase and publicize the
talent. We've never actually held an exercise to see whether that is more
present on the air versus on the radio.
We looked into what the decision-making process of a movie-goer
is when they're choosing their film. One of the things that came to light was
that there isn't a single moment that triggers the choice to see one film or
another; there's a sequence of events. You park things you hear on the day
you're choosing your film. Whether that's the interview that you heard on CBC
Radio this morning or the advertisement or the bus shelter poster, it's a
combination of all these things that leads to the critical mass where you feel
the film is credible, present, something you're interested in. To me, it's all
those things taken together, but we haven't done the exercise of seeing if it's
more present on one than the other.
Ms. Brabant: That might be something we do in the future.
Senator Greene: I'd like to try one idea on you.
Ms. Brabant: We're open to ideas.
Senator Greene: It's just a thought I had, that an
audience or person in an audience or any number of people in an audience can
only absorb so much in the course of a day, a week, or what have you. Part of
the problem with the English-Canadian audience is that a lot of its time is
devoted to watching American shows. They do that because our cultures are
similar, not the same, but similar.
Canadians can see themselves in American dramas, comedies, et
cetera, and so there isn't the need in English Canada to see ourselves in
Canadian-made productions because people can see themselves, to a large extent
but not completely, in American productions.
In Quebec it's not like this at all. Quebecers need a much
stronger native television culture than English Canadians do because they have
that alternative outlet; is that a realistic view?
Ms. Brabant: Certainly there have been shows and there are
shows that are successful such as “Republic of Doyle” and “Heartland.” I was in
Europe recently and people were bragging about “Murdoch Mysteries” and they felt
that this was really Canadian and they want it.
In every country where there is a different language from English
I would not say it's easier, but people see the difference and the connection
and they want to see shows in their own language.
Yes, it's an additional difficulty for Canadian content to be
more visible and more accessible, but I'm not sure Canadians don't want to see
stories that relate to them.
Senator Greene: I think they do want to see those stories.
That's not what I'm saying. However, if they're not offered those stories they
willingly look at American shows because they can see themselves there.
Ms. Brabant: Because I'm old enough to say this, I
remember times when in French everything that was offered on prime time
television was dubbed English from American shows. We didn't realize at that
time that we needed to have Canadian content, but when we were offered Canadian
content we really enjoyed those shows. I think it's the same when you look at
shows that are actually successful, Canadians want to see them.
Senator Greene: Thanks.
The Chair: Mr. Mahé, Mr. Forget, Ms. Brabant, Ms. Drisdell
and Mr. Joli-Coeur, thank you very much for your presentations.
Honourable colleagues, next Tuesday morning we have Éric Albert,
Executive Vice-President of Stingray Digital Group. And, as you know, on
November 5 and 6, we will be going to Senator Demers' hometown and we will be
hosting our meetings in Montreal at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.
Thank you very much and this meeting is adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)