Canadian producers are being urged to emphasise the business issues if they want protect their tax credits and other incentives from the country’s shifting political winds.
Rallying cries about art, culture and storytelling are being dropped in favour of language more likely to resonate with fiscally minded politicians, claims Michael Hennessy, the new head of the Canadian Media Production Association (CMPA).
“The problem is that when people think of this industry they think it’s built on subsidies, which is not really fair. It’s built on incentive plans like tax credits that are no different from what you see in oil and mining,” Hennessy told C21 during a recent interview.
“We need to demonstrate that we’re business-savvy. We need to demonstrate our value and promote our successes.”
CMPA represents some 400 production shops in English-speaking Canada.
Producers are skittish because, at the federal and provincial level, the fiscally conservative Tories have made deep cuts to cultural funding, including to the CBC, the National Film Board and some of Canada’s vaunted tax credits.
Hennessy, a veteran lobbyist and former top exec with telco Telus, insists the remaining tax credits are safe. But under his leadership, CMPA will nonetheless emphasise the economic benefits of supporting Canada’s C$5bn (US$5.3bn) production industry.
It is expected the country’s other associations and unions will follow suit. During the Banff World Media Festival this month, the Canada Media Fund (CMF) moved to curry more favoir with the public when it unveiled a revamped website that showcases content it has funded. CMF and national funder Telefilm Canada are jointly developing another site that looks to screen older shows.
The Tories are “very populist and very interested in consumers,” notes Hennessy. “It doesn’t matter how artistic some programming is, it has to be engaging, it has to get an audience. It doesn’t have to be a mass audience but it has to be significant.”
Hennessy says the industry must also do more to embrace digital technology. He is among those calling for a coordinated “digital content strategy” that will keep Canucks in step with the rest of the world.
“We’re on the cusp of a global economy but are we going to have a strategy like in other countries, like Australia, to create jobs for the future?” he asked. “Being able to write code is just as important as writing scripts.”
The former head of Canada’s broadcast regulator made a similar argument upon his departure earlier this year, calling for an overhaul of the country’s outdated rules and legislation.