Netflix in Canada, reconsidered

By David Charbonneau
April 11, 2019 - 9:53am
Image Credit: Netflix

I WAS A LITTLE HARD ON NETFLIX in an earlier column. The video-streaming giant had told a panel reviewing Canada’s Broadcast Act that market forces should determine their success, not regulations. I equated “market forces” as code words for global domination by America. I railed against Netflix:

“Netflix’s arrogance is offensive, not just because it’s paternalistic, not just because it treats programs as entertainment, but because it pretends that it’s not a Canadian broadcaster (February 4, 2019).”

CBC president Catherine Tait was also hard on them, accusing Netflix of cultural colonialism. She told the panel:

“. . . I was thinking about the British Empire, and how if you were there and you were the Viceroy of India, you would feel that you were doing only good for the people of India."

On second thought, my thinking reflected an insecurity that often characterizes Canadians. Maybe Netflix is investing in Canadian filmmakers because we make good movies and because we can compete globally.

Investment in Canadian productions is at a record high. According to a report from the Canadian Media Producers Association, spending on our screen-based production industry hit $8.92 billion. The industry employed a record number — 179,000 full-time equivalent jobs in 2017/18. Among provinces, B.C. had the lion’s share with spending of $3.58 billion, employing 71,140 FTEs.

Here’s the kicker: Only 47 per cent of that total funding for screen-based productions came from Canadian sources, down from 69 per cent in 2013/14. Foreigners outspent all of the CBC, private broadcasters, and the Canadian Media Fund combined.

One could argue that foreigners don’t make movies that are entirely Canadian, that employ Canadians in all aspects in the making of films from start to finish but that number is also increasing. Foreign sources accounted for 20 per cent of all spending on completely Canadian content.

I also said that foreign filmmakers should be regulated to force them into making productions that reflect Canadian values. Maybe not, according to Professor Michael Geist, an expert in e-commerce and internet law:

“It counters the claim that the only way to make people invest is to force them to do it. It’s clearly not the case (Globe and Mail, March 31, 2019).”

Just maybe Netflix is pouring money into Canadian productions, not just because governments require them to do so but because Canadian productions are really good and the world wants to watch them.

That’s a difficult concept for some Canadians (me) to wrap their heads around: we can compete globally with the best. We are not just a nice, boring country. It’s the mindset that I had when I wrote the column accusing America of exporting culture under the name of entertainment.

I still think that U.S. media treat exportation of American culture as “entertainment.” But now I’ve shifted into thinking, perhaps hypocritically, that exportation of our entertainment and culture might be a good thing.

However, we still need to be told by others that we’re good before we believe it. Former President Obama told our parliament: “The world needs more Canada.”


Editor's Note: This opinion piece reflects the views of its author, and does not necessarily represent the views of CFJC Today or the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group.