New rules and regulations that put online streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Spotify under the watchful eye of Canadian broadcast regulators will not be fully implemented for at least another year, even though Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act, is now law, having received Royal Assent on April 27, 2023.
But on-going public consultations have just been extended, and the overall timeline for implementation targets “Late 2024”, according to a published government agenda.
The new law, among other things, will require registered streaming services operating in this country to contribute to Canadian media production and make expenditures that support and promote Canadian content.
The new law does not include social media creators in that equation, an important revision to the Act’s original language that itself was triggered by public consultation and industry input. But how the major streaming services categorize Canadian content, how they make homegrown titles “discoverable” among all the available programming, remains to be specifically determined.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will implement and oversee the new law, based at least in part on some guidance that was recently announced by the Canadian government.
Overall, the Act is supposed to help highlight Canadian stories and music on streaming platforms and promote investment in future generations of artists and creators in Canada.
The CRTC is being asked to:
- support Canadian creators and creative industries;
- advance Indigenous storytelling;
- increase representation of Black, racialized and other equity-deserving communities;
- ensure regulations are fair and flexible;
- redefine Canadian programs to reflect today’s industry and how Canadian stories are told; and
- exclude social media creators’ content from regulation.
The proposed policy directions were published for public consultation in the Canada Gazette, Part I on Saturday, June 10, 2023.
Once the consultation period does end, the final policy directions will be published in the Canada Gazette, Part II, and the CRTC will be bound by them.
The government says it welcomes the participation of creators, businesses, civil society and all Canadians. Yet before the most recent extension of certain consultation deadlines, there did not seem to be enough time for the process to truly play out.
Just last week, Canadian media advocacy group OpenMedia said the consultation period was too short.
OpenMedia Campaigns Director Matt Hatfield was cautiously complimentary of the Act, but troubled by the remaining consultation process.
“Given that the release of the policy direction directly impacts the interpretations Canadians and stakeholder groups will make of the CRTC’s consultations,” he said in a statement, “it’s imperative that the CRTC extend their deadlines to allow for meaningful comments that reflect these new developments.”
The CRTC seems to have now done so: in response to the concerns expressed by Open Media and others about its previously-announced public consultation process, the commission on Friday extended the deadline for the submission of interventions to July 11 and the deadline for the submission of replies to July 26. A hearing will take place in Gatineau on November 20.
OpenMedia says it will soon be launching a new tool so the public can share thoughts on the government’s policy direction.
The government and its cultural and media agencies are looking for further input on how to promote Canadian content online, and its is asking the streaming services themselves how they could boost discoverability – anything from public ads and billboards promoting artists to dedicated sections of their websites for local music and regional stories.
The government’s draft policy recommendations minimize the anticipated need for companies to alter their search and recommendation algorithms in order to comply with the law, but Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has remained firm in his stated goal for the Act:
“We’ve said it from the start: if you benefit from the system, you should contribute to it. “Yes, the major international streaming services operating in Canada do benefit by doing so. Major production companies and program distributors, as well. Social media content creators benefit, too, as do the viewers. And cable companies, for that matter.
But specifically, the Minister’s statement continues: “[W]e’re acting to support our creators, our artists, our independent producers and our culture so that they thrive in the digital age. Canadians deserve to see themselves in what they watch and listen to, and this legislation is an essential step forward in ensuring that our cultural industry and our talent shine.”
The Online Streaming Act, once fully implemented, is but one of three projects that are part of the government’s digital agenda:
- Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11): Highlights Canadian stories and music;
- Online News Act (Bill C-18): Would require large digital platforms to bargain fairly with news businesses over news content; and
- Online Safety: Would promote a safer and more inclusive online space.