Justin Trudeau Moves to Regulate Netflix, Spotify to Push Canadian Content

The new bill is estimated to raise nearly $1 billion for Canadian content within a few years, but there are worries the big tech companies will push the costs to customers.
Mack Lamoureux
Toronto, Canada
November 3, 2020, 7:31pm
​Justin Trudeau speaking in the House of Commons recently. Dan Levy's character in CBC's 'Schitt's Creek' gives someone the side-eye.
Justin Trudeau speaking in the House of Commons recently. Dan Levy's character in CBC's 'Schitt's Creek' gives someone the side-eye. Images via The Canadian Press/CBC. 

Justin Trudeau’s government is pushing for regulations to make digital broadcasters, such as Netflix and Spotify, to start paying for and promoting Canadian content. 

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault tabled a bill on Tuesday that would change the Broadcast Act to allow the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to regulate digital streamers. 

This means that foreign companies such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney, as well as Canadian platforms like Crave, would be subjected to the “conditions of services” revolving around content the government imposes on traditional broadcast companies. 

If approved, online broadcasters will have to promote Canadian content (CanCon) and make it easier to access. The companies would also need to financially contribute to Canadian content. The CRTC regulations would also apply to music services like Spotify or Apple Music.

In a presentation to reporters, a government spokesperson said that the legislation could result in hundreds of millions of dollars of Canadian content being created, according to the Wire Report

“If the CRTC requires online broadcasters to contribute to Canadian content at a similar rate to traditional broadcasters, online broadcasters’ contributions to Canadian music and stories could amount to as much as $830 million by 2023,” the presentation said.

CanCon requirements are something well known in the Great White North as it forces broadcasters to push out Canadian content. This is the reason why if you’ve ever turned on a Canadian classic rock station four out of every 10 songs will be by Trooper or April Wine. 

The proposed changes have been criticized by Michael Geist, the Canada research chair in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa. In a post on his website on Sunday, Geist dubbed the bill the “Get Money from Web Giants” bill, and said any associated costs would most likely be passed down to consumers.

“With mandated payments or spending requirements alongside a new regulatory burden, there are real costs being imposed on these services. So what, some will argue, noting that these are big companies that can afford it,” wrote Geist. “Yet the reality is that someone is going to pay for fees that are projected to run into hundreds of millions of dollars and the safe bet is that it is going to be Canadian consumers.“ 

As VICE has previously written, what is “Canadian content” under the current rules is not exactly clear and the government may need to move to address that. 

Canada, and Toronto in particular, is home to a number of major U.S. streaming productions, including Amazon’s The Boys and The Expanse, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, CBS All Access’ Star Trek shows, Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, and many others. 

According to the Logic, Canada was home to nearly $10 billion in TV and film productions in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, but in nearly half of those productions the IP belonged to foreign companies. 

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