Some Canadians worried new legislation could change how they stream media
'I think it's going to affect everyone, not just content creators, but consumers as well,' says media creator
Some Canadians are worried that new legislation could change how people watch and create online content.
It's known as the Online Streaming Act or Bill C-11.
"I think it's going to affect everyone, not just content creators, but consumers as well," said Justin Tomchuk, a digital media creator and music maker from Nova Scotia who is currently based in Montreal.
The bill seeks to increase the amount of Canadian content shown by online platforms such as Netflix and other streaming services. The bill's scope has been hotly debated, with platforms including YouTube, TikTok and Spotify raising concerns about how the law will affect them and their users.
The Canadian Broadcasting Act stipulates broadcast programs must feature at least 35 per cent Canadian content, or Cancon, and this bill aims to apply the same metric to digital media.
In April, Christa Dickenson, then executive director and CEO of Telefilm Canada, said the bill would "create a more equitable playing field for Canadian creators and corporations, while ensuring that audiences will benefit from the enhanced visibility of Canadian content."
Digital media not the same
However, some experts have raised concerns about applying the same Cancon rules for radio and traditional TV content to online content.
While radio broadcasting has largely benefited from an increased requirement of Canadian content, Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, says it doesn't work for digital media.
This is because of an aspect of the algorithms called discoverability, which keeps track of viewing habits and in turn determines what consumers are recommended based on that data.
Geist said the bill would alter how discoverability works, which would be detrimental to content creators.
He said changing the rules would allow the CRTC to require platforms such as YouTube or TikTok "to either prioritize or deprioritize certain content on their platforms and, in doing so, there are serious risks to Canadian creators."
He said they might be deprioritized in their own country, or globally, "where those large markets have proven to be a core part of how they make a living creating content online."
Tomchuk said most of his audience is American, and he's worried that if the YouTube algorithm is altered and more people click off of his videos, that will lead to fewer promotions overall on YouTube.
However, federal Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has publicly said the bill will not lead to platforms being asked to manipulate their algorithms.
In June, his spokeswoman said part of Bill C-11 specifically rules out manipulating algorithms. A clause in the bill would prevent the CRTC making an order requiring the "use of a specific computer algorithm or source code."
"The government will ask the CRTC to work with the platforms to showcase content so that more Canadians can find, choose, and enjoy content from Canadian artists and creators," said Laura Scaffidi.
"It will be up to the platforms to decide how to best meet these objectives."
Tomchuk recently spoke to the Senate to oppose the bill.
"Essentially, if they do impose discovery mandates on YouTube, for instance, they'll be changing the way that your videos and content is distributed throughout the web, which could overall in the end lead to less awareness and less viewership of the content that you make," Tomchuk told CBC News.
Jeanette Patell, the head of government affairs and public policy for YouTube in Canada, said the bill might change people's viewing experiences as well.
She said individuals might start seeing content simply because it's Canadian.
She said if a user is promoted content because of where they live as opposed to what they might be interested in, they may not watch that video or they don't click on it or they give it a thumbs down.
"It actually has this effect where it backfires for that piece of content. That content now will have a lower ranking and our systems will learn … you probably shouldn't recommend this piece of content as much."
Geist said aside from creators losing out, consumers might also face struggles if the bill passes.
He said putting this limitation on streaming platforms and telling them they need to increase their amount of Canadian content may cause them to charge Canadians more for their services, or pull out of Canada all together
"The concerns do expand to what [this will] mean for consumer cost and consumer choice," said Geist.
Open Media, an advocacy organization with just under 400,000 Canadian and American supporters, has an active petition to persuade the Senate to amend Bill C-11
It says that giving the CRTC the power to regulate posts and manipulate feeds, play lists, and search results is an "unjustifiable intrusion into online life."
A Senate committee met from Dec. 6 to 8 to discuss further amendments to the bill. They suggested a huge change that would exclude non-commercial user content from many aspects of the bill, though some senators opposed these amendments.
Geist says because of the more than 20 suggested amendments, the bill will likely go back to the House of Commons for yet another review, before any changes are solidified.
Tomchuk said he'd like to see the bill axed entirely, but would settle for the government accepting the proposed amendments presented by him and other creators
"If Cancon is good enough, consumers will go out and find it," he said.
With files from The Canadian Press
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