Streaming giants need to do more to support Canadian culture, heritage minister says

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says streaming platforms such as Netflix, Disney and Amazon Prime are "the new big players" and should contribute more to Canadian culture.

Pablo Rodriguez said updating the country's broadcasting law is long overdue

The Netflix logo is displayed on a tablet in this 2017 file photo. As the federal government looks to overhaul the Broadcasting Act, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says streaming giants like Netflix, Disney and Amazon Prime should do more to contribute to Canadian culture. (Elise Amendola/The Associated Press)

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says streaming platforms such as Netflix, Disney and Amazon Prime are "the new big players" and should contribute more to Canadian culture.

In a debate Wednesday in the House of Commons about a bill to regulate online streaming, Rodriguez said updating the broadcasting law is long overdue and needs to cover commercial content on social media and streaming platforms.

He said the last time the law was updated in 1991, people took out videos from Blockbuster and listened to Walkmans.

The new law would regulate online streaming platforms, as well as traditional Canadian broadcasters, which already have an obligation to provide Canadian content.

Rodriguez said he wants to see the creation of more Canadian programs to promote homegrown talent, such as CBC's Schitt's Creek and Anne with an E, both of which also streamed on Netflix.

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But he said he is "flexible" about how streaming platforms contribute to Canadian culture and they could use different models, including putting money into a fund.

"Amazon, Netflix and Disney are already investing in Canadian content and we love that stuff. It's very entertaining," he said.

But he said Canada has incredible talent and wants to see streaming services invest more in Canadian film, TV and music.

"Our system must also pave the way for new and upcoming Canadian artists," he said.

He also said Indigenous, disabled and racialized Canadians, as well as people from the LGBTQ community, "deserve to have space to tell their stories."

'Canadians want to know what constitutes Canadian content'

Minister of Canadian Heritage and Quebec Lieutenant Pablo Rodriguez rises during question period in the House of Commons.
Rodriguez is shown during question period in the House of Commons, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Speaking at the second reading of the bill, Rodriguez said he has "fixed" concerns raised by critics of a previous version of the legislation that it would clamp down on people watching or creating content for social media platforms.

That version of the bill failed to become law before the federal election after concerns were raised that social media influencers or people uploading homemade videos to YouTube could be affected by it.

Rodriguez said the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which will be in charge of regulating online streaming platforms as well as traditional broadcasters, "will have no power to regulate the everyday use of social media by Canadians."

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But the Conservatives said concerns still exist that the law could apply to people using and posting content on social media. Heritage critic John Nater said "this 'just trust us' approach does not inspire confidence."

He also said there were questions about the definition of Canadian films and TV productions.

"Canadians want to know what constitutes Canadian content," Nater said.

The Conservatives would not support the bill at second reading, he said, but would make amendments when it is scrutinized later by a House of Commons committee.

Only exclusively commercial content to be affected

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Rodriguez said the bill would do much to support Canada's creative industries, including French-Canadian music and film.

He said the government listened to concerns about the regulation of people's social media content, such as "cat videos," and had "fixed the problem."

Rodriguez said he consulted many influencers and online creators, adding they are "incredible people … and some of them are making a fortune — but this bill is not about them."

He said only exclusively commercial content — for example, a professionally produced song on YouTube which is also available on Spotify — would be affected.

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But he said the law needed to be updated because "two-thirds of Canadians are listening to their music on YouTube."

"If you find a song by The Weeknd on YouTube and you find exactly that same song on Spotify, then it should be treated equally," he said.

Rodriguez said the new law would raise more money for Canada's creative industries from streaming platforms but would provide "flexibility" for companies such as Netflix and Disney to give input on how they contribute because they operate in different ways.

"Netflix has a business model which is very different from Disney, which is very different from Spotify on the musical side," he said. "We have to understand that they have those different business models and we have to add value to the mix and take that into consideration."

"What we are setting up are objectives and how they will reach those objectives will depend on discussions and negotiations."

Some online platforms could commit to making a percentage of content Canadian and others could contribute to a fund that would afterward be distributed to Canadian artists and creators.

The minister said he was optimistic that Bloc Quebecois and NDP MPs would support the bill.