By Etan Vlessing
CANNES – Pierre Karl Péladeau went off script on Monday at MIPCOM to urge Ottawa and the CRTC to curb online regulations for broadcasters up against competition from Netflix and others like it.
As Canadian media leaders grabbed the spotlight in Cannes to forge stronger links with foreign partners and markets, the Quebecor president and CEO delivered a keynote address in which he bemoaned the failure of Canada to export its TV product to the world. “We can sell singing talents like Celine Dionne and Arcade Fire and Justin Bieber to the world,” Péladeau said during his media mastermind keynote speech on Monday in the Palais. But, he added, the Canadian TV industry has a tough time selling original TV formats into a global market where it is mostly a buyer of foreign formats. “We’re renters, rather than landlords,” he argued.
The fault, Péladeau added, is with a Canadian TV funding system geared to domestic production, not exports. The TVA and Vidéotron boss used his MIPCOM forum to urge deregulation of Canadian television to allow a more level playing field with so-called over-the-top digital platforms. “Obviously, an ecosystem based on declining funding and antiquated regulation is ripe for a major overhaul,” he argued.
But his plea for an export-led Canadian TV industry didn’t sit well with fellow media players in Cannes (where Canada is the Country of Honour this year) who argued that’s precisely where their industry stands today. “There’s lots of independent producers who do produce to export. That’s ignoring a fact that exists in our own province,” Jean Bureau, co-founder of Montreal indie producer Incendo, said following Péladeau’s address.
And among the companies in Quebec producing original formats for the export market is TVA itself, Bureau added. “They (TVA) can create a concept and put a show on air, amortize it and then export it,” he argued. And while Bureau welcomes Péladeau inviting producers to discuss possible collaborations with TVA, he noted the Quebec television and cable giant enjoys tremendous leverage in the provincial marketplace.
“It’s a market where Quebecor is a giant and where the balance of power between the broadcaster and producers is very much in their favor,” Bureau said.
Péladeau’s plea for deregulation and innovation was also out of synch with other Canadian media leaders looking to celebrate and ensure more success for Canadian TV programming increasingly making inroads in the global market. “A co-production with Canada can be gateway to other partners and the North American market,” Telefilm Canada executive director Carole Brabant said while delivering a “Co-produce with Canada” pitch to international TV players on Monday morning.
The Canadian charm offensive in Cannes aims to encourage Canadian producers to expand their presence on the international stage, mostly through international co-production panels and matchmaking events. “Our goal is to bring Canada to you, to create new partnerships by profiling the content and igniting opportunities for creative exchange,” Brabant added.
Michael Hennessy, president and CEO of the Canadian Media Production Association, applauded efforts by Canadian content creators and distributors to expand overseas, especially when austerity back home called into question traditional funding sources.
“The only way to attract private investment is to think internationally and think co-productions – and to think having our creative industry tell stories to the world, as opposed to the Sheila Copps-mantra to tell stories to ourselves,” Hennessy said after a day filled with keynote addresses and panels by Canadians in Cannes.
Valerie Creighton, president and CEO of the Canadian Media Fund, who was on hand to introduce Péladeau before his controversial keynote address, insisted Canadian producers were more keenly aware of audience taste and trends as they get their product in front of the world.
“Sometimes in the old formula, it was let’s get the money, and put the pieces together,” Creighton said of former years for Canadian TV production. “Now producers have had that experience, and sometimes it had success and sometimes not,” she added.
The result was content and story which appeals to worldwide audiences increasingly drives Canadian TV. “It has to be more than chasing the money. It actually has to be content that resonates wherever the co-producing partners are from,” Creighton urged.
Etan Vlessing is in Cannes this week covering MIPCOM.