Funding rules tightened for 'Canadian' programs

Saturday 12 December 1998

Saturday 12 December 1998

Funding rules tightened for ‘Canadian’ programs

Tony Atherton
The Ottawa Citizen

They’ve put the Can back in
CanCon at the Canadian Television Fund, and that could leave some
Canadian-made programs out of the loop.

TV producers and broadcasters
who want to tap into the $200-million annual fund will have to wave the
Canadian flag, whistle the Canadian anthem, and be willing to spend more of
their own money to have any chance of a handout. Canadian-made shows set in
Texas, space, or Anywhere, North America, need not apply.

Only “distinctly
Canadian” TV programs will be considered next year for either the
fund’s Licence Fee Program (grants to eligible programs) or its Telefilm-run Equity Investment Program (recoupable contributions to
production costs). And the more private money that a program can scare up,
the more likely it is to be one of the few to receive the fund’s public
money under new rules introduced yesterday.

The rule changes are meant to
avoid a repeat of the chaos last spring when the federally supported fund
was overwhelmed by applications, and allocated most of its money before
some high-profile Canadian series could be considered for funding. Before
fund managers decided to borrow about $30 million against future fund
allocations, it looked like some unabashedly Canadian series such as Cold
Squad or Power Play would languish without funding, while Canadian-made but
generically North American series such as Psi Factor would continue to get
support.

Next year, projects will no
longer be served on a first-come, first-served

basis, and eligibility will be
tightened. The fund will only consider TV programs that are aimed at
Canadian

audiences and reflect Canadian
themes and subject matter; that have Canadians in all key creative roles,
including writers, directors, and lead actors; that are owned and
controlled by Canadians; and that are shot and set primarily in Canada
(unless a foreign location is crucial to telling a Canadian story).

“The board (of the Canadian
Television Fund) has decided to make a big bet on Canadian
programming,” board chairman Richard Stursberg told reporters
yesterday.

There are some exceptions in
different categories of programming. Children’s programming or animation
with a fantasy theme can forgo the Canadian setting requirement, and
documentary producers can examine issues beyond Canadian boundaries, as
long as they include Canadian experts among their talking heads. About 15
per cent of this year’s successful applicants would not meet the new
Canadian requirements of the fund, Stursberg said. He declined to name the
shows, but they likely include Global’s Psi Factor and Citytv’s Lexx: The
Series.

In order to encourage
broadcasters to pick up a greater share of the cost of programming, the
fund will rank eligible projects based on the percentage of costs covered
by a broadcaster. In the case of a drama series, a private broadcaster must
commit to at least 20 per cent of production costs to be eligible to apply,
but programs whose broadcasters have committed 25 per cent or more of
production costs will have a better chance.

“It means a broadcaster is
going to have to come in with its best offer for its higher priority
shows,” said Linda Schuyler, chairwoman of the Canadian Film and
Television Production Association.

CBC’s minimum licence fee will
be set at 25 per cent, higher than the minimum for private broadcasters
because it has guaranteed access to 38 per cent of the funds in the coming
year. However, Stursberg announced yesterday that Heritage Minister Sheila
Copps will eliminate CBC’s reserve share of the fund for the following
year, meaning the CBC will compete for the funding with private
broadcasters.

“The potential is for
damage to our schedules,” CBC vice-president Jim Byrd said yesterday.
Byrd said if CBC ends up having to outbid private broadcasters for access
to the fund, there will be less money available for programming. “It
raises the question of stable funding from the government again,” said
Byrd. “(The fund) was supposed to be the way to offset the damage that
was done when (CBC’s) government allocation was reduced. Now (CBC’s
guaranteed access) has been removed.”

“People are still going to
be cranky at the end of the day,” Schuyler said of new rules. “We
haven’t heard the end of this But the objectives are noble and a lot of
smart people have put their heads around them, so we’ll just have to see
what happens.”

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