Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Producers Seek Answers as They Digest Netflix's $500M Pledge to Canadian Content

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Producers Seek Answers as They Digest Netflix's $500M Pledge to Canadian Content

Article excerpt

Netflix's Canadian content raises more questions

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TORONTO - Canadian producers expressed hope and skepticism as they weighed Netflix's promise Thursday to spend $500 million over five years on homegrown content.

The announcement to support Canadian made film and TV series was enthusiastically unveiled by Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, part of the first major overhaul of cultural funding in a quarter century.

But she left many unanswered questions.

Netflix let Joly do the talking as representatives for the streaming service didn't respond to requests for more details. That left filmmakers to draw their own conclusions.

"There are all kinds of really interesting opportunities, but of course, it's really short on specifics," Annelise Larson, a producer on the web series "Spiral," said after reviewing Netflix's plans.

"I've certainly been in conversations with my producer friends who -- some of them -- were cautiously optimistic. Others seemed to feel it wasn't the revolutionary shake up they were hoping for."

Larson is struggling to understand more precisely how Canadian writers and directors will benefit. For example, while Netflix plans to open a production house in Canada, there were no details provided on the size, location or number of jobs it would create.

It's also unclear how the injection of $500 million over five years marks an improvement from its recent investments, which Netflix described as "hundreds of millions of dollars" in 2016 alone.

Already the streaming company invests in Canadian programming through co-productions on shows including CBC's "Anne" and "Alias Grace," in exchange for holding the international streaming rights. But what's unknown is whether Netflix will distance itself from those cross-border agreements to favour owning more of its shows outright.

Such a decision could deal a blow to Canadian broadcasters who rely on flashier co-productions with sizable budgets to generate buzz.

Kari Skogland, a Toronto director who worked on Netflix's upcoming series "The Punisher," sees the streaming company's move as an opportunity to talk about Canadian culture.

Some viewers took to social media Thursday to express concerns that Netflix could fall short on telling definitively Canadian stories in favour of more commercial ventures. Others saw an opportunity to chase global audiences since Netflix isn't required to adhere to the same Canadian content points system that applies to TV broadcasters like Bell and Rogers.

"If they do care, it's an important conversation to continue," Skogland suggested of viewers. "And very quickly because the floodgates are opening and it's a tremendous opportunity. …

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