Canuck TV admin to be cut

Move part of effort to stabilize funding

BANFF, Alberta — The Canadian government’s C$100 million ($80 million) contribution to the Canadian Television Fund, a cornerstone for producers in the Great White North, is to be renewed for 2006-2007, and its administrative structure — long the bane of many a producer’s life — will be pared down, Minister of Heritage Liza Frulla announced Sunday afternoon at the kickoff to the Banff World Television Festival.

Frulla’s appearance to present a policy update promised earlier in the year comes a day ahead of schedule, as she is needed for an important vote in Ottawa today.

She said the move is part of a commitment to stabilize funding for the arts and culture in Canada. She also promised to work to stabilize the government’s share of CTF funds to remove the ongoing uncertainty with which the industry has been grappling since its inception.

“This industry has to plan ahead, and we don’t a repeat of want to happened three years ago,” Frulla said, referring to abrupt cutbacks a few years ago that threw the biz into turmoil and have since been reversed, although the funding has never been stabilized.

Frulla lamented the challenges that English-language drama faces, as just 11% of drama watched by Canadians is foreign — mostly from the US.

“Think for a moment: This means that 89% of the time viewers in English Canada are watching dramas, they are watching foreign dramas,” she said. “We simply have to change the situation.”

The heavily bureaucratized structure of the CTF has long been a target of criticism by producers, who have had to jump through hoops for both the public and the private administrators to earn their slice of the pie. The fund was created in 1996 as a public/private partnership funded and administered by the cable and satellite distribution companies on the private side and Telefilm on the public side.

Under the new administrative structure, federal cultural agency Telefilm Canada will administer the CTF on its own “on a contractual basis.” Its performance will be reviewed “periodically” by the CTF board of directors, which will include representation by the cabler and satellite industry, which has been consulted on the changes, she said. She said the changes are intended to simplify the funding system and make it more transparent and cost-effective.

The details have yet to be fine tuned, but she expects the changes to go into effect early in 2006.

Frulla also set the percentage of the CTF earmarked for pubcaster the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. at 37%. Net is likely to be disappointed. CBC head Richard Stursberg has called for 50% of the CTF. “Fifty percent is quite ambitious,” said Frulla. “We have to leave space for others also.” The CBC’s envelope has been pegged on its average take in the past.

On the technology front, Frulla asked the CBC to produce a plan for its transition to the digital realm, including HDTV, and asked that broadcast regulator the CRTC “act as a catalyst, encouraging Canadian broadcasters to shift more quickly to high definition.” The Canadian industry has been dragging its feet in the move to high definition. It is thought to be two or three years behind the U.S. in the move, and industryites fear that the Canuck industry could be left behind.

Frulla also committed to tabling a long-awaited copyright bill in the near future.

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