Catch is, to use it, ideas must be multiplatform

TORONTO — The Canadian government’s C$350 million ($340 million) Canadian Media Fund to finance TV and new media productions opened for business on April 1.

With it, local content creators and providers enter a new era of convergent, multi-platform thinking — one that may require some speed dating if TV and new media developers, producers and providers are to meet the new rules for project funding.

The CMF merges two former funds for TV and new media, fed by cash from the federal government plus dues from cable and satellite providers, and is the result of a lengthy consultation with industry players.

The funds had a total of $222 million, so the CMF’s warchest is a major hike.

The CMF has allocated $26.6 million for the experimental stream that supports cutting-edge interactive and digital content and software apps for existing and emerging platforms and devices.

That leaves the bulk of the cash for the convergent stream that focuses on drama, docus, kids content and various projects to be distributed via TV and one other platform — considerably raising the game for new media platforms.

This stream includes the $273.3 million “performance envelope,” which is divvied up among broadcasters who must spend most of the cash on content commissioned from independent producers.

However, the game-changer is that at least half of the money the producers receive must be spent on “rich, value-added” content such as podcasts, webisodes and games.

Industry reaction has been mostly positive, although pubcaster CBC is grumbling.

CBC used to automatically receive 37% of the funding under the old system but will now have to line up with commercial broadcasters CTV, Global et al to see how the fund will be divvied up. A CMF spokesperson said the allocation announcement will land within days.

But most players are still wading through the fine print of the guidelines, released March 26.

Not surprisingly, the interactive digital sector is encouraged by the increase in funding and the expectation of new partnerships.

With the June 25 deadline for the first round of experimental stream funding weeks away, major players are stepping up efforts to ensure the CMF is “ready to process and adjudicate the expanded criteria for interactive products and services,” according to Interactive Ontario president Ian Kelso.

On the flipside, independent Canadian producers — who contribute $2.26 billion of business to the economy (add foreign and in-house broadcast production to get $4.9 billion) — don’t necessarily have wide experience in interactive content development.

One new media consultant has already jumped into the breach, offering a match-making service to help partner producers with interactive companies.

Time will tell if it marks a turning point in a tough period of recessionary restraint, consolidation and lay-offs.

“The collegiality had been washed out of the industry,” says Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. president and CEO Norm Bolen, a former CBC exec and former senior VP at private broadcaster Alliance, where he oversaw 13 specialty networks and emerging media content. “The CMF consultation was one of the bright lights because it brought together contradictory points of view and we reached a common understanding of other parties, which was sorely lacking.”

Bolen said TV producers in Canada are largely aware that — if they’re not doing so already — they need to be working in the interactive space.

“Many countries are ahead of us in terms of what they’re doing with mobile systems, for example, but there are many innovative Canadian players just waiting to do more,” he said, adding, “The younger generation of consumers expects multi-platforms and interactivity to be part of every media offering.”

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