Government docs indicate Netflix spends more on scripted English Canadian content than Bell Media

In the government docs and emails, Bell Media argues that they contribute much more overall

Netflix pays more for scripted Canadian programming than Bell Media, new internal government documents indicate.

The documents, published by Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, were obtained under the Access to Information Act.

An ‘information note’ for Graham Flack, deputy minister of Canadian Heritage under Mélanie Joly, reads:

“While Netflix [redacted] than Bell Media on scripted programming ($127.8 million in 2016), it should be noted that Bell Media plays an important role in producing other vital Canadian content like news and local/regional programming ($249 million in 2016), documentary ($38.8 million) and sports ($300.6 million).”

The redacted piece is withheld for “commercial reasons” says Geist, but its meaning is fairly clear. The internal memo came after a meeting with Bell’s chief legal and regulatory officer Mirko Bibic, as well as a subsequent follow-up email. Bibic’s email is also included in the documents.

In it he writes:

“You indicated that Netflix spends more on Canadian content than the private Canadian broadcasters. While we take no issue with Netflix’s (and other foreign online services’) participation in the Canadian broadcasting ecosystem, their relative contributions compared to Canadian broadcasters and the extent and manner in which they participate must be put in their proper context in order to critically assess how to review Canadian broadcasting policy.”

He follows by conceding that “it is possible Netflix spends as much as or slightly more on independently produced English-language Canadian scripted programming.”

However, he writes that, in total, “Netflix spends nowhere close to as much as us on Canadian programming.”

He cites the fact that Netflix does not produce news, local or cultural programming and does not support the development process for scripted programming stating: “Typically, they participate at the end to close financing gaps.”

Naturally, Bibic also mentions a key point of contention — Netflix has no Canadian employees and pays no Canadian tax.

Bell Media responded to MobileSyrup‘s request for comment by referring us to a June 2018 press release that states it plans to spend nearly $900 million in French and English programming in 2018/19.

“We are proud to continue to invest and partner in original content that is seen more and more around the world,” said Randy Lennox, president of Bell Media, in the release.

The unearthing of these documents is the latest in an ongoing debate on how — or if –foreign content streaming platforms like Netflix should contribute to Canada’s media ecosystem.

In his blog post, Geist cites public numbers that show foreign investment in Canadian production has grown over the time Netflix began investing in original content. He further criticizes Joly for joining the chorus of those arguing for Netflix taxes or regulation, while “her own department acknowledges that Netflex spends more on English-language scripted programming than Canadian broadcasters without specific regulation or legislated mandates.”

Recently, Canada’s telecom regulator laid out a number of suggestions it believes will guide a sustainable future for Canada’s broadcast industry. Among them: a proposed levy on internet service providers that would go toward funding Canadian content.

Update 7/9/2018: Updated with response from Bell Media.

Source: Michael Geist