Gary Maavara, Part 2: Size of Canadian Industry

Interviewed by Fil Fraser at Banff World Media Festival on June, 2011

Fraser. Can you speak from your experience about the regulation of film and television in Canada?

Maavara. Anyone who goes outside of Canada realizes that there is a lot of fine programming in this country. As far as local television programming goes, Canada is one of the best in the world. Our news and public affairs programming is as good as any. Our sports production is the best on earth, and the reason I say that is the crew that produces every Olympics is Canadian. There is a roving group of Canadians that has been doing it ever since 1988. Documentary goes without saying; we do that very well. On the dramatic side, we struggle, especially with the size of the audience.

F. There are those who argue that we should have gone farther with regulation, especially with broadcasting, that we should have something to what Pierre Juneau introduced for radio: 30% Canadian content. A similar argument can be made for Canadian screens, that the Canadian public should have better access to its feature films. In other words, we could have done more.

M. I'm not sure I agree with that. It is not necessarily the case that, if you put the content in front of people, they will watch it. It is inescapable that we are next door to the United States and that people pay attention to that. The debate you mention focuses around drama and scripted programming. On the movie side, if you look at the last 25 years, there have not been a lot of great, lasting films that you would want to pull off the shelf and watch. But recently, Canadian films are getting to be quite good. I think it has taken this long to develop an adequate talent pool. That's not to denigrate the people who were there before. But they lived on a wing and a prayer; now there is more of an industry.

Arthur Weinthal used to say that film was a craft more than an art: you could have wonderful actors scripts, but you still need that magic elixir that made it into a great story. We are starting to do that more often with movies like Barney's Version, and we are really good at it now.

F. We have the craft.

M. Yes. On Movie Central, for example, we're playing all those recent Canadian films and the French language films; and we get audiences for them.

F. Do you commission films?

M.  Yeah. We commission a lot. Barney's Version would not exist without us.

F. What is the size of that pot?

M.  The amount that we spend? I'm not going to say that on tape; but we spend quite a bit. I made a point to a broadcast summit recently that one of the mythologies we have in Canada is that we have no market for Canadian content. I did a back of the envelope exercise a few weeks ago where I went into the various reports and counted up all the spending on Canadian content. And you won't guess the total. The total was $10 billion.

F.  Annually?

M.  Annually.

F. Wow!  Most of that is government money?

M.  At a guess, I would say that about $2 billion of that was government money, if you take the CMF (which of course is not government money), Telefilm, and CBC. The rest is private money.  The point is that if you took any other business, like shoes, you would think that $10 billion was a big market.  We could do things with a market like that.  So, if we look at the current regime, we should be asking ourselves what we are doing strategically to create the content that will attract audiences in Canada and elsewhere. But audience delivery is not the only thing. My criticism of the regulatory regime is that it has to be more strategic. There are a variety of choices we have to make in order to foster the development of really terrific content.