Kevin Shea, Part 1: OMPDC

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

My name is Kevin Shea; I am currently Chair of OMDC [Ontario Media Development Corporation]. I sit on the boards of a number of publicly and privately traded companies. I grew up in the entertainment business and have maintained my interest and fascination with it. And I love the Canadian aspect of it.

Fraser. You've been a broadcaster and a producer, in all phases of this business, at one time or another, for 25 or 30 years.

Shay. Yes, I've been very lucky. I started my career at Rogers, but spent most of my time with Rogers back in the 80s in the US, just as cable and special networks were starting. I tried several times to start a kids channel and in 1988 we were successful with getting a license for YTV, which was one of the first scheduled networks licensed as a cable network. I ran it for seven years and then I've had many opportunities with networks since then.

F. Talk about the role of the Ontario funding program with respect to the federal developments and compare that to what's going on in Québec.

S. When I was approached to chair OMDC, I'd only been on the broadcast side. I'd dabbled in production, but had never really been a producer. OMDC is unique in that it's not just film and TV. It’s book publishing, magazine publishing, interactive, music: all of which today are publishers of digital content. For me, the one constant has been, is that access to investment equity in Canadian media entertainment digital companies still remains the missing ingredient for success. Banks will fund cable companies and telcos in Canada; but are still reluctant to invest in anything that looks like entertainment or digital content. And, at OMDC, although we’ve been successful in convincing the Ontario government to create new funds for investment, we still continue, both nationally and provincially, to fund projects, not companies.

If ever there was an example of the digital age being a relevant investment opportunity, all you have to do is look at the headliners of the Googles, the Yahoos, and the YouTubes, all of which could have been initiated in Canada with enough money. Somehow we have to convince a combination of government and business, ideally in some kind of partnership, to create significant investment funds to invest in companies not projects. Over the next 4-5 years, the real opportunity and the explosion of digital content and digital distribution will be massive. We’re a smart country and a bilingual country; in fact, with our exploding ethnic population, we're a multilingual country with tons of human resources and a phenomenal education system, but we still lack tangible investment funding to support our companies.

F. Part of the problem is that, when we're trying to raise money for entertainment products, we’re really selling dreams. Other countries, other people get that. Can you talk about the situation in Québec?

S. Québec has always been more advanced, particularly in terms of investment. For them it was more of an inherent cultural necessity. If they didn’t invest in Francophone-based companies, there would be no product. So they got the message early. The big difference from when you and I were young and producing something, is that it was predominantly for a domestic market. And there were reasons for that. America, Britain, and some of the other European markets, owned international distribution. It was fenced in. So we protected our distribution networks here by regulation: the CRTC, broadcast regs… it was all domestic protection, protection, protection.

The Internet changed all that. Today's young producer, I mean people in their 20s and 30s, completely understand that the minute they make something and it goes online, the world is your market. But, what we as a country aren’t doing is investing in those opportunities. I don't know that today, necessarily, it's all dreams from these young content producers. Potentially they could be even more business-oriented than producers 30 years ago; you and I would've had two very distinct points of view back then. There were producers with distinct, creative ideas and those that understood the economic chain of getting lots of money from public sources to invest in content.