Valerie Creighton, Part 1: Canadian Media Fund.

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

My name is Valerie Creighton; I'm the president and CEO of the newly-formed Canada Media Fund. It is a combination of the old Canadian Television Fund and the Canada Media Fund that Telefilm Canada used to administer.

Fraser. This signals a new approach to funding for the creation of dramatic television and film in Canada.

Creighton. Yes, we’re still confined by the direction on genre to finance and support drama, documentary, kids and youth variety, and performing arts. That’s still the bulk of the television production support that we do. But with the move to anywhere, anytime, anyplace, audiences, especially youth, are looking for content and using media content…. It’s funny, when governments make these kinds of funding decisions, you question the wisdom as a taxpayer. But in this case, Min. Moore and his team at Heritage were quite visionary, very advanced, in terms of thinking about where the consumption of media was going to go and how we can better support it in the country.

Right now, we're getting calls from all over the world to come and speak about how we're doing this. People want to know if the convergence is working and what the downside is, because the bulk of the money is still in TV and associated digital projects. But we have the new stream for content on the Internet: mobile content, and telephone software applications where there is no restriction from a broadcast license. So it's opening up a whole world of possibilities.

F. Talk about how you’re making the choices, how you balance all the different kinds of people coming to you looking for support.

C. We still have some selective programs in development in the French market and the aboriginal community, but the lion’s share of the money is in what we call the convergence stream. So that's traditional TV combined with a digital media component. For many years, the fund was 50% oversubscribed, so looking for the right mechanism has always been a challenge. Six years ago, the fund made a decision to move to broadcaster or performance envelopes. The decision was that the market should decide what's going to work and that broadcasters were closer to the market than we would be as bureaucrats funding a program. So, the trigger is a broadcast license. When a producer applicant comes to us, they have to come with a broadcast license in hand.

F. And are they all yes-able?

C. Yes, if they meet the criteria: if they have a broadcast license, if they're Canadian. Of course we’re looking for 10 out of 10 content. Of course we have some flexibility for documentary and kids and we have a very active co-production portfolio. But what we did with broadcasters about six years ago, was to look at the money available through a very competitive process and develop factor weights on the broadcaster's behaviour in the previous year. If they earned points in certain factor weights, we would be able to tell them in advance how much money they had earned to use for licensing content. Once that decision is made, it becomes much more regulated in terms of the process. And the broadcasters know how much they have to spend. So, pretty much everything that comes to us gets funded.

F. This gets you out of the business of having to pick winners.

C. Yes, the experimental stream is different; it’s more selective. There's more subjectivity there because all that content was so diverse. We got applications for console games, mobile apps, web episodes, and interactive web series. We decided to put together a jury of international experts from various fields. They came from around the world and juried the applications. The demand was huge. We had $27 million in the budget last year and we got $148 million in demand. I did observe some of the jury process and it was phenomenal to watch the deep expertise that these people brought to their decisions. Innovation is the driver in that part of the program; so we did feel that it would help our credibility to bring in people who are really leading-edge to that whole field.

F. It’s surprising that those people are always accessible and happy to do it.

C. Yes. We were so fortunate to get the people we did.

F. Can you talk about your own background, how you came to be doing this?

C. Sure. I just fell into it. I'm a German girl: when I see a mess, I just want to clean it up. I've been in the business for about 35 years in film and TV, running various organizations; I have no formal training for this work. My specialty is working with organizations that are going through a lot of change or chaos, or need to be rebuilt. That's kind of how my career has developed. It wasn't intentional. I came most recently to the Television Fund from the Saskatchewan Media Development Corporation, called SaskFilm, where I was the CEO and the Film Commissioner.

Then I was approached to come and interview for the Canadian Television Fund job; they were going through a major transition with Telefilm the first year when we outsourced the program. So that was interesting to me. I was curious about that. I was born and bred in Canada, a Saskatchewan girl raised in the West; I’ve lived all over the world. I have a horse ranch in Saskatchewan and still have a very active breeding program when I can get there; but for the 35 years of my career, I've always worked for organizations, primarily on the public side of the equation, in administration and in building efficient teams with a clear vision of where the organization needs to go. That's the strength I bring to the process.