Valerie Creighton, Part 2: Plans for CMF.

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

Fraser. You've seen the evolution of public policy at all levels of government. Are we heading in the right direction?

Creighton.  It's hard to say. Federally, there's an interesting question around that. The NFB has done a great job of repositioning themselves by making content accessible to Canadians. Telefilm has new leadership. There's a new approach there to what the organization will be about. The Canada Media Fund has just been established. There is a great desire to work together collaboratively and more efficiently. Today you can’t be a funder of content and not know what else is going on.

There's a lot of resistance in the industry to the move to digital; it's probably going to be as significant a change for us as the Industrial Revolution. We just have to get past it, especially the fear of the unknown. The business models really aren't there yet; five years from now we won't be having these conversations. Right now, I don't think we have a choice. Digital media is where consumers are going, where the market is going; we have to fit into that with branded entertainment content that is compelling, serious, funny.

F.  Many people say that we’re at a watershed; we're making very good film and television, but we have some issues with marketing and finding the audiences.

C.  I'm glad you said that, because I just embarked this year on a project with Telefilm and CMF. It’s a joint project about that very thing. It's taking the investment that we collectively make every year, which is close to a half billion dollars, and making it count. That's a lot of money, and it's not that the product isn't successful; but Canadians at home don't even know we’re successful. When a show like Bo on the Go, from Halifax, is sold into 150 territories, that means something for the country: its sales, its economic impact. Kids love the show all over the world. The average Canadian citizen doesn't know about the success of this investment. So, this project that I'm working on is focused on exactly that.

It's not like the old days when I was a girl. We’d turn on the CBC and say, “Oh, this is so bad, it must be Canadian.” Those days are long gone. Our content stands shoulder to shoulder with the world; we don't need to be embarrassed about it. Just look at the tremendous success internationally of the newer television shows making entry into the U.S. market and the ones that are syndicated like Degrassi, Da Vinci, Flashpoint, like Rookie Blue… we’re a different country than we were 10 years ago. And the Fund really isn't very old; it's really only been around for 15 years.

F.  And we don't know it, as Canadians...

C.   Right. That's absolutely true. The project this year is meant to look at the system that's there, at the branded Canadian content, the marketing and promotion, and see if we can develop a bit of a strategy around that.

F.  So what's the plan?

C.  Just working on it. I only started April 1 [interview took place in June], started meeting with the relevant people: the distributors, some of the broadcasters, some of the production community, and people outside the industry. I'm always curious about people like Joe Fresh, the guy who turned a grocery store into maybe the most successful clothing store in the world. We need that kind of re-think for our own industry. If we can sell milk in this country, we should be able to sell our content! It's pretty interesting stuff, right? We're just in the middle of looking at all the different arms and legs and, obviously, the opportunity provided by the digital universe is going to be fundamental.

People say that the average Canadian goes to two Cineplex experiences a year. What makes us think that one of those films would be Canadian? Even if they did want to see a Canadian film, are they going to be able to? We only have 2% of the screen time available to us. Yet statistics show that subscription VOD service for feature films in Canada is a hot ticket item. The demand is increasing.  So there’s an appetite for it; we haven't done the best job in the world promoting it…. and it's hard to fight the juggernauts in terms of getting material to Canadians.

F.  What lessons do we have to learn from Québec?

C.  Lots. Of course the differences are obvious. There's the language difference and a market that has borders around it: there's a very controlled environment. But those people have done it right: they have tremendous political support. It's about the culture, but wrapped in great, compelling, creative content that has had success on the world stage. In our project, we will certainly be looking back to see what could be pulled across as a larger strategy for the country.

F.  And we have a new government with a clear mandate. What do you want from them and what do you expect from them?

C.  They've already given us what we want in part. The Fund was always a sunset program of government, which meant that it could stop every April 1. They have just announced ongoing funding for us at $100 million. That's very big news in this environment. It's almost unbelievable. We feel so pleased with that; clearly they have confidence in how we implemented the program in the first year. And our argument was that if they really wanted us to do a good job, we had to be able to plan into the future. So we’re absolutely thrilled with the commitment the government has made. Canada's digital economic strategy is going to be very important to the country. A strong component of it is the hardware, education and training. But you really have to have the content. We view the Canada Media Fund and Telefilm as part of the content arm for the digital economic strategy. I think that's the road we will go down with government in the future to make sure that we get great Canadian talent in front of more Canadians and more international audiences, which would naturally create more demand for content.

F.  Where do the provinces come into this?

C.  The provinces are absolutely critical. What we have not done very well in this country is to build strong, compelling, federal-provincial relationships. There are great agencies in every province. There are great producers’ associations in every province, and the three territories. At the CMF, when we do our 29-city tour, we make sure that we get to everybody. Taking the success of content in each province and territory is how we build that brand into a national strategy; it’s absolutely critical.