CBC will no longer work with Netflix to produce shows, says Catherine Tait
By Adam Benzine
Despite the success of award-winning TV drama co-productions such as Anne with an E and Alias Grace, the head of the CBC says the broadcaster will no longer work with Netflix Inc.
“We’re not going to do deals that hurt the long-term viability of our domestic industry,” president and CEO Catherine Tait told the Content Canada podcast last week.
“A number of countries have done deals, as we did, with Netflix … and over time we start to see that we’re feeding the growth of Netflix, or we’re feeding the growth of Amazon, rather than feeding our own domestic business and industry.”
Tait’s comments mark a notable change of policy from last December, when she saidshe “absolutely” saw such cost-saving co-productions as being the future for the CBC. And while no explicit reason was given for the U-turn, it comes as Netflix has significantly ramped up its activity in Canada.
After setting up a production hub in Toronto in February, the Los Gatos, Calif.-based subscription service declared last month that it had already surpassed the $500-million figure it had promised to invest in original Canadian productions by 2022. With popular classic TV shows such as The Office and Friends set to leave the service, and competition on the horizon from rivals such as Disney+ and Apple TV Plus, Netflix will need a stronger portfolio of original shows if it wants to hold on to its subscribers.
A spokesperson for Netflix in Canada declined to respond to Tait’s comments.
At the heart of the CBC’s complaint is the fact that Netflix and other streaming services, such as Amazon Prime Video and CBS All Access, are not required to collect sales tax in Canada and are not governed by the same rules as domestic producers. For example, Canadian broadcasters are required to put five per cent of their gross revenue into the Canada Media Fund to support creators. Netflix’s investment in Canada is entirely optional.
The situation has led to outspoken criticism from many broadcasters, including executives from Bell Media and Corus Entertainment.
But Tait went a step further last January, comparing Netflix’s influence to that of colonialism, accusing it of “cultural imperialism,” and likening its success to the reign of the murderous British Raj in India, comments which drew criticism that she had been insensitive.
Tait saidshe regretted her choice of words, but stood by the sentiment. “The idea that we are dealing with an empire that could in some ways compromise our own true cultural sovereignty? I do not stand down on those remarks,” she said.
“I think what you’re going to start to see… is that we believe that anybody profiting from the Canadian system should contribute to the system.”
Tait’s comments raise questions over the future of CBC/Netflix coproduction Anne with an E, the Lucy Maud Montgomery adaptation that won seven Canadian Screen Awards earlier this year, including the prize for Best Canadian Drama.
… we are dealing with an empire that could in some ways compromise our own true cultural sovereignty
Catherine Tait, president, CBC
The show is produced by Northwood Entertainment, which has just completed filming the show’s third season. It is currently being broadcast by the CBC and will air globally on Netflix in 2020. “Both Netflix and CBC have been incredibly generous and supportive partners,” said Northwood founder Miranda de Pencier, adding she wasn’t sure whether there will be a fourth season.
In addition to funding and hosting Canadian co-productions on its platform, Netflix also provides a second window and a crucial international launchpad for many independently made CBC shows, such as Kim’s Convenience and Workin’ Moms.
According to Kaan Yigit, an analyst for Toronto-based Solutions Research Group (SRG), 55 per cent of all online households in Canada stream Netflix — a figure that rises to nearly 70 per cent with younger audiences aged 18 to 49.
By contrast, SRG found that 65 per cent of online Canadians had not even heard of the CBC’s streaming service, Gem. Yigit said Netflix plays an important role in promoting Canadian content throughout the world, citing the CBC comedy Schitt’s Creek as an example.
The show has reached a global audience on Netflix and landed four Emmy nominations in July, thanks to the U.S. streamer’s awards campaign. “So to say that Netflix is not contributing to Canadian creators or the domestic business is a narrow interpretation of what is going on,” Yigit said.
“To my mind, the CBC should be looking for ways to work with Netflix to benefit from its reach and influence, and to benefit creators in Canada.”
Ultimately, the CBC boss stopped short of definitively ruling out any future collaboration with Netflix. “It’s nothing as a black and white as that,” Tait said. But she suggested such collaborations are unlikely as long as it continues to be unbound by Canadian content and tax requirements.
“We’re looking very carefully at what is good for the ecosystem,” she said. “Their priority is maximizing their revenues across a global audience. Our priority is maximizing Canadian creators’ health and well-being in this market.”