Ottawa’s attempts to promote Canadian content online could have the opposite effect, YouTube creators fear

Ottawa’s attempts to promote Canadian content online could have the opposite effect, YouTube creators fear
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Canadians who work in the digital world say the federal government’s proposed updates to broadcasting regulations could end up hamstringing its own goal of promoting Canadian cultural content.

The government is nonetheless charging ahead with Bill C-10, its long awaited update of the Broadcasting Act, after a whirlwind of controversy and debate over whether it might open the door to social media content regulation.

“We are very concerned about the unintended consequences of this legislation,” said Google spokesperson Lauren Skelly in a statement to the Star on Friday, “particularly with regard to the potential impact on Canadian content creators that use our platform to reach global audiences.”

And some of those content creators agree, saying the changes contemplated by the bill could actually hurt them rather than help.

An amendment to the bill would narrow the ways in which the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) could regulate social media platforms. However, the commission could enforce “discoverability” requirements for platforms like YouTube, ensuring that Canadian content (Cancon) is promoted.

For Canadian professionals who have made careers out of in-house YouTube productions, forcing the promotion of Canadian content could stymie their reach, says Scott Benzie, CEO of Buffer Festival, which showcases digital content in Toronto every year.

A major factor is YouTube’s global algorithm, he said, because it gives users recommendations and serves them up videos based on their search preferences.

If the CRTC tackles the complicated task of trying to determine what is and isn’t Canadian content, and YouTube begins promoting Cancon to users who are not in fact searching for it, “that’s going to negatively affect my video globally,” Benzie said.

He said promoting a Cancon video to a YouTube user who doesn’t interact with it could negatively impact the video’s ranking on the platform, ultimately hurting the producer behind it.

And, Benzie said, such a policy would require mind-bending decisions on such matters as whether content created by Canadians living in the U.S. would be considered Cancon.

Having shares, likes, views and comments on a YouTube video helps ensure it gets promoted to a broader audience, he said, adding that most Canadian creators don’t just rely on a Canadian audience because it’s “too small a slice of pie.”

“And then, I mean, the slippery slope of it all is, if we do this in Canada, let’s say we do it — great. If they did that in the U.S.? There’s no more Canadian content creators,” he said.

According to a 2019 analysis done at Ryerson University, 24 million Canadians log on to YouTube every month. Among them are 160,000 accounts that post content and 40,000 that earn revenue from doing so.

“They say they want to increase discoverability of Canadian artists,” said Benzie. “There’s been no greater vehicle for that than the democratization of online content.

“It is, clearly, legislation that’s looking for a problem.”

On the other hand, domestic broadcasters say the playing field isn’t currently balanced. They note that foreign web giants that stream content to Canadians don’t pay taxes or into Canadian cultural funds, and don’t face the same requirements domestic broadcasters do, like having to promote Cancon.

As Quebecor said in a brief to the Canadian heritage committee that’s been studying the bill, the Quebec-based broadcaster “believes that equity between all broadcasting undertakings, regardless of their services or technological medium used to transmit their content, must be the cornerstone of any Canadian broadcasting ecosystem.”



Bill C-10 is expected to pass in the House of Commons, as it has support from the Bloc Québécois and the NDP. Then it goes to the Senate.

The government has maintained that the bill would not infringe on freedom of expression rights and that the goal isn’t to regulate content put up by individual users.

Ultimately, the CRTC will be left to make the rules, but the government has said that its goal with regulating some social media platforms is to ensure that they pay into Canadian cultural productions and promote Cancon.
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