04/13/2015 05:09 EDT | Updated 06/14/2015 05:59 EDT

Canadian Indie TV Producers Head To Court Over Loosened CanCon Rules


OTTAWA - A group representing several hundred TV content producers has gone to court, asking that a recent change to Canadian content rules for television be set aside.

The Canadian Media Production Association (CMPA) filed an application Monday for leave to appeal a decision by the country's broadcast regulator that the association warns will cost thousands of jobs.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced last month a major reduction in the number of hours of Canadian content broadcasters must air while upholding the overall dollar amount they must spend on shows airing during prime time.

At the same time, the CRTC gave broadcasters the right to opt out of so-called terms of trade agreements with independent producers, a move that caught the production industry by surprise.

CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said the goal of the changes was to encourage broadcasters to take the money they currently spend on less than stellar daytime programming, and spend it on fewer, higher-quality shows with the potential for gaining a wider international audience.

But the CMPA said the move effectively took away any leverage smaller independent producers had in their negotiations with the big broadcasters.

The CRTC put terms of trade in place in 2011 as a mechanism to give independent producers and broadcasters greater power to negotiate production agreements with the likes of Bell, Rogers, Shaw and Corus.

"We had no choice but to seek to appeal this aspect of the Let's Talk TV decision," said CMPA president and CEO Michael Hennessy.

"Regulatory enforcement of producer safeguards is the only way to ensure producers are able to negotiate fair deals with the media giants."

The group said that, without safeguards, "thousands of jobs and hundreds of businesses are in jeopardy."

In a bid to encourage big-budget hits, the regulator also announced March 12 that it would, on a pilot project basis, broaden the definition of certifiable Canadian content to include shows based on adaptations of best-selling novels authored by Canadians or productions with budgets of at least $2 million an hour, under certain conditions.

The CRTC also eliminated genre protection for specialty channels, a move that Desjardins Securities telecommunications analyst Maher Yaghi said would likely lead to several Canadian specialty channels going off the air.

In announcing the decisions, Blais acknowledged there would be a shakeup in the television industry, but said it was necessary to prepare for the future.

The CMPA estimates that total film and television production volume in Canada in 2013-14 was worth nearly $6 billion and accounted for over 125,000 full time equivalent jobs, including the more than 49,000 people directly employed in productions.

The CRTC said it would not comment on the leave to appeal application, now that it's before the courts.

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