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Should Netflix or YouTube be required to push Canadian content?

OTTAWA — Montreal host Justin Tomchuk is worried.

On his two YouTube channels, the 32-year-old content creator has amassed hundreds of thousands of subscribers and over 100 million views. Content creation is his full-time job, and his success has allowed him to hire other people to help make his videos.

But Tomchuk fears his content could be caught up in Ottawa’s online streaming bill, which would subject streaming giants like Netflix, Spotify and YouTube to the same regulations that already apply to conventional radio and TV broadcasters in the world. Canada. This means that some of these rules – like determining what percentage of what you see and hear on the Canadian airwaves is actually Canadian content (Cancon) – could also be applied to streaming sites. Requirements regarding the promotion of Cancon, which is content that meets certain criteria ensuring that it is in part created by Canadians, have been in place for decades in an effort to support Canadian productions.

“Let’s say if you’re a Canadian musician…and (YouTube) starts artificially showing your music to other Canadians. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who see your video are the best audience for your music,” Tomchuk told The Star.

“It just means they’re Canadian. And you will therefore show your videos to people who are less interested in them. »

Tomchuk is one of many online creators who worry that such requirements will teach website algorithms that Canadian content isn’t worth recommending. If people aren’t interested in Cancon, the argument goes, algorithms will tell streaming sites that such content isn’t something people want to see — both in the country and abroad. outside.

Tension over the issue was amplified this week by YouTube, after the company launched what it called an “extraordinary” campaign against the bill.

YouTube chief commercial officer Robert Kyncl sent an email to creators, which was obtained by the Star, warning that Bill C-11 “has the potential to significantly disadvantage Canadian creators who rely on our platform”.

In a similar blog postNeal Mohan, chief product officer, wrote Wednesday that the bill could “change the personalized experience for millions of Canadians who visit YouTube every day.”

He said YouTube uses “signals” such as the number of clicks on a video, how long someone stays to watch it, and how often it is shared and liked to “introduce viewers to new content and creators they might not have thought to look for”. .”

Mohan said the bill would force the platform to “manipulate” how it uses these metrics to recommend videos, and said it could also lead to a situation where Cancon, which doesn’t have a lot of commitment would not be recommended on a “global scale”.

On Thursday, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez hit back at YouTube, saying online platforms like YouTube are free to “control their own algorithms”.

“I don’t necessarily appreciate a company trying to intimidate Canadians,” he said of YouTube’s comments.

A government source confirmed to The Star that it won’t be up to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) alone to decide how so-called “discoverability” requirements will work on each platform; rather, the regulator will need to work closely with companies to determine what works best.

The source also said that the “heart” of the issue of discoverability among digital creators is that they are not targeted by the legislation in the first place.

Indeed, one of the most contentious debates on C-11 centered on whether “user-generated content” — or regular videos posted by individuals — would be subject to regulation.

The government has insisted the bill only affects commercial content and has repeatedly said that users like Tomchuk will not be regulated.

But a section of the bill “sets out the circumstances under which the CRTC can make these user content regulations,” said Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and Electronic Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa.

“I think most people read that there is wide latitude for the CRTC to do just that.”

Whether or not individual content is subject to discoverability measures, it remains to be seen whether controlling what people see online is a valid way to support the Canadian film, television and music sector.

“I just think the Government of Canada is wrong to promote any content in any capacity. I think the government is wrong in trying to control the kind of entertainment or learning experiences people have in the privacy of their own living rooms,” said JJ McCullough, a former political commentator and writer who now broadcasts to nearly 850,000 subscribers each. week on his YouTube channel.

“Bill C-11 is sort of based on a pretense, which is the idea that Canadians and Canadian content need a paternalistic, helping hand from the federal government because otherwise we would be destined to wither on the vine,” he said. said.

Essentially, the issue of discoverability depends on how it works in practice, said Senator Paula Simons, a member of the Senate committee studying the bill.

If discoverability means something like promoting Canadian content on Netflix’s front-end portal, for example, “then I think that’s relatively benign,” Simons said.

“If we’re talking about dynamic discoverability, getting people to pair their algorithms, then I have a lot more discomfort.”

The first proposal is what some Canadian producers want out of the bill.

Justin Rebelo is the CEO of Vortex Media, which produces and distributes film and television productions, and director of the Canadian Association of Film Distributors and Exporters.

Rebelo told the Senate Transportation and Communications Committee this week that he wants the CRTC to ensure that Cancon accounts for 30% of “featured content” that appears on carousels and recommendation engines on sites like Netflix.

Rebelo said that while he thinks user-generated content shouldn’t fall under the bill, when it comes to movie or TV offerings on Netflix and Amazon, it’s up to Canadian producers of s ensuring that their content is something that Canadians actually want to consume.

“I think it’s really important that every Canadian has the ability to live, work and understand their culture,” he told the Star.

“If someone really wants to see The Lord of the Rings, of course they will be able to see it too. In fact, this does not prevent any content from entering our ecosystem at the end of the day. audience it is meant to find.”

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa journalist who covers federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel

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