Online streaming platform Netflix announced in September that it would pledge to spend $500 million over a span of five years producing content in Canada. In return, the Canadian government is giving Netflix… something. What that is, we don’t know yet.
Pundits have speculated that perhaps Netflix will start producing content under the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) CanCon regulations, which require that television stations in Canada air a certain percentage of shows which are made in Canada, and are comprised of distinctly Canadian content.
Netflix, however, isn’t a station. Part of the reasoning behind coercing a station into producing or highlighting Canadian content is that, at the time it airs, viewers are stuck with that option. Sure, they can change channels, but they can’t cut out the existence of or exposure to that one particular Canadian aspect of television, only ignore it.
Tabling questions on whether this practice is beneficial in terms of fostering cultural bonds between Canadians a la Marshall McLuhan’s imagined community, it appears that, like many of its programming decisions, Netflix’s partnership with the government of Canada reflects an economic agenda, rather than an ideological one.
Hopefully, some of this money might go to Canadian creators (writers, filmmakers, editors, what have you), but whether that will or won’t happen isn’t clear at the moment, nor is it clear in what capacity Canadian creators would work with Netflix, or how much autonomy they would have.
The fact of the matter is that Netflix isn’t going away. Many Hollywood production companies ignored the service when it started producing original content, but increasingly the platform has begun attracting writer-directors pitching ideas that Hollywood deems economically unsound investments. The Cinderella-story behind Netflix’s most successful original production, Stranger Things, is almost exactly that: producers write a series, pitch it to T.V. networks, are asked to axe the focus on children and horror, and refuse to change the focus of their writing to fit a more marketable aesthetic. Netflix caught wind of the series, and that’s all she wrote.
But will it be as easy as that when courting Canadian writers and filmmakers? In addition to creating a “Canadian Movies” menu section (a move that, according to the CBC, the office of heritage minister Melanie Joly said Netflix is considering), will Netflix scope out fresh Canadian stories, told from a Canadian perspective, whatever that perspective is?
That remains to be seen.
Even more importantly, if, when the hand has been dealt, we find out Netflix has prioritized familiar Hollywood narratives and aesthetics, short-changing would-be Canadian voices, will it matter to you? Will you voice your disapproval by tweet, or will you put your wallet where your mouth is?
I have no definitive answers, but it would be nice to once in awhile recognize VPL’s central branch, or the Orpheum, without being told by subtitles that they’re buildings in Massachusetts or Vienna.
That would be a start.