After a lengthy and heated debate, Canada has passed the Online Streaming Act, known as Bill C-11, which imposes significant new regulations on digital streaming platforms. This historic legislation completely overhauls the country‘s 30-year-old broadcasting rules to account for rapid technological changes. But critics warn it could restrict consumer choice and dampen innovation. Let‘s take a deeper look at what‘s in the bill, the key arguments around it, and what it might mean for the future of streaming in Canada.
A Sweeping Update to Broadcasting Laws
Bill C-11 is the first major reform to the Canadian Broadcasting Act since 1991, which only covered traditional media like television and radio. The new law empowers the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to regulate all audio and video streaming services, including global giants like Netflix, Disney+, YouTube, and TikTok. This brings the rules for online platforms in line with those currently imposed on domestic broadcasters.
Specifically, the CRTC can now demand streaming services promote and financially contribute to Canadian content production, though details of how much remain unclear. The regulator will also require platforms to make Canadian content easy to find for users. In essence, streaming sites will be pushed to behave more like television networks based in Canada.
Supporters: Protection for Canadian Culture
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez spearheaded Bill C-11 and argues it addresses a "power imbalance" where foreign online platforms don‘t face the same expectations to invest in domestic media as traditional domestic broadcasters. He contends the rules ensure the viability of Canadian stories and culture. "Canadians will have more choice when it comes to seeing Canadian content," he said.
Advocates like unions and industry groups also believe the regulations simply level the playing field and are necessary for Canadian content to flourish in the 21st century. Historically, Ottawa has imposed quotas to safeguard homegrown programming and music given the dominance of neighbouring American media. Supporters see Bill C-11 as upholding this tradition.
Critics: Free Speech and Consumer Choice at Risk
Opponents consider the legislation an unacceptable expansion of government control that risks stifling free expression. Digital rights groups warn empowering bureaucrats to determine what counts as "Canadian" content and force-feed it to consumers is a form of censorship. They believe cracking down on streaming could perversely make it harder for users to access diverse media.
Critics also argue the regulations will create unclear, onerous compliance burdens for digital platforms, which could simply pass on costs to subscribers. Some experts believe the law threatens to undercut innovation and the liberating potential of internet-delivered media by imposing outdated analog-era rules.
By The Numbers: Surging Streaming
Canada‘s streaming market has witnessed explosive growth, as legacy media declines:
Netflix has 7.6 million Canadian subscribers, up from 6.5 million in 2020
Streaming grew over 23% in 2021 to reach $2.1 billion in revenue
Broadcast TV advertising fell over 10% to $1.7 billion in 2021
Streaming now accounts for over 50% of TV viewing
70% of English-speaking Canadians have a streaming subscription
How Will This Impact Viewers?
Only time will tell how Bill C-11 shakes out, but here are some potential effects:
More Canadian movies/shows promoted on platforms, but possibly less overall choice
Rising subscription prices as streaming sites pass on compliance costs
CRTC empowered to gather data/enforce discoverability quotas
VPN crackdowns, if streamers try to skirt Canadian restrictions
Funding boost to domestic media production companies
Risk of politically manipulated outcomes as regulators shape algorithms
Is This Model Repeatable Abroad?
Canada is not alone in updating regulations for the streaming era. For example:
European Union finalizing its Digital Services Act to curb illegal/harmful content
Australia compelling Facebook and Google to pay for media links
France requiring streaming services dedicate up to 40% of library to European works
China‘s tight controls on online media, including banning most US streamers
But Canada‘s bill goes further than most countries in directly setting content quotas. Some consider this approach too heavy-handed.
The Future of Streaming in Canada
While the Online Streaming Act‘s goals may be noble, the risks of unintended consequences loom large to critics. Market forces could organically serve to boost Canadian content without intrusive regulation.
However, Ottawa believes relying solely on industry self-regulation is what led to today‘s Canadian media decline. It remains to be seen whether citizens accept greater government influence over their online entertainment. With Bill C-11 now law, the coming years promise to redefine streaming in Canada as regulators flex their new powers.