The Telus Digital Futures Forum at the Banff TV Festival

Broadcasters are struggling with ways to not only stem the tide of online distribution but also become a part of it. The Telus Digital Futures Forum, held Tuesday at the Banff TV Festival, gathered together a diverse group of experts to determine what response, if any, broadcast could give to the changes rocking the industry thanks to online.

Alan Sawyer, the principal consultant for Two Solitudes Consulting, moderated the panel, and started out by asking if the essential financial ecosystem of Canadian broadcasting, ostensibly built to protect Canadian culture, is a sacred cow, and if not, what should be done with it.

Ian Kelso, the president and CEO of Interactive Ontario, said that Canada has created a walled garden, and that Canada needs to find new ways to draw upon the interactive talent that is clearly present in Canada. Michael McGuigan, the CFO of Breakthrough Films and Television, said that we need to figure out distribution before we do anything else. Michael Hennessy, VP of Regulatory and Gov’t Affairs for Telus, said that we have created a system that is increasingly divorced by the audience using the product. Audiences are shifting to content online. In effect, they are going to things they *like*, something we’ve always made quite difficult in this country. Policy should change to an industrial model, he said, and the CRTC hasn’t recognized their own rhetoric isn’t addressing where the audience actually is at present.

Norm Bolen, the president of the Canadian Film and Television Production Association, said content is one of the largest growing areas of consumer consumption on a global scale, and we have to figure out what Canada’s role will be in taking on this opportunity. But we need to strengthen the regulatory framework to make sure Canadian content producers are supported, he said. Without a domestic market, we’ll get no support internationally, he said. Even the US is doing so, but we aren’t, he said.

Hennessey has said previously that “we’re fighting old battles that won’t work in a digital world.” He also namechecked the Nextmedia festival, where practically everyone at the Telus forum (primarily digital, not TV producers) thought there should be no subsidies at all.

Bolen said part of the problem is that Canada has no VC culture of any note (a point that many Techvibes readers might disagree with.) He said money is difficult to get for new media, and so we need to focus. We have the skill set, infrastructure and knowledge, but we don’t have the focus. He added if old media can’t even access a capitalized base, how could new media be expected to do the same.

Kelso said content and technical expertise also have to come together, and to date this has not happened. was initially funded by Telefilm “by mistake,” he said.