WFF 2013: What media consolidation means for Canadian film

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In Vancouver, we've seen the impact of consolidation in the movie exhibition industry when Cineplex bought Festival Cinemas (which runs Fifth Avenue Cinemas and the Park) this year and International Village in 2010.

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Empire Theatre also sold off its Atlantic Canadian theatres to Cineplex this year.

Meanwhile, film producer and distributor eOne acquired Alliance Films this year.

At the Whistler Film Festival's film and TV industry conference, the Summit, what began as an explanation of media consolidation in Canada gave way to a discussion about concerns about the state of Canadian film.

The panel, held on December 6, consisted of Bell Media regulatory affairs vice-president Kevin Goldstein, Cineplex executive vice-president Michael Kennedy, and eOne film president Patrice Theroux.

Goldstein talked about why it's important to understand why consolidation is happening in Canada. He explained that the nature of competition has radically changed in the media industry.

"If you look back 20, 30 years ago, there were a whole bunch of smaller players, none of which had the scale of players which exist today and then they started merging," he said, "but we also have a whole bunch of potential media outlets entering the system that never existed before and aren't regulated in the same way that larger media players like Bell Media or Shaw Media…. They were starting to look at a situation where they [companies like Bell] had to compete with Netflix and they had to compete with iTunes, and they were saying, 'Okay, I need greater scale so that I can compete with these guys who are dramatically larger than me.' "

He acknowledged that consolidation provides mixed opportunities for content producers.

"There may be less doors to knock on within the traditional media sense but I think there are more media outlets and people wanting to have content available to Canadians than ever before."

Theroux concurred that consolidation can simultaneously shut down and open up opportunities for other companies.

"When we acquired Alliance at the beginning of 2013, it did create one less door to show the movies…. At the same time…it creates an opportunity for a new company to rise and to have access to movies that the new eOne, consolidated Alliance, won't be able to handle."

Meanwhile, Kennedy warned that the record high levels of movie-watching by consumers is actually coinciding with a devaluation of film.

"There's more movies being watched right now than have ever been watched in the history of mankind because there's so many places to see them," he said. "The value of the actual film itself seems to be going down…. The thing that kills me about the fact that there's more movies being watched than there ever has is that there's less money being put into making movies in Canada. There should be more funds available."

Theroux also expressed concerns about the direction funding of Canadian films.

"We also made that choice of being involved with Canadian content, a bit different than the broadcasters who were forced by a system that is based on cultural identity….What we see…is the pullback of the broadcasters from Canadian movies….We see that as a very dangerous trend."

Kennedy observed that unlike other parts of the world, English-language Canada—with the exception of Quebec—has been unable to take advantage of regional domestic markets.

"Every circuit has a regional opportunity across the world to get people to come to their theatres to watch movies that are made there. In the United States, there's African American movies. Hispanic movies is one of the fastest growing sectors in the United States. In Canada, we've not been able to break through, certainly on the English Canadian side, and we're starting to see the French Canadian side's starting go down."

Theroux explained that Quebec has an advantage due to a "captive audience" and an established system for promoting domestic films.

"The actors there will stay there. There's a whole star system. You launch a movie in Quebec and you can take everybody on a road show across the province. You do 10 or 15 places. They go on to a talk show. There's a talk show on primetime television. It's a bit harder in English Canada to recreate all that. They don't get on Letterman that often when we launch a movie."

Nonetheless, Theroux acknowledged that it's difficult to go up against Hollywood films.

"If you have a Canadian movie one night being showcased against a big American movie that has a lot of stars, you're second, third in the pecking order for the media. We understand why but it's frustrating. But never give up because we still make great movies."

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