Making Culture

An open Internet benefits the production of cultural goods in Canada. The cultural industries are a vital part of the Canadian economy; however, cultural production involves all Canadians, even those who do not sell their creations or consider themselves professional producers. Creating culture involves user-generated production and amateur production, as well as the more traditional sense of professional cultural production. An open Internet is vital to the success of Canadian content producers, and successful content producers make a substantial contribution to the Canadian economy. The Canadian online marketplace accounted for $62.7 billion in sales in 2007.245 Over 27% of firms in Information and Culture industries, and 24% in the Arts, Entertainment, and Recreational industries conducted online sales in 2007 — a number that is surely higher today.246 Statistics Canada reports that in 2010 the Arts, Entertainment and Recreation industries contributed $11.3 billion to the Gross Domestic Product, while the Information and Cultural industries added $45.6 billion.247 They also add well-paying jobs to the Canadian economy; Information and Communications Technology (ICT) workers, for example, earn on average $62 000 per year, 47 percent more than the average wage nationally.248

Content producers depend on the Internet to function as an open marketplace for promoting and profiting from their work. The Canadian science fiction show "Sanctuary," for example, depended on an open Internet during its launch as a series distributed and sold online. The show attracted enough attention online that the SyFy channel acquired the rights to show the program on television. Sanctuary is now entering its fourth season. In a closed and controlled Internet, where users would have to worry about bandwidth caps, usage-based billing, and the throttling of content from producers who could not secure guarantees of fast access by ISPs, the chance for Sanctuary to succeed would be greatly limited. As Ferne Downey, President of ACTRA, the union of more than 21,000 professional performers in Canada, points out, cultural “work usually comes in big fat video files, it is the most likely target for being throttled by ISPs concerned about traffic.”249

For this reason, high-profile cultural content creators and media entrepreneurs clearly understand that an open Internet is in their best interest and have urged policy makers to enshrine the principle of net neutrality in legislation. John Levy, Chairman and CEO of Score Media Inc., an online sports entertainment firm, told the Report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that,

We are very concerned about the ability of Internet and wireless service providers to act as gatekeepers, either because they are vertically integrated and have an incentive to prioritize their own content, or because they are partnering with major media players and providing preferred access. If we seek diversity of Canadian voices in new media, the Internet cannot become a pay-to-play zone.250

A pay-to-play Internet refers to an Internet where providers create tiers of Internet service and then sell access to them. To play online, emerging content providers, independent producers, and users generating content, would have to pay more for access, promotion, or even fair treatment. This would limit diversity by incentivizing Internet users to consume certain types of content over others — namely, content for which they would not pay additional fees, or face slowed or stalled downloads or loading times. With many websites now incorporating news, information and entertainment content in video and other streaming formats, pay-to-play will necessarily limit Canadians’ access to the fruits of our own culture.

Concern for a pay-to-play Internet comes from all parts of the Canadian cultural industries. At the CRTC’s 2009 Internet Traffic Management proceedings, creator groups like ACTRA, the Canadian Film and Television Production Association (CFTPA), the Writers Guild of Canada, Directors Guild of Canada, Canadian Conference of the Arts, the Documentary Organization of Canada and Media companies such as Score Media Inc. and Pelmorex (owner of the Weather Network and MétéoMédia) all came out in support of enforceable net neutrality rules. An open Internet is vital for “our shared culture and our ability to have free and unfettered access to the most powerful tool for communication, information and entertainment we have ever known,” stated Downey during the hearing.251

Outside of professionally produced content, Canadians increasingly contribute content to the Internet. Contributors of online content rose from 20.3% in 2007 to 26.7% in 2009 among Canadians who use the Internet.255 In 2004, the Canadian Internet Project found only 1% of Internet users engaged in Creative Activities. Their 2009 survey found 20% of Canadians engaged in Creative Practices, like posting videos and photographs. This trend is likely to continue, as youth ages 12–17 were nearly twice as likely to post a video online and half had posted a photograph during the survey period.256 These trends indicate the growing importance of user-generated-content to Canadian culture.

Figure One

Usage-Based Billing and Cultural Production

Streaming web video is an emerging market for Canadian producers. Statistics Canada reports that in 2009 24.7% of Canadians used the web to access television shows and 19.8% accessed movies online.252 The growing field has attracted a number of existing and new producers to start developing for the web. Picnicface, a sketch comedy group based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, is one example of the size and possibilities of the new market. The group is a worldwide sensation and their videos have attracted over 20 millions views. The group has worked to cultivate its online fan-base, an approach that resulted in fans donating to help produce the group’s first feature film movie, called Rollertown. The group has begun a sketch comedy series for the Comedy Network.253 The success of this group and others depends on an open Internet with a growing audience for their shows and videos.

Usage-based billing, however, could stifle the success of Canadian Internet producers by shrinking the market and revenue. Zoom Communications, a film and web production company based in Alberta, writes on its blog, “from our perspective, the key concern is how the increased usage fees might curtail the audience for web-based video content. If users are forced to pay extra for every gig of data they use to stream or download video, it’s a safe bet that they’ll drastically cut back their video viewing habits.”254 Zoom Communications worries that the audience might tune out of web video just as the market emerges because usage fees might be too high or they might just not want to pay the cost to discover an unknown artist.

Internet openness accelerates these new forms of cultural production, such as digital video creation, podcasting, wiki writing, blogging, citizen journalism, social networking, and game modification. Creative participation functions as a key aspect of our social and cultural experience with digital media. Usergenerated websites allow citizens, audiences and consumers to use outlets of cultural expression and social communication that have reach and influence comparable to traditional mass media channels controlled by industries and professionals.

The Internet is an indispensable incubator for Canada’s non-professional cultural producers. Indeed, websites like YouTube have functioned as training grounds for amateur cultural producers to transition into the professional world. Many contemporary Canadian celebrities have come to the forefront of pop culture through such UGC channels. Justin Bieber went from being a YouTube celebrity to a multi-million dollar pop artist (see the case of Pinicface from Figure One). The next generation of media makers and cultural contributors will emerge through such channels. A limit on UGC resulting from closed Internet policies would put Canada at a disadvantage compared to countries that actively support non-professional cultural innovators.

Figure Two

Bridging Cultural Divides Using the Open Internet

Poverty prevents Canadians from going online: 91% of households earning more than $95,000 connect to the Internet, whereas only 47% of households earning less than $24,000 connect.257 Nevertheless, a number of innovative Canadian websites have begun reaching out and hosting content produced from typically underserved communities. Homeless Nation bills itself as “the only website in the world created by and for the street community.”258 The website allows members of the street community in Montreal, Saint John’s, Toronto, Vancouver, and Victoria to post news, events, and videos online. Its outreach has earned a World Summit Award for e-Inclusion and Participation in 2009 and the site continues to be a powerful voice for the homeless in Canada.259

Location also prevents Canadians from going online: only 84% of rural communities have access to broadband Internet. Quebec, British Colombia, and Newfoundland also have rural broadband access levels well below the national average, and access drops below 60% for rural Canadians connecting in Canada’s North.260 But these rural and remote communities have also benefitted from new websites. The producers of the critically acclaimed Inuit-language "The Fast Runner" film trilogy have launched IsumaTV to “enable Indigenous people to express reality in their own voices: views of the past, anxieties about the present and hopes for a more decent and honorable future”.261 The site hosts over 2,000 web videos uploaded by First Nations telling their own stories. The site encourages First Nations youth growing up in rural and remote communities to learn and play with digital media. With any luck, it will be their stories we download in the future — but only if their content is given the same equitable treatment that is offered to bigger producers with deeper pockets. The Canadian Internet will not foster diversity if high-speed Internet access becomes an even greater privilege. We need a neutral Internet to ensure that these websites have a fair chance to reach a large audience of Canadians.

Given the centrality of the Internet to current and future cultural production by Canadians, it is vital that people have access to an open Internet that provides the foundation on which culture can be created, distributed, modified and enjoyed by content creators, media entrepreneurs and general audiences without the threat of discrimination by service providers.

Endnotes

245. Digital Economy Consultation. (2010, May 9). Consultation Paper: Improving Canada’s Digital Advantage. Retrieved from http://de-en.gc.ca/consultation-paper/consultation-paper-6/

246. Statistics Canada. (2008, April 24). The Daily: Electronic Commerce and Technology. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/080424/dq080424a-eng.htm

247. Statistics Canada. (2011, February 2). Gross domestic product at basic prices, by industry. Retrieved from http://www40.statcan.gc.ca/l01/cst01/ECON41-eng.htm

248. Digital Economy Consultation. (2010, May 9). Consultation Paper: Improving Canada’s Digital Advantage. Retrieved from http://de-en.gc.ca/consultation-paper/consultation-paper-8/

249. Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists. (2009, July 9). Proceedings of CRTC on Decision: 2008-19. Retrieved from http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/transcripts/2009/tt0708.htm.

250. Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, Emerging and Digital Media: Opportunities and Challenges. (2009, February 9). Retrieved from http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=4838683&...

251. Supra note 249.

252. Statistics Canada. (2010, May 5). Internet use by individuals, by type of activity. Retrieved from http://www40.statcan.gc.ca/l01/cst01/COMM29A-eng.htm

253. The Hollywood Reporter. (2010, December 2). Comedy Network Orders Picnicface TV Series. The Hollywood Reporter. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/comedy-network-orders-picnicface-t...

254. Zoom U. (2011, February 3). Usage Based Billing Stifles Innovation. Retrieved from http://zoomu.zoomwebvideo.com/index.php/2011/02/usage-based-billing-stif...

255. Supra note 252.

256. Zamaria, C., & Fletcher, F. Canada Online! The Internet, media and emerging technologies: Uses, attitudes, trends and international comparisons. Canadian Internet Use Project. Retrieved from http://www.canadianinternetproject.ca/ at pp. 181.

257. Statistics Canada. (2010, March 3). Information and communications technology. Retrieved from http://www41.statcan.gc.ca/2009/2256/cybac2256_000-eng.htm

258. For more details about the project, see http://www.homelessnation.org/

259. Aung-Thwin, C. (2009, October 31). Celebrating HomelessNation.org. Message posted to http://www.homelessnation.org/en/node/17016

260. CRTC. (2010, October 12). Communications Monitoring Report. Retrieved from http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/publications/reports/PolicyMonitoring/2010/cmr...

261. quoted from the IsumaTV mission statement, see the complete document here: http://www.isuma.tv/hi/en/about-us

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