Own the Future

The CMPA is launching a new strategy to help producers create and monetize intellectual property. Stephen Stohn is here to tell you about it.


You may know Stephen Stohn: executive producer of the Degrassi franchise, long-time entertainment lawyer, chancellor of Trent University, godfather of the Canadian production industry. As chair of the CMPA’s Copyright Committee, he’s got a few ideas about how Canada can and should nurture a vibrant domestic production industry, even in the midst of boom times for the service side.


“These are good times for Canada’s production industry. Services like Netflix and Apple are overspending, and Canada is reaping the benefits,” Stohn points out. “But already these services, as well as broadcasters, are looking for longer and longer terms of rights and exclusivities. We are seeing a rise in service production and a corresponding decline in domestic production. To combat this, we need to zero in on protecting our most precious natural resource: our intellectual property.”

Throughout 2019, the CMPA will be implementing a multi-pronged, national strategy to support the creation and exploitation of Canadian IP by Canadian independent producers and their partners. Who better to introduce our new national strategy than Stohn himself?

He sheds some light on the four pillars of our strategy:

1) Strengthen the creative process. Development is key!

We have a lot of service productions here, and that’s great—but those productions can decide tomorrow to stop producing here. So while that side is certainly important, we need to make sure the domestic industry is really strong: that’s the side that’s going to drive revenue ownership, downstream revenue, and export Canadian values to the world. And it starts with development.

Development dollars are important—money to spend the time, to not rush the project. And those are high-risk dollars, but it’s more than dollars—it’s time. For a project to succeed, there’s a luck factor, but there’s a lot of hard work and passion. You are driven to tell a story.

Development can take years and years, and it’s a lonely part of the process, but if you develop the project well, then you create something that people want. That’s distinguished from trying to anticipate what the broadcasters want, and coming up with something for the sake of making a few dollars.

2) Develop and retain the best talent—that includes producers.

When you’re developing a feature film or a television series or a documentary, ideas can come from almost anywhere across Canada. Our development strategy needs to include seeking out and encouraging the rich resources of talent that Canada already has, and not just in the areas where we think it might be. That talent could well be on some lonely shore in Newfoundland or in Iqaluit. Producers, writers and directors come from everywhere.

We’re never going to—and I don’t think we ever should—create a system where people feel prohibited from moving down to Los Angeles to chase some success. But in the meantime, let’s create that positive industry environment here. Producers are key to that—when they own their property, they have the chance to invest in and build up that positive infrastructure here in Canada.

3) Find ways to protect and monetize our IP.

If a producer has any hope of downstream revenue and spinoffs and really controlling their own destiny, we’re going to need to build on the successful instruments and contribution system already in place in the conventional broadcasting system. We need to start applying those to the over-the-top sector, so that producers can retain some rights and the ability to go forward and make future sales.

If a share of the revenue goes to a body like the Canada Media Fund, that funding can be triggered by Canadian producers and actually reduce the amount that a streaming service or broadcaster has to pay in order to meet the production costs. That’s a good thing for them! But there’s a quid pro quo: Canadians need to have ownership of the product, so that after a licensing period has ended, they have the opportunity to continue to monetize their product, whether that’s re-licensing to the original broadcaster or licensing to someone else.

4) Think beyond our borders

In the old days of the industry, the phrase we used to use was “telling Canadian stories to ourselves.” But I think that in this very fractured world, there is a real role for telling Canadian stories and exporting Canadian values around the world. There is definitely an economic benefit to that, but I think the world benefits as well.

If we are going to have a level playing field, we have an opportunity right now to ensure that foreign services are contributing in a way that encourages not just the service production industry, but also the domestic production industry—which is going to get Canadian voices heard around the world.