To producers of pure interactive media, the most worrisome aspect of bringing together the Canada New Media Fund and the Canadian Television Fund into one financing body was the belief that, going forward, all digital projects eligible for support would have to be tied to a TV program.
In clarifying the ambiguous wording of its March CMF announcement, Canadian Heritage says that is not so. The CMF “will also fund, on a project basis, experimental, interactive content and applications created exclusively for the Internet, wireless and emerging platforms and devices,” a Heritage spokesperson tells Playback.
Back in January, the Tories renewed the CNMF (administered by Telefilm Canada) to the tune of $14.3 million per year over the next two years. Now that the merged mega-fund will see broadcasters and interactive producers vying for the same pot of cash, it is impossible to tell whether companies that relied on the CNMF will see less, more of the same amount of cash when the new system takes effect April 1, 2010.
Digital producers hope there will be a guaranteed minimum amount set aside for the kinds of non-TV projects currently funded by the CNMF, but there will be no movement toward drafting the new CMF rules until after the selection of its board, which is expected to be announced at the Banff World Television Festival. Nonetheless, the simple fact that the government remains in the business of supporting standalone digital media should be reassuring to companies such as MindHabits.
The Montreal startup was the big winner of Telefilm’s Great Canadian Video Game competition two years ago for the MindHabits Trainer, a stress-relief game that has the player select smiling faces from amid a sea of frowning ones. The competition was funded through he CNMF along with Telefilm and Heritage, and with matching private financing thrown in, MindHabits received around $1.3 million to help it get off the ground.
“It would have been very difficult in any other way,” MindHabits CEO Matthew Mather tells Playback. “We probably could have gotten a publisher to put some money in, but then it would have been a very different situation – we probably would have just licensed off the IP and not owned anything, whereas now we own all the IP and we are the owners of all the different versions and games.”
The PC version of the Trainer game was launched in various international territories in Q4 2008, in which time Mather says it sold about 50,000 units, and MindHabits is now eyeing mobile releases for the Nintendo DS and the Apple iPhone. He says the company has no plans to get involved in the broadcast world, and will likely apply for CNMF/CMF cash for future projects.
Although being involved with broadcast will not be a prerequisite for digital producers seeking CMF cash, merging the two funds marks a clear step toward increased integration between TV and other screens. Broadcasters will not have to ensure projects are available on at least one platform other than TV to qualify.
To get a sense of what Heritage envisions the prodco of the new millennium to be, look no further than Toronto’s marblemedia.
marblemedia partners Mark Bishop and Matt Hornburg were among the guests of Heritage Minister James Moore when the CMF was unveiled on the set of Flashpoint. Bishop is quick to point out, however, that his presence there does not signify a blanket endorsement of the new fund. He and Hornburg received their invitation just two days beforehand and only found out the details – such as they were – one day prior to the press conference. Tellingly, though, they were the only producers invited.
marblemedia straddles the traditional and online spaces perhaps as well as any other indie prodco in Canada. Half of the company’s staff of 28 works on the interactive side, on both its own properties and other companies’ websites.
You can find its kids cooking show Taste Buds at TVOKids.com, where you can stream episodes and find out more information by clicking a drop-down window with recipe details. marblemedia is also in the process of enhancing its website for the adult animation The Dating Guy (co-produced with E1 Television), which Bishop says will be its biggest interactive offering to date. It will feature microsites and mobile offerings as well as the saucy web-only The Morning After Show.
From its inception, marble has been a company that always thinks multiplatform. If there was any doubt, Hornburg and Bishop scooped the producer-of-the-year prizes at the Canadian New Media Awards in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
At an interactive Ontario panel last fall, Bishop called for the CTF to rebrand as the Canadian Content Fund and support digital media. Heritage may have ultimately opted for a slightly different name, but it would appear the feds were listening.
“We should be looking at content regardless of what platform it’s on – it should be about telling stories,” Bishop says. “It shouldn’t be about having to create a television stream and a separate stream for interactive, because that’s not the way audiences are interacting with content.”
So while Bishop heartily endorses the one-fund approach, he says that it is now crucial that Heritage, which has already held some technical briefings with industry representatives, “actually engage in an open dialogue and have industry stakeholders buy into it and help to shape the program.”
It is a sentiment shared by lobby group Interactive Ontario, which is similarly optimistic. “So far, the noises have been good and the contact that we’ve had with [Heritage] has been informative,” says IO president and CEO Ian Kelso.
Of course, mandating that broadcasters become more involved in interactive media can only be a positive for the digital sector. It comes with the added good news that the CTF’s young Digital Media program is receiving an $8 million boost to $10 million for the 2009/10 cycle.
“Certainly we hope that it means that film and TV companies will either be able to start to focus on developing more in-house expertise, which will go a long ways in terms of rounding out their companies to be able to compete on all the multiple platforms the consumers are using, or to find new partnerships in terms of people who are already there creating content,” says Kelso.
He hopes his organization will play a significant role in mapping out the CMF’s daunting details. “We’d like nothing better than to get our hands dirty and get in there and try to make something that’s ultimately on the one side extremely pragmatic, on the other side something that’s very forward-looking and can as best as possible work for all the stakeholders involved,” he says.
Heritage says the CMF board will put in place a “consultation mechanism” by the summer. “Consultations will be formal, ongoing, meaningful, and inclusive, and will form the basis of the guidelines for and implementation of the Canada Media Fund,” the department tells Playback. “The consultations will also be very important in ensuring we get the best ideas and a smooth transition to the Canada Media Fund, with minimum disruption for the [digital] sector.”