Monday, October 6, 2014

How Will Online Streaming of Content Change the Arts and Culture Policy Landscape?

It’s the start of a new season, and as the leaves begin to change colour, season premieres of many popular TV shows have been rolling out. In Ottawa, the Let’s Talk TV study is underway, as cable companies, internet giants and broadcasters debate the new realities of online television.  Spotify launched in Canada at the end of September, bringing renewed interest to the policy surrounding online music streaming.

A recent study by the Pew Research Centre found that a majority of arts organizations surveyed agreed “that technology contributes to an expectation that “all digital content should be free”.[1]  A sentiment that many, if not most, consumers of the arts agree with. There are a plethora of legal sites to watch tv and listen to music for free. But how do we ensure a policy framework that supports the creators and artists while also maintaining all of this access to content?


Most of the big television networks stream their shows on their websites.  There are still commercials in most, but far less than you would see on TV.  These Canadian companies still comply with the CRTCs regulations on Canadian content, which is also available to be streamed online. Because revenues for TV shows are not as affected by online streaming as music, this availability is good news for Canadian TV.

Netflix has also become a huge player in streaming content and now has entire series of popular shows like How I Met Your Mother and Star Trek, The Next Generation.  It’s not free, but it’s pretty hard to argue against their very modest fee.   The Let’s Talk hearings regarding Netflix and the CRTC will be interesting to watch unfold, as they begin to battle over the importance of Canadian content.  Regardless of the outcome of these hearings, it could herald a new era of difficulty for Canadian producers.


Online streaming of music has become a sticky issue in the wake of Tarriff 8, a controversial decision by the Copyright Board of Canada last May.  The new rates are quite low, paying artists approximately $102.00 for every million times their song is played through a streaming service.  Put another way, if the entire population of Ontario streamed a song once a month, the artist would still not be making the equivalent of minimum wage. Granted, streaming is not, nor should be, an artist’s sole source of income, but seeing as streaming is becoming more and more popular through sites like Songza, 8tracks, and the much-heralded CBC Music, it does seem a little unfair.  If the average cost of a song on iTunes is $0.99, then, using these rates, you need to listen to that song nine thousand and seven hundred times to be getting your money’s worth.  It’s worth noting also that these rates are 10% of royalties in the US, an especially big blow to artists who haven’t broken into American markets. 

But it’s still better than illegal downloading. While the policy on online streaming does little to benefit artists, there are things we can do as their audience to support them. If you’ve enjoyed an artists’ music, consider purchasing their album.  Purchasing directly from the artist is best because they receive a much larger share of the profit, but purchasing in general will always be more of a benefit than streaming or illegally downloading.  Many record stores allow you to buy and download digital music, and likely give a higher portion to the artist than iTunes.

The online world is rapidly changing the face of the arts and culture industry.  If online arts policy is something you feel strongly about, be sure to let your MP know, or get involved with an organization like Music Canada. They have all kinds of information about the recent Tarriff 8  and a long list of other legal ways to access or download digital music.

By Michela Comparey, The Arts Advocate Researcher (and frequent user of the web).  

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