Canada’s Online Streaming Act: Everything We Know About Bill C-11 So Far
Updated: February 14, 2024
As the landscape for media consumption continues to evolve from traditional broadcasting to online streaming, governments around the world have been working to make relevant updates to their existing legislation to address the challenges and opportunities that streaming presents.
In Canada, these updates have taken the form of Bill C-11, also known as the Online Streaming Act. Bill C-11 was passed in Spring of 2023 and is among the first legislations shaping the future of streaming media, but has not come without controversy.
In this blog, we will dive into everything we know so far about Canada’s Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act: what it is, key takeaways, and why the bill has garnered criticism and pushback from certain entities, both domestically and internationally.
What is Canada’s Online Streaming Act?
The Online Streaming Act, or Bill C-11, was passed by the Canadian Senate in February 2023 and received Royal Assent in April of 2023. This bill amends Canada’s Broadcasting Act to include internet video and digital media. It marks the first substantial reform to the Broadcasting Act since 1991.
The Act strives to regulate online streaming services operating within Canada by establishing a fair and competitive environment for streaming platforms. Bill C-11 also aims to simultaneously prioritize accessibility, promote Canadian content and cultural diversity, and increase the power of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
Key Takeaways from Bill C-11
The Online Streaming Act has several areas of focus with an emphasis on elevating Canadian stories and creators to “give Canadians more opportunities to see themselves in what they watch and hear, under a new framework that better reflects our country today.”
Staying on trend with other North American pushes for more robust accessibility services on streaming platforms, Bill C-11 emphasizes the need for inclusive and accessible internet content. The bill mandates that streaming platforms provide features such as closed captioning and audio description to better support diverse and disabled communities, with a focus on options for English, French, and Indigenous languages. The bill also suggests imposing monetary penalties “for violations of certain provisions of that Act or of the Accessible Canada Act.”
Fostering Canadian Content & Cultural Diversity
One of the fundamental goals of Bill C-11 is to preserve and promote Canadian content and cultural diversity in the online streaming space. The legislation aims to better serve all Canadians by requiring use of Canadian talent and content, as well as improving the discoverability of such content on streaming platforms. The bill additionally stipulates that the CRTC “meaningfully engage” with minority and Indigenous communities to encourage the creation, availability, and discoverability of programming by those groups and communities.
Increasing the Power of the CRTC to Regulate Streaming Platforms
The bill grants the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) increased power to:
- Regulate broadcasters and streaming services in Canada
- Provide flexible, fair, and clear directives that contribute to the creation, production, and distribution of Canadian content
- Impose conditions upon broadcasters and streaming platforms to uphold Canadian broadcasting policies
- Instate financial penalties for violation of parts of the Act
By giving the CRTC greater authority, the Government of Canada hopes to ensure the entity has the “proper tools to put in place a modern and flexible regulatory framework for broadcasting.” The Government of Canada notes that the CRTC’s policies will only apply to platforms that stream in Canada and will not extend to users, but some critics remain skeptical. Read about the proposed CRTC policy directions.
Pushback on the Online Streaming Act From Some Platforms and Content Creators
Bill C-11 has been met with pushback from some streaming platforms, content creators, and politicians, who argue that the Online Streaming Act’s regulations could pose a threat to freedom of choice, platform algorithms, and more.
- YouTube has voiced concern for Bill C-11, saying that Canadian content creators on the platform will be at a disadvantage against non-Canadian creators. They also added that under the bill’s regulations, platforms would be forced to manipulate algorithms and “surface content according to the CRTC’s priorities, rather than the interests of Canadian users.”
- High-profile Canadian creators like author Margaret Atwood have noted that the current iteration of the bill excludes some famously Canadian-created content (or “CanCon”) like The Handmaid’s Tale from being considered Canadian under Bill C-11. The novel was originally written by Atwood and later adapted into a series by Hulu, which was filmed and set partially in Canada.
- OpenMedia, a non-partisan Canadian nonprofit organization that works to “keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free”, believes the bill is flawed in its current form and “will permanently tilt an already uneven playing field towards legacy media.” They also stress that Bill C-11 will ultimately hurt small and digital-first Canadian content creators overall.
- U.S. officials have indicated their belief that Bill C-11 could discriminate against American businesses, with some experts predicting a possible United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade dispute as a result.
- Members of Canada’s Conservative Party have vowed to repeal the bill if the party wins the next election.
The CRTC denies that the bill will stifle creators or censor content on the internet. The commission additionally published a “Myths and Facts” website to help mitigate these concerns.
The Future of Canada’s Online Streaming Act
In May 2023, the CRTC announced plans for a public consultation process in order for streaming platforms, broadcasters, media and entertainment professionals, and Canadian citizens to share ideas on how broadcasters and platforms should support Canadian broadcasting initiatives.
The consultation process is split into three phases over 2023 and 2024, with a goal of implementing final policy decisions in late 2024. The CRTC maintains that “every step will include open and public consultations.”
- Phase 1 was launched in Spring of 2023 and kicks off the process of getting started with the development of a framework for how the Online Streaming Act will be implemented.
- Phase 2 is expected to launch in Fall of 2023 and will dig deeper into the specifics of expectations and requirements for broadcasters and streaming platforms.
- Phase 3 is targeted to begin in late 2024 and will focus on implementation of new regulations and policies.
Between public consultations and development of policies, it is expected to be at least a year before the actual scope and impact of the Online Streaming Act is known.
Canada’s Online Streaming Act could mark a big step towards the country’s modernization of broadcast legislation, but the full ramifications of Bill C-11 are still unclear at this time. The bill aims to promote accessibility, foster the creation and inclusion of Canadian content on broadcast and streaming platforms, and empower the CRTC to regulate these mediums more effectively. Yet, growing criticism of the bill’s scope and wording–from algorithms to “CanCon” to the increased power of the CRTC–is giving pause to a number of stakeholders across industries.
With the passing of Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act, the Canadian government is signaling to platforms that regulatory frameworks are needed to address the challenges of the digital era while preserving Canadian culture and including all communities. The next year will be critical for streaming platforms and broadcasters to monitor and plan ahead for the latest Canadian updates and regulations. Keep up with latest on Canada’s Online Streaming Act and review the CRTC’s full regulatory plan here.
This blog post is written for educational and general information purposes only, and does not constitute specific legal advice. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
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