Is Canada's Music Video Funding In Jeopardy?

Frank Whitney/Getty Images

UMG's Jeffrey Remedios, Bell Media's Randy Lennox and Suzie McNeil weigh in.

The fate of Canada’s much-praised funding of artist videos, a practice going back decades and envied by many American music artists, may be in jeopardy. This because MuchFACT (A Foundation To Assist Canadian Talent), the Canadian music video funding body that has awarded more than $100 million (CAD) to 9,000 projects going back to 1984, has lost its mandatory funding.

The grants have been key to building the domestic music video library since the country’s first national music television station, MuchMusic  launched (also in '84). Among the recipients over the past three-and-a-half decades, include some of Canada's biggest music artists, including Celine Dion, Arcade Fire, Carly Rae Jepsen, k.d. lang, Feist, Nelly Furtado, Metric, Death From Above 1979, The Tragically Hip and Sarah McLachlan.  

Now, however, MuchFACT and another fund, Bravo!FACT, are in jeopardy because of Bell Media's (which bought MuchMusic, in 2006) request to delete the condition of license to contribute to them financially was approved in May by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the public regulatory agency.

“Bell Media was granted flexibility by the CRTC in making contributions to MuchFACT and BravoFACT no longer conditions of license for its Much, Gusto, and Bravo specialty channels,” the mass media giant issued as a statement. “We are currently reviewing both programs and no decisions have been made regarding their future at this time. Both programs continue to accept grant applications in anticipation of their next funding deadlines later this year.”

Universal Music Canada president and CEO Jeffrey Remedios, and co-founder of indie label Arts & Crafts (Broken Social Scene,  Cold Specks, BADBADNOTGOOD), emphasized to Billboard the importance of the funds. “MuchFACT, and its predecessor VideoFACT, has performed a load-bearing role in the domestic and worldwide success of countless Canadian artists,” he wrote. “We owe a debt to Bernie Finkelstein and Moses Znaimer for its creation and, of course, to Bell Media for their incredible support. It would be a blow to Canadian artists if this funding ended now that the CRTC no longer mandates it."

“Public, private, and hybrid programs ensure that creative voices make connections," he continued, "the fabric of culture. Through my years with Arts & Crafts, I felt first-hand the impact of this support, the value of which extends well beyond its dollar figure. Even in our post-terrestrial-broadcast world, original audio-visual content has never been more vital for artists' contact with fans. The music video remains one of the primary interactions between artists and fans.”

Remedios’ predecessor Randy Lennox, who spent years at the helm of Universal Music Canada, is now president of Bell Media (since August 2015). Given his background, he is empathic to the needs of the Canadian music industry and might continue with the grants even if not required to.

In fact, just this April, MuchFACT awarded almost half-a-million dollars ($445,251 CAD) in grants to video projects by Broken Social Scene, Derek Wise, Wintersleep and Shaun Frank among others. The foundations also dole out funds for online videos and so-called “digital tools” (it was previously categorized as music videos, viral videos, web sites and EPKs).

Originally known as VideoFACT (Video Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent), the grants have been instrumental in the growth and success of production companies, directors and, of course, artists themselves.

The requests by Bell Media Group were part of an application received Jan. 11, 2016 and heard in the National Capital Region Nov. 28, 2016 to renew “the broadcasting licenses for the various English-language television stations and services that will form the Bell Media Group in the next license term, from 1 September 2017 to 31 August 2022.”

MuchFACT has been exclusively funded by Much (formerly MuchMusic) and M3 (originally launched in 1998 as MuchMoreMusic appealing to an older demographic), most recently divisions of Bell Media Inc. which acquired the stations in 2011 when Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE Inc.) purchased CTVglobemedia. In Sept. 2016, M3 was quietly replaced by Gusto, a food and lifestyle channel.

According to the BravoFACT page, since 1995 the Foundation has “distributed millions of dollars in awards to Canadians for the production of short form scripted projects.” (That includes music videos, although not to the same degree as MuchFACT).  “Today, BravoFACT continues to provide awards to Canadian producers and directors who seek to create entertaining and engaging short-form content, both scripted and documentary, for Bell Media.”

This past October, at the Canadian Independent Music Association’s (CIMA) annual general meeting in Toronto, Bell Media's Lennox was the guest speaker, there to discuss the company’s commitment to music — most notably through their launch of iHeartRadio in Canada —and hold a Q&A. That’s when artist manager Jake Gold (who has managed The Tragically Hip, The Watchmen, The Cliks and Sass Jordan) asked him about the future of MuchFACT.

“I don’t mean to change subjects, but I think it’s on a lot of people’s minds in the room,” said Gold. “What are your plans for MuchMusic? We know there’s been an application for the license as far as changing the license and we all use MuchFACT a lot to make videos and we’re all concerned and curious about what’s going to happen with that — and since you’re here we figured we’d ask.”

Lennox, who pointed out the application “was before I joined,” explained: “As you know, music is on-demand, particularly in visual music. We are still playing 11 hours out of a 24-hour cycle on Much with videos. That’s a little-known fact. Almost 50 percent of a 24-hour cycle on MuchMusic is actual music, not re-reuns of The Simpsons. He also added that Bell owns Vevo in Canada.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can look at the whole platform and make it make sense with something, which is online and what we call linear TV. So we’re not abandoning MuchMusic.

“The regulations that are changing are changing by the CRTC, as well, by the way. In September 2017 all bets are off, as I’m sure you know. So this is not us trying to get Simpsons re-reuns; this is more us trying to say, ‘Okay, we all know that video has moved to an online platform; how can we be more respectful of music? Is there more music documentaries that we can show on Much?’ It’s a question; it’s what I’m asking.”
“The other part of that question is MuchFACT,” said Gold, “because one feeds the other.”

“Our obligation to do MuchFACT has already ended. Now we’re still doing it,” Lennox responded. “So let me say that again — our obligation to do MuchFACT has already ended, and because of my background, and because of Tyson Parker’s background [former vice-president of communications and artist relations at Universal Music Canada and now Bell Media’s head of artist and music industry relations], we are continuing MuchFACT. As a matter of fact, I moved MuchFACT and Bravo!FACT into Tyson four weeks ago. That now reports into him. Those two points are really salient to this.

“There is nothing on the horizon — and we’ve met some of the labels, the other labels —and have had discussions about what is the most effective way to spend that money? Because frankly throwing 8,000 dollars at 56 videos that are not going to see the light of day is not practical. We need to figure out a smart way. So we’re not trying to spend necessarily in the short term less money; we’re just trying to figure out the most effective way to spend it.

“So there’s no abandonment of MucFACT, as we speak. I will manage expectations by saying we haven’t figured that Much yet, but I will let you know once we do,” he concluded.

Bell Media, it should be noted, also has DAIS, “a launchpad for the development, production, and distribution of landmark content,” whose “key pillars are short-form web series, music, and radio,” is how it is described in the press release.

Examples of projects include a partnership with recording label and artist management group Pirates Blend (A Tribe Called Red, Jay Malinowski/Bedouin Soundclash), co-founded by Malinowski and distributed by Sony Music Canada; another with Cadence/Universal Music Group to co-develop musical talent; a four-part music video series with A Tribe Called Red to be broadcast on MUCH, W5, and iHeartRadio Canada; and a partnership with nonprofit The Remix Project to collaborate on video production in support of democratizing education in the creative industries.

Canadian singer Suzie McNeil (the last woman standing on 2005’s Rock Star: INXS), who has a solo career and is a member of Loving Mary which tours as Steven Tyler’s backing band, posted this on her personal Facebook page:

“Sad to see these grants are being eliminated. Whenever I tell my American friends and co-workers about these grants (as well as #FACTOR related ones) they always display feelings of admiration and confusion. They don't understand ‘why’ our country would offer such a thing. My answer is always ‘because of you guys.’ These grants are what keep our music community alive, these are what give us a fighting chance to compete against the ultimate saturation by our southern neighbors in the U.S. They are important for us as a country, and have been the starting point for every amazing Canadian artist that has catapulted into international stardom. But it's more than just stardom, it's our country's artistic identity, and we deserve to have that be recognized and celebrated. A couple of years back I spoke to the CRTC about how a middle of the road artist like myself is so very positively affected by these sorts of grants. Disappointed to see the loss of them. Either way now I t's up to all of us Canadian artists to keep the fires lit!! Guess we'll all have to release iPhone videos in the future! “