Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canada needs digital plan: NFB boss

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MONTREAL -- The chairman of the National Film Board says Canada risks being left in the dust by other countries on the information highway if it doesn't put serious thought into dealing with the digital age.

Tom Perlmutter says Britain, France and New Zealand have already published careful examinations of the issue but "we're behind in this kind of coherent reflection."

Federal government statistics indicate Canada's Internet use ranks 21st out of the 25 countries with the highest penetration rate, and that it attracts only one-fifteenth of the online advertising dollars the United States does.

"To my mind, the dramatic shifts of the digital revolution and its impacts are as profound as the industrial revolution, if not more so," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"It affects all sectors, it affects government, it affects education, it affects health sectors, it affects politics. You only have to look at the presidency of Obama. I cannot imagine that he would have been elected president without the power of the Internet."

Obama used the Internet to reach out to supporters and raise millions in funds for his campaign.

"A digital strategy has to look at how we position ourselves... so that we're able to deal with all of the things that have to do with the technology, with innovation, with productivity, with education, with issues around the digital divide between the have-nots and the haves," Perlmutter said.

Information isn't the only thing flying around in cyberspace -- there's money.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada said in July that Canadian online advertising revenues hit more than $1.6 billion in 2008. In the United States, they were $23.4 billion.

Perlmutter says Canadians have concentrated on the infrastructure of the digital world -- the pipelines that deliver the material -- but insists the time has come to think about content and figure out "how do we actually create a vital Canadian space."

If that doesn't happen, the Americans will dominate, he said.

Perlmutter said the issue is vital because so many of the digital tools embraced by Canadians such as the Google search engine and the Facebook and Twitter social-networking sites are owned by Americans.

"They own that stuff," he said of content Canadians upload onto American-owned sites. "We don't own it."

He pointed out Google dominates 80 per cent of the search engine market -- and its ad revenue.

"That's revenue that flows south," he said. "It doesn't stay here."

Perlmutter has sought to bring together think-tanks of interested parties in various sectors such as government and telecommunications to discuss the issue.

He described Heritage Minister James Moore as someone "who profoundly understands the situation."

In recent speeches, Moore has lamented that Parliament Hill is not tech-friendly and said he had to install his own wireless router in his office.

"Our government is doing everything that we can to modernize government legislation, regulation and investments to support new media, to make sure this transition is going on across all of the platforms" he told the nextMEDIA conference in Toronto in December.

Noting that the creative industry employs 650,000 people and is worth $46 billion, Moore promised "the next generation of creators will have the opportunity to complete and win on (the) international stage."

Norm Bolen, president of the Canadian Film and Television Production Association, praised Perlmutter's advocacy for a digital strategy.

Like Perlmutter, Bolen wants to see the importance of content addressed.

"We're good at making content, we have a great reputation, partly because of the NFB, partly because of the co-production work the Canadians are known for. Our production sector is seen around the world as one of the most innovative. It's an example to the rest of the world."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 2, 2010 C5

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