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‘Hello friends’: J.J. McCullough explains why Canadian YouTubers fear the government’s online streaming bill

Commentary

Canadian YouTuber J.J. McCullough appeared at Heritage Committee on Wednesday to give his thoughts on Bill C-11, the government’s online streaming legislation. Below are McCullough’s opening statements, describing how this legislation would affect him and other Canadian content creators. To read about the committee hearing, visit The Hub’s news story.

Hello friends, my name is J.J. McCullough and I am a professional YouTuber from New Westminster, BC. Today I hope to teach the committee about Canada’s vast YouTuber community, and why so many of us fear Bill C-11—a bill we did not ask for, do not need, and threatens the success we’ve already achieved.

My channel’s subject matter is mostly cultural analysis, with a focus on Canadian identity. My video topics have ranged from a biography of Wilfrid Laurier to the history of potato chips to why different political parties use different colours. My most popular video is about a Dairy Queen in my community, which has been viewed over 8 million times.

Professional YouTubers like me earn a living from in-video advertisements, with ad revenue generally correlating with the popularity of our videos. A YouTuber’s subscriber count can offer a very rough estimate of their channel’s potential audience size. My channel recently passed 750 thousand subscribers. In total, my videos have been viewed 230 million times.

Now, those numbers might sound impressive, but I’m actually one of this country’s mid-level YouTubers at best.

According to Socialblade.com, I’m merely the 414th most popular Canadian YouTuber. Indeed, according to Social Blade, there are over a HUNDRED Canadian YouTubers with over 3.5 MILLION subscribers and over a BILLION video views. 

But popularity at this level isn’t necessary for success. My friend Joe Lee is a professional Canadian YouTuber who makes videos about life in Vancouver, and was recently able to parlay the popularity of his channel into his own clothing line. He has just 156,000 subscribers and 12 million views, making him the 945th most popular Canadian YouTuber. 

This should hopefully offer a sense of the size of the YouTuber community as a faction of the Canadian cultural economy. The tremendous success and even worldwide fame of many Canadian YouTubers in the absence of government regulation should invite questions about the necessity of Bill C-11. An unregulated YouTube has been a 17-year experiment—and the result has been an explosion of popular Canadian content, produced by Canadians of every imaginable demographic.

Now, much of the debate around Bill C-11 has centered on so-called “user-generated content,” which is often implied to mean frivolous social media posts. But Section 4.2 states that government IS interested in regulating content that “generates revenues,” which describes the sort of videos professional YouTubers create.

Regardless, it’s important to understand that it’s simply impossible to regulate a platform like YouTube without also regulating creator content. It’s like promising not to regulate books while regulating what can be sold in bookstores. 

Hence, Section 7 of this bill states that online platforms must “clearly promote and recommend Canadian programming.”

But what IS Canadian programming?

We know from the precedent of television that merely having a work produced by a Canadian is not good enough for the CRTC—the nationality of basically everyone involved, from editors to musicians to visual effects artists must be factored in too. A detailed budget is expected, and the project’s “theme and subject matter” must be explained. The CRTC website features countless forms TV producers must fill out to get their work certified as officially “Canadian,” and thus worthy of promotion on Canada’s heavily regulated airwaves. 

Most Canadian YouTubers shudder at the thought that this could soon be our fate as well. Given the broad powers of the CRTC, which Bill C-11 expands to include digital platforms, the Canadian YouTuber community is right to worry that the continued success of their channels could soon be dependent on their ability to make content that’s “Canadian enough” to obtain government endorsement. 

Even more ominously, section 9 of this bill says the CRTC can dictate “the proportion of programs to be broadcast that shall be devoted to specific GENRES” on digital platforms. Given YouTubers make videos of every genre imaginable, from fitness to architecture to political commentary, it is frankly terrifying to imagine that government may soon have a hand in determining which genres of videos are more worthy of promotion than others. 

In summary, anyone proud of the tremendous success of Canadians on Youtube should be deeply concerned about the damage Bill C-11 could do to their livelihoods. I also worry that the dreams of the next generation of Canadian YouTubers will become less achievable, once they’re forced to navigate intimidating new regulatory hurdles my generation did not. 

But most of all, I fear the damage that will be done to Canada’s legacy as a global leader of cultural entrepreneurship once our online creators are forced to make narrowly nationalistic content under duress, in order to win the favor of a government in denial of what we’ve accomplished on our own.

Thank you.

Blake Lee-Whiting: Why aren’t Ontario NDP candidates talking about Andrea Horwath?

Commentary

In advance of today’s Ontario provincial election,There’s a chance the New Blue Party could cost Doug Ford a majority government: Pollster https://thehub.ca/2022-05-26/new-blue-party-could-cost-doug-ford-a-majority-government-pollster/ party leaders have been crisscrossing the province to make last-minute appeals to voters. Local candidates, similarly, have been knocking on doors, posting on social media, and doing interviews with radio, television, and print media in their own ridings.

As part of these efforts, party leaders are actively trying to boost incumbents in tight races or help star candidates get over the electoral line for the first time. In recent days, for instance, we’ve seen PC Leader Doug Ford travel to Ottawa to highlight the accomplishments of Jeremy Roberts, an incumbent PC candidate for Ottawa West – Nepean, who won in 2018 by less than 200 votes. Similarly, Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario NDP, recently joined one of her party’s strongest candidates, Harvey Bischof, in Paris, Ontario, for her third visit to the riding during the campaign.

Yet there’s less attention paid to how local candidates may or may not leverage the profile and reputation of their respective party leader in their own election efforts. This can come in various forms such as posing for photos together, putting up campaign signs that include the leader’s name, posting about the leader on social media, or attending political debates.

The question, of course, is: what do local candidates do if they interpret their party leader to be something of a political drag? One window into how candidates interpret the political upside (or downside) of their respective party leader to their own political fortunes is by examining how often local candidates choose to incorporate party leadership in their local campaigns. 

Incumbent politicians in particular have a significant interest in judging the utility of drawing on their leaders’ brand. If they lose the election, after all, they’re out of a job. Incumbents, therefore, represent a useful test group by which to see how political candidates view the strengths and weaknesses of their party leaders.

To test this theory, and to determine which party leaders are most popular in the minds of their own candidates, I downloaded public tweets by incumbent politicians in the Ontario election to see how often they have referred to their party’s leader in the run-up to election day. I analyzed more than 5,000 tweets by incumbent politicians programmatically. I chose not to analyze retweets, replies, or likesAbout different types of Tweets https://help.twitter.com/en/using-twitter/types-of-tweets because these interactions are relatively undemanding, rather than an original tweet that requires intentional interaction.

I also set a few guidelines for my analysis to avoid misleading data. Some politicians, like Natalia Kusendova, Doug Downey, or Greg Rickford have not been active on Twitter during this election, and so I excluded incumbent candidates with fewer than 10 tweets during the election period. I also only considered Tweets from the formal writ period, which began on May 3rd

The top five politicians who tweet most about their leader are all PC candidates. Monte McNaughton, for instance, the incumbent Minister from Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, tweets about Ford once every roughly 2.7 tweets on average. Rudy CuzzettoSam Oosterhoff, and Peter Bethlenfalvy are similarly enthusiastic about their leader. In total, incumbent PC politicians tweeted over 350 times about, or at, Ford. 

In terms of Ontario Liberal candidates, Stephen Blais, the incumbent in Orléans, tweets most about party leader Steven Del Duca, slightly more than Amanda Simard, the incumbent from Glengarry-Prescott-Russell. Considering the small caucus size of incumbent Liberal candidates who are seeking re-election, it is unsurprising that every single Liberal incumbent has, at some point, tweeted about, or at, Del Duca. 

The same level of enthusiasm is not exhibited by NDP candidates. The NDP incumbents who have tweeted most about Horwath, Terence Kernaghan from London North Centre and Joel Harden from Ottawa Centre, have tweeted each about Horwath fewer than 10 times, despite tweeting over 100, and over 200, times respectively during the election period. The second most supportive incumbent, Gurratan Singh, from Brampton East, likewise has sent fewer than five tweets about his leader in over 100 campaign tweets. 

There are several incumbents who, despite tweeting at least semi-regularly, have not tweeted about their leader during the campaign period. Until Horwath visited London this past Monday (May 30), Peggy Sattler, the incumbent in London West, had not tweeted about her party leader despite tweeting roughly 70 times. Wayne Gates, the incumbent from Niagara Falls, Fort Erie, and Niagara-on-the-Lake, has not tweeted about Horwath despite over 75 campaign-related tweets. Among the PCs, Laurie Scott, despite retweeting or liking posts, has not drafted a single original tweet about Ford during the campaign. 

When NDP incumbents do tweet about their leader, they do so sparingly; Chris Glover of Spadina-Fort-York,  Jill Andrew from Toronto-St Paul’s, and Marit Stiles in Davenport, each last tweeted about Horwath on May 3rd, the day of the election campaign commenced.

Some provincial NDP candidates have tweeted more about federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh than their own provincial leader, including Bhutila Karpoche (Parkdale-High-Park) and Sandy Shaw (Hamilton-West Ancaster & Dundas).

Clearly, there are some limitations to this approach. Firstly, most of these candidates have retweeted their leader or tweeted an article about their leader, which is not picked up by this analysis that only examines original tweets. Secondly, people use Twitter in different ways, and some of the politicians examined have probably tasked staffers with writing tweets for them, which could result in fewer tweets that explicitly mention party leadership because of technical or social-media-related preferences. 

These limitations aside, however, there is clearly a difference between Prabmeet Sarkaria, incumbent from Brampton South, sending over 20 out of roughly 50 tweets about Ford, and Jennie Stevens, incumbent from St. Catharines sending fewer than five of over 100 tweets about Horwath.  

So, what’s the point of all this? Why should we care about tweets (not) sent? I think this analysis suggests that Horwath is not viewed as much of a political asset by NDP incumbents as Ford is among his incumbents. 

Will Horwath’s level of perceived popularity among NDP incumbents impact today’s results? Unlikely, but it may suggest that her future as NDP leader could ultimately come into question. If it does, it will be interesting to see if the incumbents who have distanced themselves during the campaign lead the leadership review, and ultimately, seek to become her replacement.