TVO, Not Your Average Broadcaster

Like most Ontarians that grew up in the 90s, I grew up watching Arthur, Bananas in Pyjamas, and the infamous Polkaroo on TVO. Coming to TVO was a childhood dream come true because I met the infamous Polkaroo. I started my placement just as TVO started celebrating its 50th anniversary and it was marked by TVO selling retro TVO-shirts with old brands and characters on them, such as Polkaroo. This celebration brought to the forefront the ever-present issue of intellectual property management for broadcasters, specifically copyright and trademark management.

TVO, like many other broadcasters, (co)produces or acquires a variety of television shows through various licensing agreements. During my internship at TVO, I learned about the behind the scenes work that goes into making and acquiring the TVO shows and content that Ontarians love. I specifically learned about Canadian Content (“CanCon”). For viewers, CanCon is likely a background issue, but for broadcasters, it is an important fact of business. CanCon refers to content that is produced in Canada by Canadians. Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission licenses and production funding (like the Canadian Media Fund) are often dependent on establishing where the content is produced. Working at TVO brought this illusory issue to light for me, which as a viewer I never really considered.

Under the supervision of the general counsel, I reviewed various co-production and acquisition contracts and had the experience to draft several of my own. I learned about the importance of interdepartmental cooperation and coordination to ensure relevant departments know what their contracts entail and to be surveyed for changes. Through this consultation process, user experience should be emphasized. If personnel within the organization cannot understand what their contract says what hope do others have?

Working in-house, there was a significant emphasis on the need for lay-language in contracts. Generally, lay language improves contract readability and minimizes risks by ensuring that both parties understand the specific rights of the contract. Lay language is especially important for “template” or “precedent” contracts that are often relied upon and reused by organizations. Often it is impracticable to draft each and every contract from scratch because of the unnecessary consumption of time and resources. When dealing with repeat similar issues, a general bank of clauses is important to expedite and simplify contract drafting. A template with a generic set of rights ensures consistency of interactions with producers, rights obtained, and minimizes the need for extraneous involvement of legal counsel. Moreover, issue spotting can become simplified with the use of templates. If one contract highlights issues with a clause, one can reasonably assume that it will be an issue with others and the organization can prepare a response or modify the contract to resolve the issue for future contracts.

Interestingly, TVO was not all that I anticipated or remembered – it was not the simple public broadcaster I remembered from my childhood. TVO, like the entertainment industry in general, is ever-changing. The ability to watch videos on handheld devices was a pipe dream 50 years ago, but it is now commonplace. New contracts emphasize the importance of digital media through videos on demand (VODs) and streaming, in addition to traditional interpretations of broadcast right through cable television. TVO now boasts several Youtube channels that host its content in addition to TVO hosting content on its own website.

Beyond the familiar polka dot door of television content, TVO also offers digital education content. TVO’s digital education portfolio includes the Independent Learning Centre (distance learning for high school students), Mathify (student-to-teacher video mentoring), and mPower (math-focused games for children in elementary school). My time at TVO taught me the importance for public broadcasters and government organizations to adapt to new technologies to stay relevant.

Written by Christopher Tsuji, Osgoode JD Candidate, enrolled in Professors D’Agostino and Vaver 2019/2020 IP & Technology Law Intensive Program at Osgoode Hall Law School. As part of the program requirements, students were asked to write a reflective blog on their internship experience.

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