Bell Media has officially killed MuchFact, a small but influential program that was crucial to funding music videos in Canada.
The program had been on life-support since May — when the CRTC dropped the requirement for Bell Media to fund it — but the company confirmed it was ending it for good last month. Both MuchFact's website and Facebook page have disappeared since.
MuchFact handed out more than $100 million for around 9,000 projects since it was founded in 1984. In recent years, the program shelled out about $2 million a year, funding videos by Arcade Fire, Carly Rae Jepsen and emerging acts like Halifax psych rock band Walrus and Mississauga, Ont., rapper John River.
"The traditional viewing of a music video is … certainly not what it was," said Randy Lennox, president of Bell Media and former head of Universal Music Canada. He said the funding model was started when music videos were being played on TV stations like Much, something that happens far less now.
BravoFact, a similar Bell Media program that funded short-form scripted projects has also been stopped.
"We don't owe anyone an explanation for this after giving $131 million," he said, the combined total of the contributions to MuchFact and BravoFact. "I think after making hundreds, thousands of music videos and paying for them … I think we're pretty good guys."
'There isn't another option'
But that leaves a gap in how Canadian music videos are funded. There are other places to get money, like record labels and the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (Factor). But MuchFact was king.
Lennox suggested online video streaming services should be the ones to pay, given that's where most videos are now watched.
"This is not on us," he said. "This is on the people who are playing music [videos] today who have not reached into their pockets."
No alternative has surfaced, though, and that worries musicians and filmmakers.
A large group penned an open letter to Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly last week, asking for a dedicated visual content fund. They timed it to coincide with her expected speech about the government's cultural policy revamp happening later this week.
"There isn't another option," said Peter Hadfield, a cinematographer who has worked on more than a dozen MuchFact funded projects for acts like Wintersleep and Feist. "Part of me is quite angry, part of me is quite sad, part of me is confused, and I don't know what to do anymore."
Hadfield said he will likely end up shooting more commercials and fewer music videos — which he considers an important "training ground for the industry."
Director and film editor Nadia Tan credits the program with helping her launch her career. She said it elevated her "DIY" music videos to "actually legit" ones with a budget.
"It's heartbreaking for future up-and-coming filmmakers who potentially could have gotten their start and developed their own skills and launched their own careers."
"Without MuchFact, the Canadian arts scene is going to be stifled."
'A single video could make a career'
Though music videos may not play on TV, Alexisonfire's Wade MacNeil argues they are "more relevant than ever" and should still be getting made.
"We're living in a time now where the visual component of your music is more important than ever," he said. On the internet, anyone can access your music, he said. "A single video could make a career."
MacNeil realizes Bell Media doesn't have an obligation to fund music videos anymore, but stresses how much MuchFact helped his band.
"It's a thing that doesn't really happen anywhere else in the world," he said. "I think other musicians outside of Canada almost can't believe something like that existed."
'None of this is an exit strategy'
Bernie Finkelstein created MuchFact (then VideoFact) with Moses Znaimer and chaired it for more than 25 years before leaving in 2011. Back in May, he predicted the program would be finished by Christmas. So he wasn't surprised when he heard the news.
"It lasted for a long, long, long time. It obviously did good work and it started very good careers," he said.
Lennox insists that music remains a "massive priority" for Bell Media. "I'm still a music guy. That's in my DNA."
"None of this is an exit strategy. None of this is 'We're off the hook,'" he said, noting they are developing artists in other, "more modern" ways.
He cites the iHeartRadio stations, support of the Radio Starmaker Fund for emerging artists and The Launch, CTV's new show, which follows up-and-coming Canadian performers and famous mentors as they create a hit song.
He said the artists featured on the show would be the same artists who would have applied to MuchFact, but that the show gives them a much bigger platform.
Finkelstein had a lone comment when told about the plan.
"Sounds good for me. Can't wait for that talent show to start."