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Compliance with Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation by Adrienne Rutherford

By Adrienne Rutherford, Barrister and Solicitor

Stop living with the stress of CASL—it is easier to be in compliance than you think.

What is CASL?

In July 2014 CASL was enacted to reduce the sending of commercial electronic messages without consent. Electronic messages can be email or text (or forms of social media), which means CASL doesn’t affect communication by mail or telephone. CASL also requires consent for downloading software—e.g. software updates for app users.

While there are several exemptions within the Act, resulting in confusion regarding the application in some circumstances, for most businesses it is sufficient to know that most emails and texts would be governed by CASL, so must include the proscribed information about the sender, provide a readily available unsubscribe mechanism and must be sent with the provable consent of the recipient.

Why is compliance low?

CASL has become a familiar word in business because the consequences of non-compliance are significant and everyone can relate to receiving email, text or even software that they don’t want. The CRTC receives thousands of complaints every week and several organizations have faced heavy fines or settlements. Yet statistics show businesses are slow to bring themselves into compliance.

This is partly because the obligations are new ones without built-in business budgets. It’s also because the legislation seems complicated and full of pitfalls. It is often because there is insufficient education on what to do. Too often, it is because of push back from those concerned about thinning the list of contacts the business has acquired.

Does compliance harm business?

CASL compliance has been shown to improve the quality of the lists of contacts for a business because it is forces the removal of those who are not receptive to communications from you. In fact, with the right lists and good engagement practices, many publishers are finding email and text as a renewed cost-effective resource for building business.

What is the risk of non-compliance?

Due to heightened consumer awareness and the ease of lodging a complaint under CASL, the risk of being reported is real. While most of the focus of risk is on the millions of dollars of potential fines and the direct criminal and monetary exposure of individuals who directed the communications, the cost and inconvenience of an investigation alone should be sufficient risk to motivate compliance. As consumer demand grows in the area of privacy, the risk to reputation has become a bigger driver in promoting compliance.

Is compliance difficult?

Certainly large businesses with decentralized collection, storage and use practices face a lot of heavy lifting to bring themselves into compliance. But for most businesses, a little focused effort can greatly reduce the risk under CASL and a little education on CASL (and Privacy in general) can ensure that practices and systems are developed in compliance.

Can third parties be compliance solutions?

Many businesses use third parties for email. Some of these take the CASL obligations very seriously with audited/certified practices and therefore present a good way to manage your CASL risk. Yet some are less knowledgeable or careful about CASL, which presents a risk that they will often transfer to you through the service agreement. A careful review of vendors and of the legal terms is needed to outsource your CASL compliance. Remember that CASL makes the sender responsible for compliance, so using third-party lists doesn’t alleviate your responsibility. Even when relying on a third party, you will still need some internal education and practices to ensure newly acquired contacts are brought in with the appropriate consent.

What are the basics of compliance?

CASL compliance mandates three things: (1) that you have consent to send messages by email or text or to update software, (2) that you always are clear about who is sending the message with the proscribed information and (3) that you provide an easy way to unsubscribe.

CASL doesn’t apply: CASL does not apply to electronic messages sent within an organization or between organizations in a relationship, where the message concerns the recipient. Of course, CASL doesn’t affect emails or texts by people in your organization that have a “family” or “personal” relationship with the recipient.

CASL consent exemptions: With many of your business communications, CASL applies to mandate sender information and unsubscribes, but consent is not required. This could allow you to send email or text without express consent if it is in furtherance of an existing transaction, including warranty, product recall, safety information, delivery of products, updates, or upgrades that the recipient is entitled to receive.

Implied consent: In other business communications, CASL applies to mandate sender information and unsubscribes, but consent is implied because the recipient and sender have an “existing relationship.” But be careful to keep track of communication sent under this category because your “implied consent” expires two years after a product is purchased or a membership/subscription has expired. CASL also allows you to rely upon implied consent for emails sent to recipients who have conspicuously published or provided his or her email address but, again, be careful because it is only valid as long as the email is still conspicuously published without restriction. Cull your lists or convert these recipients to express consent, which never expires.

What is consent under CASL?

While there may be circumstances in which you wish to rely upon an exemption to consent or implied consent, the most reliable approach to CASL compliance is to ensure you have proof of express consent, which does not expire unless it is removed by the recipient.
Express consent requires that at the point of collection you advise:

  1. of the purpose of requesting consent (let them know you will use it to send them offers or updates; let them know whether the email would be shared with anyone else);
  2. of the name of the entity requesting consent (e.g. be clear if it is on behalf of the parent organization);
  3. of a mailing address plus phone number, email, or web address; and
  4. that consent can be withdrawn.

Also be sure to make it an affirmative opt-in mechanism, which means checking a box or having to input an email address to sign up for these communications. Be careful with a process that has the email already provided (for sign in or other purpose) and just a notice that it will be used for communications. This would likely not constitute express consent, forcing you to rely upon an exemption or implied consent that may not be available in the circumstances.

The onus is on your to prove consent if it is contested by a recipient or you are investigated, so be sure to keep accurate, updated records of the consent you are relying on for each email or text that you send.

Do a CASL compliance test:

  1. Does your business send email or texts to customers?
  2. Does your business update software—e.g. through an app?
  3. Do your emails or texts include an unsubscribe option that can remove someone from your list within 10 days (and do you regularly test it)?
  4. Do your emails or texts include the proscribed information about the sender?
  5. Do you have express consent, implied consent or an exemption to consent that you can rely upon?
  6. Do you have a fair allocation of risk with your vendors that are relevant to your CASL obligations, whether it services for your email, IT services, storage, list sharing, customer service, etc.?
  7. Do you have senior management involvement, a written policy, risk assessments, record keeping, staff training and a complaint-handling process?

If you have questions about this fact sheet or wish to review some of the concepts as it applies to your business, you can contact me at

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif


AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) Tips for Your Website by Caren Watkins

By Caren Watkins, MDes; Inclusive designer, IDRC, FLOE, OCAD University; coordinator SNOW: Inclusive Learning and Education

An accessible website means that all information found on a web page or web application, including text, images, forms and sounds, must be accessible to physical, sensory and cognitive diversities. As of January 1, 2021, all public websites and their web content published after January 1, 2012 belonging to and controlled by a private, non-profit or public organizations with fifty or more employees must conform to WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 Level AA (excluding live captioning and pre-recorded audio descriptions). While you don’t have to make content prior to January 2012 accessible you will be required to accommodate anyone who asks for alternative and accessible content.

In the 2016 AODA Hotsheet we discussed the importance of knowing how users access your content, staying proactive, and reframing accessibility: “Think of accessibility less as a compliance process and rather as an exemplary design process, the objective of which is to reach people of all abilities.” This year we dig deeper into tools that can help you get your site to Level AA and maintaining compliance.

The Facts about Deadlines and Compliance

The 2021 deadline is approaching and compliance monitoring will likely become stricter. Reporting compliance should be part of your accessibility goal, both to help you map a strategy to achieve accessibility as well as to avoid fines.

Here is a snapshot of web accessibility deadlines for private businesses and not-for-profits with 50 or more employees leading up to the big 2021 deadline:

Private & Not-for-profit Organizations (50+ employees)
2014All new internet websites and web content on those sites must conform with WCAG 2.0 level A
Multi-year accessibility plans in place
File accessibility report (by December 31)
2017File accessibility report (by December 31)
2020File accessibility report (by December 31)
2021All internet websites and web content must conform with WCAG 2.0 level AA
(excluding live captioning and audio description)

See a full list of deadlines at Access Ontario:

For this Hotsheet we’ve focused on section 14 of the Information and Communication Standard of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR) of the AODA called “accessible websites and web content.” It is important to understand that there are many other standards within the IASR that include not only the information and communication standards but also the transportation standards and the employment standards, each with their own accessibility requirements. Publishing companies may need to comply with various sections within all three of the standards.

The mandatory compliance report includes 17 questions mainly related to services and built environments (space). The final question of the report encompasses website compliance: “Other than the requirements cited in the above questions, is your organization complying with all other requirements in effect under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation?” Even though wording doesn’t specifically indicate web-related compliance, the broad statement is a catch-all for all mandated requirements.

There are specific accessibility rules for publishers of educational materials, which I think is useful to mention here, given magazines often repackage materials into special editions or books. If those materials are intended as learning resources for educational and training institutions then they must meet accessibility standards in Ontario. Find out more here:

Getting It Done

There are two useful guides to help support understanding of accessibility and specifics of what needs to be done to your site based on WCAG criteria.

1. Accessibility guide based on four principles

W3C, the Web Accessibility Initiative, has put together a useful guide for web accessibility requirements organized under the four intrinsic principles of web accessibility: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR). Under each principle there are links to relevant WCAG criteria and several stories from people with lived experience. Below is an overview, but be sure to check out the full guide to get the most out of this useful learning guide:

A. Perceivable information and user interface includes text alternatives for meaningful non-text content, captions and other alternatives for multimedia, and options to control an audio or video component, for example.

B. User interfaces and navigation that is operable means a person can use a keyboard to move around your site rather than by gesture, mouse or trackpad, and that people have enough time to read and use the content by postponing or suppressing interruptions. It may also mean that the keyboard focus is visible, pages have clear titles and the purpose of a link is clearly evident.

C. A webpage is considered understandable when text is readable and understandable, content appears and operates in predictable ways, and users are supported in avoiding and correcting mistakes (when filling out forms for example). You can support broader “understanding” by providing definitions for unusual words, idioms and abbreviations and using the simplest language possible (or even provide simplified versions); having consistent navigation and prompts throughout all pages to let people learn how to move around the site with actions they can predict; and giving people the opportunity to review and correct content during and after filling out a form.

D. Making sure markup can be interpreted by assistive technologies (such as screen readers) is part of creating robust content that includes a name, role and value for content so that assistive technologies can process the content reliably. “ARIA is the means of supplying names, roles and values for common UI designs that aren’t part of the HTML standard, such as tabbed navigation interfaces,” notes Alan Harnum, senior inclusive developer at the IDRC. (See “What to Expect in the Near Future 2. ARIA 1.1” below for more info and learn about what name, role and value mean in context of technology here).

2. WCAG’s quick reference tool

This reference tool has a filter to help you zero in on the areas of your website that need to be addressed under the POUR accessibility principles. By setting the filters to 2.0 level AA you will be able to scroll through the approximately 13 requirements to fulfill AODA compliance. Level A has approximately 25 criteria and if you have already fulfilled all or most of them then you are well on your way to being Level AA compliant. And to make it even easier, each criterion displays expandable areas for further information, such as full descriptions, techniques and failures, and deeper information to help you understand the specific criterion.

WCAG's quick reference tool filter tab showing selection options.

Figure 1: WCAG’s quick reference tool filter tab showing selection options.

What to Expect in the Near Future

Work continues around the world to inform best practices and international standards. Working groups, research centres, advocates and others are focused on building a more inclusive world by making ICT (information and communication technology) accessible to all. We can, therefore, expect there to be valuable updates to criteria, standards and compliance requirements. Here are two worth noting:

1. WCAG 2.1

WCAG released version 2.1 in June of 2018. “The main goals of version 2.1 are to improve accessibility for mobile, low vision and cognitive differences,” says Lisa Liskovoi, designer and accessibility specialist at the Inclusive Design Research Centre. “The focus on mobile is significant because many people use and need a mobile device to navigate their world, so for example in 2.1 it is required that orientation cannot be restricted so users can operate a site or app vertically or horizontally on their device. Complex gestures such as pinching or twisting require alternative ways of performing the action. For example pinching to zoom in also has a plus (+) and minus (-) option that people can select to perform the same function.” In her reviews of website accessibility, Lisa often sees that contrast of non-text content such as buttons, icons and other important user elements is poor so that they become very difficult to find. Version 2.1 addresses access to non-text content with a new requirement for better designed contrast and visibility. WCAG 2.1 has been adopted by the European Union but has not been incorporated into any Canadian legislation as of November 2018.

We are starting to see more and more work being done around inclusion of cognitive differences and ICT. Last fall the IDRC (Inclusive Design Research Centre) had the opportunity to organize a workshop that brought together global procurement and accessibility leaders to inform a progressive accessibility policy for the Federal Government of Canada. A key recommendation from the group was the importance of supporting cognitive differences. WCAG 2.1 has begun to incorporate some functional requirements that support cognitive differences, such as giving people warnings about tasks that have time limits. For example, if someone needs to gather credit card or address information for a timed task they are told about the requirement before entering into the timed action, allowing people to gather information within their own time.

2. ARIA 1.1

ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications specification) is a set of attributes for web markup that “defines a way to make Web content and Web applications more accessible to people with disabilities” by adding a semantic layer of information that can be picked up by assistive technologies. For example, it allows users to communicate the functionality and current state of toggles that collapse and expand content, something that is generally only communicated visually. Developers can make advanced Web applications accessible and usable to people with disabilities, especially people who rely on screen readers and people who cannot use a mouse.

ARIA has several updates in the latest version 1.1. Lisa points to sites that use infinite role feeds like Pinterest, where a screen reader doesn’t tell a user that the page has been refreshed, something that is easy to identify for a visual user. With ARIA 1.1 there is now an attribute that prompts a screen reader to voice when a page in role feed has been refreshed.

Being Agile and Inclusive Go Hand-In-Hand

The most important adjustment you can make is with processes. How you design and build your web content can make it easier to be compliant. “Move away from one champion and have accessibility scaled laterally,” says Lisa, “and better yet, make accessibility a value in your company.”

Maintaining sustainable compliance is about embedding accessibility thinking at every stage of your design process by having your practices be inclusive of a diversity of people. The Inclusive Design Guide‘s insights, practices, tools and activities are resources you can easily layer into existing processes (in particular if you have an agile publishing process in place). Also check out the “inclusive design practice” section on the FLOE resource page for more helpful links.

Here’s an idea: consider accessibility as your fourth bottom line in a quadruple bottom line model and you will no doubt be a leader in inclusion.

Thank you to Lisa Liskovoi, Dr. Vera Roberts, Justin Obara, Alan Harnum and the inclusive design community.


2016 Hotsheet on AODA Tips for Your Website

Inclusive Design

The Inclusive Design Guide

List of Inclusive Design Practices resources and more

The Inclusive Learning Design Handbook

Different types of assistive and accessible technology used to access content

The Inclusive Design Research Centre

The Business Case for Digital Accessibility

This resource, published by The W3C WAI Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG), includes direct and indirect benefits of accessibility, the risks of not addressing accessibility adequately, and case studies and examples that demonstrate how continued investment in accessibility is good for your organization. It shows how accessibility can:

  • Drive Innovation
  • Enhance Your Brand
  • Extend Market Reach
  • Minimize Legal Risk

WCAG 2.1 blogs

How to Meet WCAG 2: Quick Reference Tool

Accessibility principles: POUR

Understand the concept of ROBUST and what name, role and value mean in the context of AT


The standard (

The authoring practices document (

User Interface Options (accessibility add-on for your site)

UI Options is a tool that allows individuals to personalize web content and other user digital interfaces to meet their needs and preferences. It works by adding to the existing styles of a website or application, and can be integrated into a design with relatively minimal effort.

Accessibility checker tools & guides

Check your website to see if it’s accessible:

Check your markup for accessibility best practices:

Check your colour contrast:

Understanding users of all abilities:

Web content accessibility guidelines: introductory guide for web developers:

Authoring tools accessibility guidelines (ATAG 2.0):

50+ employees:

Minister Qualtrough’s site:


Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif


5 Steps to Launching a Podcast by Matthew Blackett

By Matthew Blackett, Publisher, Spacing

Podcasts have become a vital component in engaging with your magazine’s readers. Adding a podcast to your publication’s repertoire is no easy task; it should be approached in the same way that your staff would go through when developing a commemorative issue or special insert. Below are five steps for you to consider before uploading your first episode.


It’s important to identify all of the reasons why your magazine needs to launch a podcast. Here are some of the most common goals.

  • Increase awareness of the magazine: A podcast is the classic “brand extension” and opens you up to attracting new readers who may only have been exposed to your podcast;
  • Provides new avenue for you to share editorial and complement magazine content: As every writer has told one of your editors, “there was a lot of content that didn’t make it into the article.” Podcasts offer you the opportunity to expand on quotes and ideas presented in your articles and features.
  • Share info about your magazine and other business needs: Podcasts offer the opportunity to promote your own events, market special offers on magazine subscriptions, etc.
  • Monetize the podcast: Depending on the size of your audience, you can sell sponsorship or advertising on your podcast.*

* A cautionary note about advertising and sponsorship—very few, if any, magazines that launch a podcast will make significant revenue from ads or sponsorships. Unless you’re attracting tens of thousands of listeners to a podcast, the numbers just don’t add up. One solution is to add the sponsorship of a podcast as part of an ad sales package (i.e., “for $500 more an issue you can be the sole advertiser on our podcast” or “if you buy the outside back cover for the year, we’ll make you the only sponsor of our podcast for the year, too”).

Another solution to the ad/sponsor challenge is to make the podcast a value-added benefit for subscribing to the magazine. That means making the podcast exclusive only to your subscribers. Reducing the number of people you can reach by essentially putting the podcast behind a paywall may not make your ad sales reps happy, but it might be good news for your circulation department who are looking for any way to attract new readers and retain existing subscribers.


Your magazine has a unique voice; it might be serious and informed or it could be accessible and light. Whatever tone you try to project within the pages of your magazine should be reflected in your podcast.

Identifying the voice will allow you to envision the format and the type of guests you want to invite onto the show. By using a similar tone/voice from your magazine, your magazine readers will feel more at ease with your new product.


The format of your podcast will help give it a shape and flow. Much like your magazine, the podcast should be split into digestible sections. It’s absolutely fine to even mimic the format of your magazine: start with a few short bits (front of book), a main topic or theme (cover section), and finish it off with some short and light content (back of mag).

A successful format for a podcast is to theme the episode. From a bird’s eye view, this allows the podcast to feel like all of its components are related and intertwined. It allows your marketing and circulation teams to target groups of listeners and gives you the potential to attract new listeners that are interested in the theme.


Depending on your magazine’s frequency, you should work the podcast producer and the podcast’s production timeline into your production schedule. Below is a rough template for how/when to include your podcast team into the magazine’s workflow.

  • Editorial team discusses next issue articles, themes, etc.

Podcast producer attends meeting and participates in editorial decisions;
Potential to suggest which articles are podcast-friendly

  • Articles submitted, edited

Podcast producer reviews final articles, picks best fit for podcast;
Podcast producer approaches writer for contact info of experts quoted

  • Articles go into layout

Podcast goes into production: interviews recorded

  • Magazine goes to printer

Podcast enters post-production stage

  • Magazine distributed to store

Podcast uploaded, post made to website, promotion begins

  • Release party/related event

Podcast promoted at event


Your podcast should come with a lot of fanfare. You need to take every opportunity to promote it: in the magazine with ads, easy-to-find links and house ads on your website, posts in your social media channels, in your monthly newsletter, a mention from our editor in their opening column—draw attention to it with prizes and cross-promotions with advertisers. Include a blow-out card to subscribers. Take every opportunity to promote this free product you’re offering to readers. Magazines Canada

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif


How to Create a Digital Strategy (That Actually Works for You) by David Topping

Photograph of David ToppingBy David Topping, Senior Manager, Product, St. Joseph Media

Too many print publications start where they should end when it comes to their digital strategy. The most important question to ask first isn’t how many articles a day to write or how to go about promoting them on social media. And it’s not whether you should launch email newsletters or apps or podcasts or Snapchat accounts. It’s why: why should you be doing any of that in the first place, and to what end? Here’s how to answer that question, and figure out everything that follows it.

1. Figure out what you care about

You probably already know what one thing matters most to your publication, it’s what has long informed your editorial strategy and it’s how you make money. Here’s what publications most often aim at, and why:

The more people, the merrier, whoever they are and whatever they do once you’ve gotten their attention. Big advertisers have long loved scale, which is a big part of why many publications focus on this target above all others.

Whereas publications devoted to scale try to get an audience’s attention, those devoted to engagement also focus on keeping it. More sophisticated online advertisers care about this, too: some use engagement as a stand-in for credibility when it comes to deciding who to create sponsored content with and a few even pay based on how much time their ads are seen for.

Your audience loves you, or needs you, or both. Either way, they’re loyal. If more of a publication’s revenue comes directly from their audience than their advertisers, it’s likely devotion that’s fuelling it.

2. Figure out what to measure

One of the best things about digital media is just how easy it is to collect data on how people use it. One of the worst things about digital media is just how easy it is to drown in that data. But when you know what you care about, it’s a lot easier to determine what to measure and what to ignore. You can’t care about everything, so coming up with a measurable metric that’s a good proxy for what you do care about is critical.

Here are just a few of your many options for what to focus on based on the aims outlined above. Pick a few, or just one, or find something else that works for you—but the smaller you are the fewer metrics you should choose. To measure them on websites, use an analytics tool like Google Analytics; to measure them on social networks and elsewhere, like newsletters and tablet editions, you’re usually best off relying on that service’s built-in tools.

If you care about scale, you can measure your success by means of website page views, a crude measurement that is increasingly falling out of fashion since it’s so easy to manipulate, but one that many publications are stuck with for now, since so many digital advertisers continue to use it for their campaigns. Sessions or users are better, more honest measurements of scale: sessions is the total number of visits to a website or other digital product during a given period, and users are the number of unique visitors. If you have newsletters, tablet editions or podcasts, you can measure their number of subscribers, and if you have an app, you can measure app installations. And if you’re on social media, you can measure by the number of followers you have on a given network, or by your reach there.

If you care about engagement, you care about users taking some sort of action with your content, which can include but isn’t limited to spending time with it.

When it comes to measuring how and to what extent people take action, you could focus on social media engagement on the platforms that suit your content best—the number of people who don’t just glance at a Facebook post or tweet but do something with it, such as share it, retweet it, or Like it. (What social networks suit your content best? The more visual it is, the more important it is you’re on Instagram; the more newsy it is, the more important it is that you’re on Twitter; the more people it’s intended for, the more important it is that you’re on Facebook.) Many website tools let you see the bounce rate of a particular piece of content, which is what percentage of visitors left without looking at any other content on your site, or page depth, which measures how many pieces of content users go through per visit. For newsletters, open rates will tell you how many people opened a given campaign, and, if the newsletter links out to other content, click rate will tell you what percentage of people who either received or opened the newsletter clicked on any one of those links. And for apps, the number of active users, sometimes called active devices, will tell you how many people are actually using the app after installing it.

For time, average session duration or average time on page or screen will give you a sense of how long the average user stays with you per website or tablet-edition visit (that’s average session duration) or per any given item of content (that’s average time on page or screen). More fully featured but expensive analytics tools like Chartbeat can provide the cumulative amount of time all readers spent with any one piece of content, though there’s a crude way to do this with data most services offer for free: take the average time spent per page and multiply it by the number of page views it has.

If you care about devotion, you could care about returning website visitors: those whose latest visit to your website wasn’t their first. The more returning visitors you have and content you publish, the more you can go even deeper, by focusing on seeing how many users returned, say, ten times over the course of a given month. If you encourage or force people to log in to view content on your website, measuring the number of active site members can tell you just how devoted those who signed up for an account are.

3. Figure out what to do

Now that you’ve decided what numbers you’ll be paying attention to, you can start putting in work you think will move those numbers—and stop putting in work you think won’t. You shouldn’t be doing anything digitally that you don’t believe is likely to affect your goals, and you shouldn’t be doing anything digitally that you can’t measure to determine to what extent it has.

What should you do, then? Here, again, the answer very much depends on what you care about and how you’re measuring it. Sometimes you will need to change the form of what you produce (its frequency, its medium, its shape and/or its distribution), and sometimes you will need to change its content (its focus, its intended audience and/or its voice); often, you will need to do both. You should start by experimenting with what you think is likeliest to work and what is easiest to do, look at the results, do more of what’s working and less of what isn’t, and then repeat. Over time, you’ll learn more, more quickly and save more and more time producing things that hit your goals faster and faster.

Here are some examples of the kinds of things you could experiment with:

If you care about scale and you’re measuring sessions or users, you could focus your energy on publishing more content than you currently do, or publishing content of interest to a greater audience. You could also make your work more legible to Google by giving pieces of content more straightforward titles, URLs and file names. If you’re measuring page views, the same strategy would work, but you can also cheat by publishing more multi-page articles and more slideshows or galleries (though you might bother your users, who’ll have every right to be annoyed). If you’re measuring newsletter or tablet edition subscribers and you have a website, you can create more places on the site where people can sign up for them, or point more prominently to the ones they can. It’s easier said than done to change the focus of an existing newsletter or tablet edition so that it’s of interest to a greater audience, or launching a new one that is, but nothing will affect subscriber numbers more. If you’re measuring social media followers, you can try publishing more content to the network(s) of your choice, and use what combination of messaging, creative and links your followers there respond to as a guide for what to do more of yourself. And if you have any sort of budget, you can run ads inexpensively on Facebook that can move pretty much any metric for scale, at least temporarily (including but not limited to app installations, Facebook or Instagram followers or reach, page views and newsletter subscribers).

If you care about engagement, and you’re measuring average time on page, you could experiment with publishing longer, more detailed content to see if it holds readers’ attentions. If it’s bounce rate that you care about, you can link to more of your own content in more noticeable ways from within more of the content you publish. If you’re measuring your newsletter open rate, most email services will let you experiment with serving different subject lines for the same campaigns to your subscribers and tell you which was more successful, a feature called A/B testing or multivariate testing. If you’re measuring your social media engagement, you can experiment with what time of day you post there, as well as how frequently you post, and, on networks that are conducive to it like Twitter (very!) and Facebook (somewhat!), how often to repost the same or similar content.

Finally, if you care about devotion and you’re measuring returning website visitors, try creating more recurring website features that keep your audience coming back. Or you could launch an email newsletter that drives people to your website (or, if you already have one, increase the frequency of your existing one, or change how you frame the content in it to get a bigger response out of your subscribers). With devotion as a goal, as is the case with scale and engagement, what you publish is often as much or more important as how you publish it, so don’t be afraid to adapt your editorial strategy as you learn more about what people respond to.

What strategy will work for you? You can’t know that yet, and you shouldn’t expect to be able to: publications and their audiences vary widely, and so, necessarily, does what succeeds for them. Now, though, you should be in a much better position to discover what works best for your publication, and your audience. All that’s left is to start. Magazines Canada

David Topping is the Senior Manager of Product at St. Joseph Media, which owns Toronto Life and FASHION, among other titles, where he leads digital product development and management for all of the company’s editorial brands, as well as the clients of its custom content wing, Strategic Content Labs. In his career in Canadian media, largely in digital leadership roles, he’s launched successful products, built fledgling outlets into powerhouses, and turned decades-old legacy brands towards their digital futures. He’s worked at everything from flush start-ups to poor but punchy up-and-comers, and his work has been regularly recognized as the best of its kind in the country, including at the National Magazine Awards, where he’s won five.

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)


Google Algorithm Updates by Michael Cottam

Google Algorithm Updates—What They Mean For Publishers

By Michael Cottam, SEO Consultant

Google is continuously improving their algorithms, striving to be able to find the best content and the best user experience for searchers amongst the incredible masses of new content published every day.

Some of what Google is adding into their algorithms is designed to recognize great, original and popular content, while other metrics are designed to catch sites that are trying to “game the system” (especially with links) or are simply republishing material that originated elsewhere.

Today, Google uses three kinds of signals for ranking web pages: content, links and user engagement metrics. Publishers need to understand what Google is looking at (both good and bad signals) in order to create and tune their sites to rank well in Google and deliver traffic to their sites.


The most famous part of Google’s algorithms that has to do with content is Panda. Launched in February 2011, it was designed to reward pages with things like big, original images; plenty of well-written text; rich content elements like videos, maps, etc. It was also designed to penalize pages with tons of ads, too much whitespace and forms above the fold, thin content, etc.; things that make the user experience less satisfying. Google has continued to tweak Panda over the years, and with each iteration Google has been better able to recognize truly good, original, useful content and/or poorer quality content that was undeservedly seen as high quality in earlier iterations of the algorithm.

What can/should publishers do with respect to their content to benefit from content-related updates? Or, at least, not be penalized by them?

  • Create a great user experience: Make the page load quickly; don’t interfere with the user experience with popup dialogs that cover the content; make it easy to get to the content on the page that they’re looking for without excessive scrolling.
  • Cover the topic thoroughly: Check out other publishers’ pages who have covered the same topic, and are ranking for the target term—are they talking about subtopics or referring to related terms that you aren’t? It’s not about the word count—it’s about covering the subject matter thoroughly on a single page. And don’t split the content across multiple pages—Google is going to pick just one of your pages to rank for that topic and ignore the content that’s on the other ones.
  • Use original images and videos: If you have the same image that was provided by the company you’re writing about, or are using stock photography for a destination article, then you’ve got nothing better to offer the user than the other publishers covering this topic. Take your own photos and videos whenever possible.
  • Use original text: Don’t copy overview material from people’s biographies, company backgrounders, or tourist bureau sites.


The most famous part of Google’s algorithms related to links is Penguin. Prior to Penguin (launched in April 2012), Google had (and still has today) manual link penalties. If you think of links like “votes” for your page, link penalties are what you get when you’re caught engaging in voter fraud. Google wants to count links to your site that represent a vote for the content on that page. Anything you do to fake this can get you in trouble. When you have a penalty, typically your page will suddenly rank 40 or more places lower than it did before the penalty…or not at all.

With manual link penalties, a Google Search Quality engineer has actually looked at your links, and can see what you’ve done to get links you didn’t really earn. The engineer manually registers a penalty against specific pages, or your entire site, and you get a notice in Google Search Console to that effect.

Penguin penalties were algorithmic, meaning that they’re automatically seeing link patterns that they know indicate bad or paid links and automatically applying a penalty to your site. You get no notification—you just stop ranking for certain terms, or for anything at all. With the advent of Penguin 4.0 in October 2016, Google claimed that there was no longer a Penguin penalty—those types of links that Penguin was penalizing are now simply ignored by the Page Rank calculations. However, it’s very important to note that there still are algorithmic penalties in Google outside of Penguin, and you CAN get penalized for certain kinds of link patterns.

What can/should publishers do with respect to links to protect against link-related updates?

  • Don’t get links from pages that are going to be syndicated across many sites—this is known as “article marketing.” That includes e-press releases.
  • Avoid site-wide links on other sites. It’s fine to sponsor a charity, for example, but ask for a single link from a page related to your sponsorship, or a blog post, or their About page—not a site wide footer or sidebar link.
  • Don’t get links from sites where clearly humans don’t visit: directories you’ve never heard of, blogs where the content is fluff, sites that don’t get shared on social media or linked to by many other sites.
  • Do review your latest backlinks periodically in Search Console and if you find really bad sites linking to you, submit a disavow file to Google Search Console with those domains in it.
  • Do traditional marketing and PR, and make that the reason you get links. Be a resource for reporters to interview/quote on your industry; contribute to blogs and journals in your space; support charities and your community and get mentioned in the newspaper because of that.


What is Google measuring when it comes to user engagement? The two most likely signals are click through rate and bounce rate.

Each position from 1 to 10 on page 1 has an average click through rate (CTR). For example, about 20% of searchers will click on the first organic search result; about 13% will click on the second result, etc. If your page is the fourth result for a given search, and the average CTR on result #4 is 9%, and over the last 100 searches for that term Google sees 12% of people click on your result, that’s a positive signal to Google that your headline and snippet matches what the searchers are looking for. On the other hand, if your CTR is lower than average, it indicates searchers aren’t liking what your page says it is.

Your bounce rate is the percentage of searchers that click on you in the search results, then click the back button AND click a different result. Presumably, this indicated that your page didn’t answer their question—at least, not completely—and they had to go to another page to complete their task. A high bounce rate thus indicates to Google that your page’s content is either low quality or not very relevant/helpful for that particular search query. Conversely, a low bounce rate indicates your page is a great answer to that searcher’s question.

What can/should publishers do with respect to user engagement signals to protect against changes in this part of the algorithm?

  • Be sure your content thoroughly covers the page’s topic, so that a searcher probably won’t have to go to your competitor’s page to get the rest of the information they’re looking for.
  • Structure your page in such a way that the user can see that the subtopic they might be looking for is on the page, even if it’s not initially visible. Use tabs, or use inpage anchors to scroll to sections.
  • Do the searches yourself, and look at what Google is showing for your page’s headline and snippet (which come from the page title and the meta description in general). Ask yourself if your page in the search result looks more compelling than the other 9 on page 1. Does your result look credible (mention reviews, BBB A+ rating, years in business, etc.)? Does it look spammy or legit (don’t use a page title of “Purple Widgets – Widgets that are Purple – Purple Colored Widgets” for example).
  • Use rich content like videos, maps, virtual tours that engage the visitor and keep them on your page.
  • Don’t use tricks like stuffing your JavaScript history or having a series of redirect hops to make the user have to click the back button multiple times to get back to the search results. This might make your bounce rate look good in Google Analytics, but it will have no effect on how Google Search measures your bounce rate.


Google is continually refining their algorithm, making it better at recognizing great content, and recognizing “buzz” or positive mentions from real people—especially authorities. If you design your site content for a great user experience, giving the user the best and most complete resource for the topics they’re searching, then as long as you’re not doing crazy coding tricks that prevent Google from seeing your content clearly and correctly, you should be in good shape. When it comes to links, don’t think about links: think about marketing, getting exposure in places on the web that real people visit regularly. The links that come from this kind of exposure are the kinds of links you want, that Google will see as “editorial votes” for your content and brand, and keep you out of Google penalties. Magazines Canada

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)


GDPR Readiness: 7 Areas to Address by Derek Lackey

Photo of Derek LackeyBy Derek Lackey, President, Direct Marketing Association of Canada

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires a complete re-think of data management practices:

  • How you capture it,
  • How and where you manage it,
  • Whether or not you share it, and most important,
  • How and when you process that data.

If you do business in the EU, but not enough to completely rewire your data operations (for example, a firm that markets a product or service to EU citizens), we will address the key areas that we believe the Data Protection Authorities (DPAs) will be looking for after May 25, 2018.

Before taking an action you must assess whether you are a Data Controller or a Data Processor. (See GDPR Chapter 4.)

Stated plainly, a Controller decides what is collected when and how it is processed. A Processor carries out the request of the Controller. It is not unusual for an organization to be both, so always consider which hat you are wearing.

We will break GDPR into 7 areas of concern:

1. EU Data Subject Rights

Under GDPR, every data subject in the EU is entitled to the following rights:

  1. The right to be informed
  2. The right of access
  3. The right of rectification
  4. The right to erasure
  5. The right to restrict processing
  6. The right to data portability
  7. The right to object
  8. Rights related to automated decision making and profiling

Details for each of these rights can be found in Chapter 3.

These rights are most easily complied with if your data is centralized.

You must design and document policies and procedures that allow you to fulfill any of these requests within a reasonable period (30 days).

If difficulties are encountered, you can communicate with the Data Subject and inform them you require up to an additional 60 days to manage their request.

To comply with these rights, publishers must:

a) Develop processes to fulfill the request of the Data Subject within 30 days.
b) Be able to immediately stop processing data from individual consumers or sets of consumers when requested.

2. Accountability

One of the most important principles within GDPR is the notion of accountability. Any company that stores or processes consumer data must be able to demonstrate how they comply with the principles.

Publishers should answer the following five questions:

  1. At the point of collection, did we specify how this personal data will be used?
  2. Can we track and prove how the data was collected (date and timestamp, IP address, etc.)?
  3. Can we limit data collection to specifically what is necessary to serve the purpose for which it is collected (data minimization)?
  4. Can we store the data only as long as necessary for its intended purpose?
  5. Can we prove that we have done our best to secure the data?

In short, GDPR requires new levels of accountability and transparency, placing the responsibility firmly on the publisher’s ability to be able to demonstrate and prove all aspects of compliance.

Documenting how and why personal data was collected as well as the written policies and procedures is an important part of compliance. (See Guidance Document “Accountability.”)

3. Data Minimization

Throughout GDPR, data minimization is called for. If you do not need the collected data to do the business you wish to do, GDPR calls for you to delete that data.

Once the purpose of collecting data is complete, you should consider deleting it. So both the quantity (number of fields provided) and the length of time the data is kept are affected.

In all likelihood, it is this kind of useless data that will result in penalties for your organization.

4. Lawful Basis for Processing

This is a fundamental decision that must be made for every way you process data.

If you are sending emails, that is one form of data processing. If you are using cookies to profile an individuals’ preferences, that is another form of processing.

For each way you process that individual’s data you must decide on the Lawful Basis of Processing. (See Article 6.)

There are 3 lawful bases available to the private sector:

a) CONTRACTUAL: For all customers and near customers, you can do all types of processing required within the fulfillment of that contract. We recommend you update your terms and conditions and call out that you intend to email them, offering an opt-out opportunity at the point of data collection as well as in every email sent (unsubscribe mechanism that allows an individual to easily opt out). It should be as easy to unsubscribe as it is to subscribe. Important to note, this does not give you cart blanche to stuff all sorts of conditions into your terms and conditions. They must be relevant to your ability to fulfill on your contract with those individuals.

b) LEGITIMATE INTEREST: Much has been written and discussed on this form of lawful basis for processing, but our lawyers assure us that B2B players can communicate on a soft opt-out basis. Prospects that are engaged and show interest in your area of business can be contacted on this basis. The rule of thumb when executing is: if the recipient of an email could be left asking “Why did they send this to ME?” you should ask yourself, “Should this person be on our list?” In order to claim it is a legitimate interest, a Legitimate Interest Assessment must be completed. It is, in essence, a balancing test between your organization’s interests and the data subject’s interests.

c) CONSENT: If using webforms and online registration (opening an account) or trade show data collection (business cards, show organized scanners, etc.), be sure to add a couple of sentences to your collection forms like: “Thank you for subscribing to [name of your email subscription] from [name and address of the organization]. We will send you information relative to [your field of service]. You can reach us at ______ or ________. You can unsubscribe at any time.”

As a separate check box you could add “Yes, please include relevant messages from industry sources, including sponsors and advertisers.”

(See Guidance Document “Legitimate Interest” and/or “Consent.”)

5. Third Party Agreements

All third party agreements/contracts with vendors, partners and even clients do NOT currently include the language needed to provide clarity regarding who is responsible for what under GDPR. As these contracts become due, a close examination of the GDPR impact should be considered and appropriate clauses should be folded in to the new agreements.

6. Data Breach Protocol

GDPR requires all organizations who maintain personal data on EU data subjects to have a documented process in place in case of a Data Breach Incident. There are reporting requirements depending on the nature of the breach; when sensitive personal data is involved and there is potential for harm to the data subject, notification to your Data Protection Authority (DPA) is required within 72 hours. (See Guidance Document “Breach Reporting.”)

7. Webforms and Cookie Notices

This will be the responsibility of the new ePrivacy law working its way through the parliamentary process in the EU. Suffice to say, provide a Yes/No option so consumers can choose the placement of cookies to help serve them better. Forcing them to choose between viewing your site or giving consent is not consent “freely given” as defined by GDPR.

Other considerations:

  1. If your business operates from outside the EU, you should at the very least have appointed a representative within the EU.
  2. You should only transfer data outside of the EU to countries that offer an appropriate level of protection. PIPEDA (Canada’s current privacy law) has been deemed adequate, meaning data can be transferred across EU borders to Canada. To do so in the U.S. you may consider the Privacy Shield.
  3. Larger organizations who hold a lot of personal data may want to appoint a Data Protection Officer.

Fines of up to €20 million (US$23.9m) or four percent of annual global sales can be levied for noncompliance. Losing audience data and digital revenues for not having a GDPR strategy in place could prove even worse. (See Guidance Document “Administration Fines.”) Magazines Canada

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)


Fashion Magazine: In Motion

With a young, ambitious, agile and innovative team, Fashion magazine prides itself on testing out ideas and content plans based on the most immediate information and data available.

“Our chief strategy is to be adaptive!” says Noreen Flanagan, Editor-in-Chief of the St. Joseph Media title. “As everyone knows, print magazines and publishing as an industry are radically different than they were a few years ago and it remains persistently unpredictable. That means we constantly have to be both proactive and reactive; we’re constantly refining our goals and tactics.”

So, part of Fashion‘s strategic plans include video, an unique opportunity for the mag to create original, stylish, visually arresting and entertaining content that can be both separate from the magazine and/or a complement to it.

Snackable, shareable, social: The right content for the right audience.


As a brand, Fashion is all about high-quality content—whether that’s a fabulous photo shoot or an interview with an A-list celebrity—and Flanagan believes video is one of the best methods to tell these stories.

It’s the right format for these types of content, she says, because it allows for shareable and snackable cross-platform marketing, which connects well with the magazine’s audience who tend to be younger, mobile and more social.

It’s the front-row seat to all the things the Fashion girl (or guy—30% of their online audience is male) already loves—fashion, beauty, celebrity, lifestyle. It’s the equivalent of an all-access pass and leads to intimate connection with the audience that might be impossible with static pages and online copy.

To make those connections, Fashion uses video wherever they think it makes sense.

“We are meeting our audience wherever they are. We post videos on all our platforms—YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.” In addition, they add video to their hub property,, completing the loop.

42% increase in video views on; 70K views on original produced videos on Instagram; 2M video views on Facebook; 500% increase in shares on YouTube.


Flanagan says the title is always looking to diversify and innovate with their digital ecosystem. They were one of the first publications to leverage guerilla-style Facebook Live videos which grew quickly in popularity. It gained enough traction that Fashion was able to monetize them.

“More recently we’ve been experimenting with live cover video shoots, 360० video, as well as video push via Instagram Stories and Instagram Live.”

With this agile approach, Fashion has reaped the benefits:

  • Year over year, they saw a 42% increase in video views on
  • On Facebook in 2016, they had 1.4 million video views. The following year, that number increased to 2 million, a 70% increase.
  • On YouTube, “likes” have increased by 81% year over year; shares increased more than 500%; subscriber numbers rose by 40%; and comments increased by more than 260%.
  • On Instagram, original produced videos generated on average 70 thousand views.

Challenge: Keeping up to the shifting landscape. Solution: Pivoting the strategy to address change.


The challenge with producing video is being able to keep up to the constantly shifting social landscape. The key to Fashion‘s success, says Flanagan, is the team’s ability to pivot their video strategy to match what they see in the wild. For example, when Facebook recently changed its algorithm to prioritize live video and interactive engagement, Fashion made it their focus.

“We have big ambitions in the digital video space and are making significant investments, including hiring a full-time, in-house video editor to help us continue to produce rich, high-quality content. In future, we would love to develop different channels and franchises and we’re interested in experimenting with long-form, scripted or even an original series.”

Flanagan says: "Do video. A third of the time people spend online is dedicated to watching videos. It's clear the medium isn't going away."


Flanagan’s advice for other magazines who are thinking of trying video? “Just do it!”

She says it’s ideal if you’re able to bring on a dedicated staff member with expertise in video production. For magazines who don’t have the ability to do so, then leveling up skills for all staff members is the next best option. Even learning a simple program like Videoshop can be the difference between producing cool video clips or mediocre content.

This Showcasing Success case study was made possible with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)


Canadian Geographic: Mapping a Historical Tragedy

In April 2017, as part of a massive Google Earth redesign, tech giant Google announced Voyager, a tool that would allow content producers to tell rich textual and visual stories using text, photos, videos and navigable waypoints. The new tool built on Google Earth’s existing 360-degree content and spectacular satellite imagery and featured content from partners including BBC Earth, NASA and the Jane Goodall Institute.

This major update caught the attention of Canadian Geographic.

“We knew immediately that we wanted to produce Canadian content,” said Ellen Curtis, the Director for Canadian Geographic Education. “Because we were already working on our Indigenous Peoples’ Atlas of Canada project, it seems like a natural fit to do our first Voyager story focusing on residential schools.”

In launching their endeavour, called “Canada’s Residential Schools,” Canadian Geographic became the first Canadian content producer for Google Earth Voyager. (Google produced all other Canadian content on Voyager prior to CG’s work.)

First Canadian content producer for Google Earth Voyager


The goal of the team at Canadian Geographic was to give readers/viewers/users a small glimpse into the horrors of the residential school system that operated from 1831 to 1996. The hope was that viewers would click on links in the story to learn more, or perhaps would even seek out information on their own.

To tackle this enormous story, the team divvied up the information into four chapters:

  • Chapter 1 provides historical context for how the schools came to be.
  • Chapter 2 depicts what the schools were like and how the students were treated.
  • Chapter 3 outlines the effects of the treatment and abuse on the students and how the system was damaging in a number of different ways.
  • Chapter 4 describes the transition that led to their closures, the apologies that followed and the beginning of the healing process.

“There are, of course, more elements to this story than what we were able to cover in those four chapters but we intended this to act as a broad introductory overview.”

To add richness to the story, the team added 63 images, 26 quotes, 130 school waypoints (including 16 waypoints for schools represented inside the story), and 17 videos. The process took about three months, including a full month of research, writing and editing.

21 pages of content, 63 images, 26 quotes, 10 video links.


The Canadian Geographic project was unique in that the education team led the process. As team lead, they decided on which stories would be beneficial to tell, collaborated with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation based in Winnipeg, MB for data sets, then looped in the editorial team.

From there, the editors decided how they wanted to tell the story to fit the Voyager format, engaged in research, sourced images, wrote the copy and reviewed it for clarity, flow, tone and style. The NCTR’s director and fact checkers also reviewed the story to ensure accuracy and a respectful tone.

When it came to working with Google, the collaboration was simple, according to Curtis.

“We emailed them a rough draft of the story and they set up the framework on their end. We had multiple opportunities to review and make sure that everything was in the right place, even down to the details of how far we might want to be zoomed in for a location on the map.”

Linked up: Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada (project), Canada's Residential Schools (Google Earth Voyager project), Canada's Indigenous People (November/December issue, 2017)


Curtis says the most challenging part of the project was narrowing down the story and sifting through the experiences, testimonies and videos of people who suffered through horrible and degrading abuses. But facing these hard truths in order to share them with others was worth it. So far, “Canada’s Residential Schools” has been viewed 55,000 times and the goal of shining the spotlight on this tragic part of our history is being met.

“There are so many more stories that we would like to be able to tell with Google Earth Voyager,” she states. “We’re already planning the next ones. Some of them will follow the theme of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, others will have more traditional geographic approaches.”

All told, they hope to have a total of three new Voyager stories posted in 2018 and continue to build their partnership with Google.

Curtis says: "Try Google Earth Voyager. It offers an easy way to make stories interactive, engaging and visual."


Curtis strongly encourages other magazines to try working with the Voyager tool.

“Google Earth Voyager offers an easy way to make a story engaging and visual,” she says. “There are many ways to get creative on Google Earth—choosing 2D birds-eye views of locations, using 3D views to make landscapes and cities pop out more, picking street views and photo spheres. All this adds diversity to the visual representation of a story. And the opportunity to put videos and photos in with the text on the panels is great for giving users options for engaging with the story content.”

See Canadian Geographic‘s story, “Canada’s Residential Schools,” on Google Earth Voyager.

This Showcasing Success case study was made possible with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)