Toronto Film Festival to Lose Lead Sponsor Bell

Toronto Film Festival to Lose Lead Sponsor Bell

Canadian phone giant Bell, lead sponsor of the Toronto Film Festival since 1995 and with its name on the event’s year-round home Bell Lightbox, is set to exit the marquee event’s red carpet with its flashbulbs and A-listers after the upcoming 48th edition.

“Earlier this year, we decided that the end of 2023 would be the right time to step back from our partnership with TIFF and opted not to renew our sponsorship in order to invest in other opportunities that are core to our business,” Bell spokesperson Ellen Murphy told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement on Saturday.

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Representatives at TIFF were not available for comment as the phone and media giant confirmed it will dial an end to financial ties with the film festival after 28 years, which included two years of pandemic disruption with slimmed-down digital editions in 2020 and 2021 and another tough year with the impact of the ongoing Hollywood actors and writers strikes.

Ma Bell’s Canadian cousin – which will remain the official red carpet media sponsor at Roy Thomson Hall, which hosts twice-nightly gala screenings at TIFF, and will have its logo plastered around the Sept. 7 to 17 event – hanging up on Toronto next year follows fest organizers in recent years increasingly embracing Netflix, a key competitor in Canada to the phone giant’s Crave streaming platform.

The U.S. video giant in its embrace of TIFF has succeeded in getting its movie titles into Hollywood’s awards season launchpad each September.

This year, Netflix has world premieres of Grant Singer’s Reptile and David Yates’ Pain Hustlers, starring Emily Blunt and Chris Evans, as well as international premieres in Toronto for NYAD, by directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, Chloe Dumont’s Fair Play, and George C. Wolfe’s Rustin, starring Colman Domingo, ahead of mostly fall releases on the streamer worldwide.

Last year, industry friction between the U.S. streaming giant and Crave, Bell’s local streaming platform, and Canadian movie theater chain Cineplex, another top TIFF sponsor, spilled out into the open when Toronto booked Sally El Hosaini’s The Swimmers as the opening night film for its first business-as-usual edition ahead of a debut on Netflix.

In 2019, Cineplex banished Netflix and Amazon movie titles from its Scotiabank Theatre, which also serves as the traditional Press & Industry screening venue each September, forcing TIFF to shift those industry screenings to Bell Lightbox.  

Also that year, Netflix signed a three-year deal to invest in TIFF’s year-round film industry program, including financial support for emerging local directors and the festival’s annual September forum.

That Netflix investment came originally from a $25 million fund agreed with the Canadian government in 2017 to develop local content creators, especially from the female, indigenous, Francophone and LGBTQ+ communities.

Toronto welcoming Netflix to its annual September festival and to be part of its year-round programming contrasts with Cannes and other European film festivals that have kept the U.S. streaming giant at a distance over its disruption of traditional distribution models for homegrown cinema, including in cinemas.

TIFF has looked instead to be agnostic in where its lineup titles originate or end up post-festival. But that stance has generated local opposition to Netflix. Representatives at Cineplex declined to comment on the latest backroom dealings of key sponsors in Toronto.

As the lead sponsor, Bell has exploited its financial ties with TIFF, which is understood to be around a $5 million sponsorship annually. As it looks to sign up new mobile phone and Crave streaming subscribers, Bell has had live installations and an interactive Canadian film module in David Pecaut Square, just off King Street, where traffic is closed off in the shadow of the festival’s Bell Lightbox headquarters on the opening weekend.

And Bell has offered extended broadcast coverage of TIFF on its linear TV channels and programming like the CTV entertainment magazine series eTALK, E!, which streams live outside the Princess of Wales Theatre, and news outlets like Canada AM, CTV News Channel, and CP24.

After Bell ends its sponsorship ties with TIFF, the festival will rely on other key financial backers, including Cineplex, RBC, Visa and Italian luxury brand Bulgari during the upcoming 2023 edition where the Hollywood strikes are expected to greatly reduce the number of American celebrities on its red carpet.