Monthly Archives: September 2013

TEDxToronto – Why I went and what I think I got out of it

What is TEDxToronto?  Well, first the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) concept is a volunteer-based conference that allows communities to create their own set of talks under the TED umbrella and motto ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’.  Toronto has been hosting a conference for five years now and is Canada’s largest TEDx event and one of the most prominent in the world.

The idea is to bring in diverse speakers to talk about a wide variety of things to a diverse audience and just spark conversations and thought.  You have to apply to be a delegate so that the organizers can ‘curate’ the audience to be diverse (I’m not sure how that works).  I attended this year for the first time because I wanted to get outside the film, tv and digital world that I live in, hear other ideas and see what I could bring back to my world.  I’m sharing my experience because you might be inspired to do the same next year.

The first thing that I noticed about the conference (held at the Royal Conservatory of Music – great location) was that about ¾ of the people there were under 30.  And they were ethnically diverse.  I don’t know what this conference is doing right that the film, tv and digital world hasn’t figured out but the room was more reflective of multicultural Toronto than any conference I’ve ever been to.  I’m going to be spending some time thinking about that.   We’ve got some work to do.

The speakers covered a wide range of topics ranging from technology to mental health to how we interact with the world.  The theme that was intended to give coherence to the day was ‘the choices that we make’.  It didn’t quite work as often the speakers didn’t make any reference to choice in their talk.  The talks were for the most part very interesting in their own right so it wasn’t the end of the world but a wrap up that brought us back to the theme would have been helpful.

But back to the talks.  There were very cool technology demonstrations (the ‘internet of things’ from Rodolphe el-Khoury, wearable computer from Steve Mann, gesture-controlled technology from Thalmic Labs and robot doctors from Dr. Ivar Mendez) that went beyond mere demos to talk about the potential impact on society of this technology.  The audience didn’t just think ‘oh cool stuff’ but ‘hmm, where will this take us’.    With some of these new possibilities we have some choices to make (see what I did there?).

There were several emotional and raw speakers.  A young woman, Ti-Anna Wang, talked about overcoming her fear of public speaking to become an advocate for her imprisoned Chinese dissident father.  Gabrielle Scrimshaw talked about the need to improve the standard of living of young aboriginals, the fastest growing demographic in Canada.   Mark Henick talked about his suicide attempts as a teen and the work that he does now with young suicidal teens.  Debbie Berlin-Romalis shared her experiences as a social worker at Sick Kids working with kids with cancer and the importance of being honest with them. Matthew Good wrapped up the day with a few songs and his personal story of the challenge of living with mental illness.  They didn’t always talk about choice but you could see that each one had made a major choice about how they wanted to live their lives and improve the lives of others.  That was inspiring.

The final group of speakers defied categorization.  Michael Stone talked about how we need to recognize that spirituality adapts to changing cultures.  Darrell Bricker reminded us that too often the Canada that academics, politicians and content creators describe is the Canada of the past and not the present – we are more culturally diverse, our population has shifted to Ontario and the west and the bilingualism rate is dropping.  Joel MacCharles talked about being better connected with the food we eat and taking responsibility (and saving money) through home preserving.  Maestro Fresh Wes rapped (“Let Your Backbone Slide”!) and encouraged us to stick to our vision.  Steph Guthrie challenged the common wisdom in social media to ‘not feed the trolls’ and demonstrated how lack of consequence can lead to a false sense of popularity.  Brendan Frey is translating the genome in the hope of being able to fix genetic diseases.  Mark Bowden wants us all to fight evolutionary psychology and meet new people by sending ‘friend’ body language signals (didn’t quite get that one).   I couldn’t always see the choice theme at play (I choose to preserve!  I choose to reflect Canada accurately?) but most of them were very interesting none the less.

Now what do I do with that though.  I know that I’m going to the farmer’s market on Sunday and I’m thinking about making and canning apple chutney (without raisins!).  I’d like to get a copy of Darrell Bricker’s slides because I think we all need reminding that Canada is significantly more diverse than it was when we were growing up.  Did you know that the largest group of immigrants in the last five years is from the Philippines, followed by India and China?  I am inspired by Steph Guthrie to challenge trolls when I encounter them online and to tweak the part of my social media training where I talk about dealing with trolls.  But those are the immediate, easy connections that I could make from the talks.  The harder, probably longer lasting impact is to try and take from the speakers the inspiration to make sometimes hard choices and do something to have an impact on the world around you.  This was an impressive group of people making an impact in small ways as well as big ways but they all had passion.  That is something that we can all take with us into our daily work.  Make a difference.  Think outside the every day challenge of making a living and raising a family.  We can do that as part of our careers or outside it in our volunteer activities.

One last anecdote.  One of the speakers who made the strongest impression on me was Steve Mann.  He’s kind of out there.  He’s been making his own wearable computers since he was a teen in the 70s.  Now he’s a cyborg.  Literally.  And his ideas have gone from fringe lunatic to mainstream (ref. Google Glass).  He cracks himself up (you should see him laugh at his own jokes) and so clearly is having the time of his life pursuing his passions.  That is inspiration.

I’m going again next year.  You might want to consider it.

Update:  You can view the videos of the talks here:  http://www.tedxtoronto.com/talks/

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CMF 2013 Consultation Process

Yesterday the Canada Media Fund kicked off its industry consultation process leading up to the release of new guidelines for the next two-year period starting April 2014.  The consultation process informs CMF staff and board of industry issues, reacts to proposals from the CMF for changes to the guidelines and offers a forum to air grievances.  I went on a twitter rant earlier this week about the structure of the consultation process, which I will summarize here before getting into how the first Focus Group went.

I ranted because the CMF has been doing this consultation process for a few years now but there seems to be confusion about how it works.  Of all of the funding bodies, in my opinion the CMF has the most structured, open and comprehensive consultation process.  But there are a few levels with different purposes and it seems that people are getting confused.

Starting with Toronto yesterday, the CMF are going across Canada conducting Focus Groups.  The schedule is here.  Focus Groups are an opportunity for stakeholders to raise issues from their personal experience with the past guidelines and talk about local or regional issues.  CMF staff are there to listen rather than solve problems.  CMF staff also present statistics on recent performance and raise topics that they would like feedback on.  I found in yesterday’s meeting, the CMF were much more focused on what questions they would like feedback on from stakeholders than in past years.

If you can’t make it to a Focus Group then you can address the questions or raise your own issues in the online forum after reading the deck from the Focus Group presentation.  [At this point there does not seem to be an online forum – I couldn’t find it.  I’m waiting to hear back from CMF on its location and will update this when I hear]

The issues raised and the questions answered inform the Working Groups which meet in October and November.  While the Focus Groups are open to anyone, the Working Groups are invitation only.  Representatives of the producer organizations, other funders, guilds and unions and broadcasters meet with CMF staff and usually one or two CMF board members on themed meetings (e.g. Regional Incentives, Documentaries, Broadcaster Performance Envelope calculations, Funding Mechanisms).  At these meetings CMF present proposals for change, modeling on the impact of proposed changes, stats on the impact of previous guidelines and they solicit feedback.   These are roll up the sleeves and try to solve problems meetings.  Feeding into that process are Advisory Committees with subject matter experts who advise CMF staff on technical issues.  Currently there is an Advisory Committee that meets to provide expertise on digital media metrics.

Once the Working Groups have all met then there is a National Focus Group.  This is also invitation only and is comprised of many of the same people as the Working Groups but summarizes the whole process for those who may have missed a meeting or two and presents conclusions and recommendations that will go to the CMF Board.  The Board works with staff to make decisions and we then see the results in the spring before the new guidelines go into effect April 1, 2014.

It is a complicated and time-consuming process but it gets work done.

If you want to know the issues being addressed during the process then I suggest you read the deck.  There are a lot of them.  Many are being presented to see IF people care and are not serious proposed changes.  Some are presented because the CMF wants to know if they are on the right track or not.  And you can always raise new ideas.  I Storify’d tweets from the Toronto session yesterday so if you weren’t following along on Twitter you can get a recap there.  I hope that in future sessions people use the #cmfconsults hashtag so the rest of us can follow along and see if there are regional differences in opinion (I assume so).

There was a good crowd out for the Toronto Focus Group though I had the feeling that there were more videogame producers there than tv producers, or even other digital producers.  That may be because those other producers were also being represented there by the CMPA and Interactive Ontario but it is important for CMF to hear from individual producers who have had direct experience with the CMF.  I was pleased to see a contingent from the new kid on the block, the Independent Web Series Creators of Canada (IWCC) who have not previously had specific support from the CMF though it sounds like that may change in the future.  The usual guilds and unions were out in force as well as most of the broadcasters.

There were long discussions about how the Experimental Fund doesn’t work for videogame producers who just want start up money for their commercial titles.  I have to admit to only half listening because I’ve heard this one every year and it ignores the fact that the mandate of the fund is innovation first.  But CMF seemed willing to discuss ways to tweak the Experimental Fund, including a pilot program to work with incubators and VCs, provided that they do not lose sight of their mandate.

A line of discussion that I was much more interested in was the declining BDU revenues and the growth of new digital platforms.  There’s a real push-pull there.  Producers want to be able to trigger CMF funding through digital broadcasters (particularly but not limited to independent web content creators) because increasingly Canadians are choosing to enjoy their content through these new channels and they have become viable business models.  But if those digital broadcasters are not also contributing to the system then they will be benefitting from an ever-shrinking pool of BDU money while leaving less for the traditional broadcasters.  To make it worse, those digital broadcasters are in part the cause of the shrinking pool of BDU money.  The CRTC has previously said that it will not regulate OTT (ie digital broadcasters) as the business models were still evolving and they saw OTT as complimentary to traditional media.  A review of the Digital Media Exemption Order isn’t even in the current CRTC 3 Year Plan though the Order suggested that it would be up for review in 2014 when it was renewed in 2009.   The CMF has started to see a decline in BDU revenues so it seems pretty clear that OTT is having a negative impact on mainstream broadcasters and the CMF’s ability to fund its programs.  It was good to hear CMF say that something needs to be done and CMF alone cannot make the necessary changes.  CRTC we’re going to be looking to you.

A Toronto-specific concern raised was about how regional incentives might be negatively impacting Toronto.  There was an interest in keeping analysis to the quality of the project and away from postal code but the CMF has a mandate to promote the regions and the Convergent Fund is not a subjective fund.  Film Ontario questioned whether CMF stats were able to identify if Toronto-developed television is being regionally produced in order to take advantage of the regional incentives.  Pre-development was introduced for regional producers only last year so it does skew the charts and make that analysis difficult.  And someone at the back of the room raised the question few are willing to say out loud – ‘does every jurisdiction in Canada need to be a production centre?’  That wasn’t up to the room to decide as support for the regions is within the CMF Contribution Agreement with Heritage and the CRTC has come down hard on broadcasters to support regional production.  Regional incentives aren’t going away.

There was much more discussed in the over 3 hour meeting – check out the Storify.  I’m also hoping that Sasha Boersma does a blog post about the consultations from the perspective of a wonky digital producer as she has promised (poke!).  If you are not in Toronto then I encourage you to participate in an upcoming Focus Group near you.  Even if you are not a client or potential client, the meetings are a great way to hear what’s going on in the tv and digital media industries – pretty good schmoozing too!

A Hodge Podge of CRTC Decisions (Independent Licence Renewals)

Or is it a mish mash?  I’m not sure of the technical term here but last Friday afternoon when most of the world was either sitting on a patio or packing up the car for the last summer long weekend, the CRTC released a whole pile of renewal decisions.  Several of them are of interest.

As you will remember, when the s.9(1)(h) hearing was posted, the call for comments included a number of non-appearing licence renewal applications for independent (i.e. not part of the large groups like Bell, Shaw, Rogers and Corus) broadcasters.  They were to some extent lost in the hubbub over the mandatory carriage applications but a few stalwart stakeholders weighed in.  I outlined a few issues that interested me in an earlier post.

I won’t go through all of the decisions but I do want to mention a few themes that came to mind as I read them.  The first is that almost all of the broadcasters asked for reduced CanCon expenditure and/or exhibition requirements.  This is partly because they can no longer include the CMF top up as part of their expenditure requirement.  As the top up was part of broadcasters’ calculations when they proposed their CPEs in their licence applications, the Commission has decided that it is fair to allow them to make new proposals at a lower level.  Most of them had reductions approved but not necessarily the full extent that they asked for.  ‘Why’ is interesting.

There seems to be a real attempt by the Commission to rationalize the various Cat A (and a few Cat B) licences so that there is some consistency of conditions of licence.  Services were licensed at different times, with different competitive environments and natures of service so to some extent they should have differing terms but the conditions of licence have morphed into a crazy quilt where the rationale is not always evident.  Where it doesn’t make sense to have different terms, the Commission has gone for consistency.  So, while OUTtv asked for a reduction in their CPE from 49% to 35%, they were granted 40%.  ONE asked for a reduction from 41% to 30% and they were granted 40%.  Blue Ant’s Cat A’s were granted 40% CPEs as well.  Most Cat A’s have a CPE of 40% so there’s the reason for the pattern.

Superchannel also asked for a reduction in CPE from 32% to 27% and they were granted 30% because Superchannel is a pay service and the more established TMN and Movie Central have 31% CPE and Family Channel (equally established but for some reason lower) has a CPE of 30%.  The Commission made that decision on the basis of consistency and did not accept Superchannel’s arguments that it has been having a hard time getting started and needs the break.  Here’s the interesting part.  Superchannel has had a hard time getting started and did have to complain to the Commission because they couldn’t get carriage or even if they did have an agreement, the BDUs weren’t letting their consumers know that Superchannel existed.  But the Commission based its decision on a) Superchannel made commitments to win their licence in a competitive bid so shouldn’t be allowed to make less of a commitment now that they  have the licence and b) they were in serious and regular non-compliance at the time that they asked for the break.  Superchannel also asked for a break in their regional outreach and script development commitments ($1 million annually for regional and $2 million annually for script development) and the Commission gave it to them but on the condition that they also pay the unspent commitment of $6 million, which averages out to a total of $2.5 million per year instead of the $3 million they were supposed to spend.   [Note – if you’re a screenwriter you might want to go knock on Superchannel’s door as they have to spend $1.5 million in script development annually.]

But that leads me to another theme.  When you are asking the Commission for a break, it helps if you have been following the rules over the last licence term.  Blue Ant asked for a number of concessions including being treated as a modified group under the group-based policy so they can allocate their CPE across the group.  They do not technically qualify because they have no conventional services but the Commission decided to agree because a) it is important to diversity in the system to have strong independent broadcasters and b) Blue Ant had demonstrated its commitment to Canadian programming through its historical CPE.

Now Blue Ant didn’t get everything that they asked for so there is a limit on what you can get just by being a good broadcaster.  I think that it was a little cheeky of them to ask that their inhouse production be treated as independent in order to qualify under independent production requirements, particularly using the argument that the independent production sector is small now due to consolidation.  Blue Ant’s services are lifestyle, reality and documentary services for the most part and there is no shortage of small producers working in those genres.  The Commission correctly denied the request in order to help those small producers continue to find sources for their programming.

Another item of interest across a number of decisions is the refusal to require that the independent broadcasters adhere to Terms of Trade.  The rationale is that Terms of Trade are necessary to balance the uneven bargaining positions between large broadcasters and small producers but with these independent broadcasters there is no such imbalance and the producers do not need help in their negotiations.  I wonder if the really small producers who work with these independent services feel the same way.

There was a lot more there of course so if you’re interested in the individual independent services, then check out the specific decisions.