Category Archives: Conference

Dueling Industry Conferences

It’s hard not to compare industry forums when they are back to back.  Thursday the Banff Media Festival held its “Content Industries Connect” conference at the Ritz Carlton.  Swanky.  It was a paid event.  In the past it had been part of the Academy’s Screen Week but this year while during Screen Week it wasn’t affiliated with the Academy (there’s a story there somewhere but I don’t know it).  Friday the official Industry Forum took place, hosted by the Academy, CMPA and DGC.  It was free for members of those three associations and took place at the TIFF Lightbox.  Not quite as swanky but the seats were more comfortable.

I don’t know if anyone went to all of both.  I was signed up for both but came late to Banff and skipped out of one of the Industry Forum panels.  It’s just too much of a time commitment to do both.  Most people seemed to pick one or the other.  The topics were quite similar but Banff was the only one with a Media Leaders panel so my impression is that the senior executives chose to pop in to the end of the Banff day to attend the Media Leaders panel and bypassed the Industry Forum.  The Industry Forum was more grassroots given the free admission for members of those organizations.  The speakers seemed to be aware of that and targeted the production community rather than the executives with their discussion.    So while the topics were the same, they ended up being quite different days (I’m not going to compare the cocktail parties though for me the food at the Industry Forum won – quinoa battered shrimp and lamb chops!).

As someone who attends a lot of conferences I didn’t think I’d miss much by skipping the Banff panel on The Future of Content in a Multiplatform World and based on the tweets and what I heard, it was the same talk we’ve been hearing for the past year from Vice, Shomi, Blue Ant and CBC. I don’t know anyone who attended the panel on brand engagement with speakers from Hyundai, Microsoft and Kraft and the tweets don’t tell me much either.  Honestly, it seemed an odd choice for the content crowd.  I finally made it to the conference in time for the “Letterkenny” panel.  Full disclosure – I haven’t seen it all (I don’t have CraveTV) but every second of “Letterkenny” that I’ve seen makes me laugh.  I enjoyed the clips, hearing about the process, learning about its success (more views on CraveTV than any other show in its catalogue including Seinfeld and South Park) and its renewal announced during the panel.

Then there was the Media Leaders panel.  Banff has it every year that they have done this event.  This year there were only two leaders after consolidation (and CBC cancelled) – Mary Ann Turcke from Bell Media and Doug Murphy from Corus.  Talking to people afterwards there was one word that seemed to sum up the panel and it’s not a polite word.  It starts with a b.  There was a very negative reaction to Doug Murphy’s discussion of the CRTC’s decision to not require Terms of Trade as part of broadcast licences – they’re now free to treat every deal like a snowflake.  Yes, a snowflake.  Which ignores the very real imbalance in bargaining power between the mega-broadcasters and most independent producers.  There was a marked contrast between this Media Leaders panel and the one last month at Prime Time – this one was channeling ‘sunny ways’.  Everything is going to be great.  Netflix isn’t a threat as they’re now starting to partner with it, get high profile casting because of its involvement and negotiate windows.  It’ll be interesting to see if they go back to ‘Netflix is heralding the end of the world as we know it if you don’t deregulate us’ mantra next time they’re in front of the CRTC.    They were also pretty positive about pick and pay.  Sure a few of their services will die but producers shouldn’t worry because the remaining ones will only be bigger and better.  Since the jury is still out on this big shift in consumer behaviour due to pick and pay that has been predicted by some, this could mean that pick and pay is going to be used as an excuse to close up some of the underperformers. Again – we’ll have to wait and see what happens in front of the CRTC.

Now off to the Industry Forum.  The first panel was on discoverability.  I’m still not sure we’re all talking about the same thing (push vs. pull) but this panel was a lot more about new techniques to find audiences and provide them with what they want than the discoverability panel at Prime Time which talked more about traditional marketing using digital platforms (and I believe that it was also programmed by the CMPA since it was branded Prime Time Any Time).  In particular, it was useful to hear about Richard Kanee (CBC) and Ramona Pringle (interactive digital media producer) experimenting in finding and engaging audiences.  I appreciated Kanee’s admission that the CBC had missed social media engagement opportunities in promoting “Strange Empire” (you can’t expect him to take responsibility for the whole marketing mess) and his admonition that producers and broadcasters shouldn’t always chase the latest new thing.  Some of the tried and true engagement methods, like email newsletters, still work and should remain part of your strategy instead of running after all the riskier new methods.  Final favourite bit of wisdom from the panel was that the studios (and broadcasters and producers) should be learning audience engagement from the YouTubers who have learned how to find, support and grow their audiences.  Casting them in a mainstream television show isn’t enough to migrate their audience, but if the YouTubers develop their own television show their audience will recognize the authenticity and watch.

The next panel was on co-production featuring three Canadian majority copros:  “Book of Negroes”, “Born to be Blue” and “Room”.  There was a good discussion of why go copro – the added money allowed them all to afford higher profile talent which generated more sales.  It also allowed them to access government funding rather than distributor advances which meant casting the best person for the part rather than for international sales.  Unfortunately, that government funding helped those stars become international hits and now it’s unlikely that anyone in Canada can afford them so for me there is a flaw in that system.

I have to admit that I stepped out and missed the “Orphan Black” panel not because I don’t love the show (I do!) but because I’ve seen a few “Orphan Black” panels over the years.  I ran into a few others doing the same thing so we did our own networking.  We went back in for the keynote speech from Colin Brown, who among other things is a professor of film and economics at NYU.  He gave a very insightful presentation on the international markets for feature films and how they differ between markets and between films and the business case for investing in a mid-size studio producing a slate of mid-range budget films.  His add-on bit about Canada was less insightful as the audience did not need to be told who are the Canadians in Hollywood or that we should be prouder of all the great talent who have left.  As someone who has spent their entire career in the domestic film and television industry I was not impressed.   But I am thinking about what Canadian stories might be naturals for the Chinese and Egyptian markets.  Hmm.

So did we need two such conferences in two days?  Nope.  They could have been merged and been one great day – as long as they kept the quinoa-battered shrimp.

Prime Time in Ottawa 2016

I live tweeted the annual CMPA conference, then Storified my tweets and those of others (twice – I lost the connection on the train and then my work – argh!!) and after thinking about it for a bit put it all into some context in a TV, Eh! post.

On a personal note, while not all the panels were interesting to me (everyone has different assessments based on their level of knowledge and interest), Prime Time is still a ‘must schmooze’ event for me.  I saw lots of people and had both fun and useful conversations.  I was reminded that more people read this blog than show up in the stats because some of you cut and paste posts and circulate them by email.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t but I apparently shouldn’t be discouraged if it just says 36 people read a post.  And I should blog more.  Promise.

 

Prime Time 2015

I’ve been getting great feedback that you guys really enjoyed Prime Time 2015.  As the programming consultant this year that makes me very proud.  It really was an eye-opener to be part of the team that put that annual event together.  It takes a lot of work for quite a few months.

If you couldn’t make it and wonder what all the fuss was about (and not just Kevin Crull’s speech or Michael Wolff’s stirring the pot), I Storify’d the tweets here.

Prime Time – Talking About TV

The theme of Prime Time 2014 is Talk TV – the hashtag for the CRTC’s consultation with the public about the current and future Canadian broadcasting system.  A lot of the panels led into that theme.  But even if they didn’t, that’s pretty much all anyone was doing today – talking about TV.

After a breakfast burrito, large latte and talk about CRTC expenditure and exhibition requirements with my tablemates over breakfast, the keynote was an interesting talk by Wendy Bernfeld on the European VOD/OTT rights market.  Wendy came out of the Canadian broadcasting system but has been in Europe for about 20 years (I worked with her when she headed up the Atlantis Amsterdam office).  Her basic thesis was that there are now so many VOD buyers who are trying to acquire catalogues to either compete with Netflix or establish themselves before Netflix that this is now a good time to either make a lot of non-exclusive deals or a few big exclusive deals and reap the rewards.  For those making those European deals themselves, her slides will be very helpful just to help get to know who the players are and CMPA will be posting the slides at some point.  It was good to hear someone talk positively about revenue opportunities with OTT and in the fractured universe.  She also provided insight on the shifting windows of VOD – they no longer have a set order in windowing but can be before, during or after the main screen (i.e. theatrical or primary broadcast) release.  A good piece of advice for those dealing with broadcasters who have retained certain distribution rights was to cut those rights holders in to their deal so that the deal can be made and everyone win rather than just assume that it can’t be done because you don’t have those rights.

Rita Cugini (so strange not to be referring to her as Mme Cugini as I always did when she was a CRTC Commissioner) moderated a Talk TV Super Panel with Raja Khanna from Blue Ant, John Morayniss of EOne, Louis Audet of Cogeco, Kevin Crull of Bell, Michael Hennessy of CMPA and Christina Jennings of Shaftesbury.    As Blue Ant is a small group of independent services it was no surprise that Raja Khanna was an advocate of regulation, though he suggested that the key question was ‘regulation of what’.   At the very least that regulation needs to ensure that the small broadcasters have a place to ensure diversity in the system.   I did react negatively when he brought up the 17 year old YouTube sensation making ‘big bucks’ on that platform and cited that as the future of content.  In the first place, how many people are making that kind of money (I couldn’t find stats but I don’t think THAT many in Canada).  And second, it ignores the fact that people like to watch big budget dramas, which need broadcast partners to be financed.  Some people also like short form or edgy content that can be found on YouTube but mass market content like “Saving Hope” and “Big Bang Theory” will always be popular and need a platform.   Michael Hennessy pointed out that the evidence for this was that the top pirated content is all mainstream television.  [Devil’s advocate – why would they need to pirate YouTube videos?].

It always surprises me when I agree with anything that the top guys at Bell, Rogers or Shaw say, and truthfully, that doesn’t happen very often.  But Kevin Crull said a few things that I agreed with.  For one, he suggested that a problem with the CRTC’s TalkTV consultation is that people will always say that they only want to pay for what they watch but they forget the discovery process that they went to, to find that content.  You need the larger pool of content to pick from.  I do agree.  The other point that he made that I agree with was that with the business models under pressure we have to ensure that changes in the system don’t reduce the money that is available for Canadian content because it can’t be done for less.  Now I kinda think he’d like to do it for less but the point is no less valid.

The next panel that I attended was the Canadian Broadcaster Programming Panel.  I have to say that I was expecting it to be as boring as it has been in the past with programmers saying very little about what they were actually looking for.  We didn’t get a lot about what they want to buy but it wasn’t boring.  It started with an offensive comment from Bill Brioux (who I am otherwise a fan of for his reporting on Canadian TV, particularly as a resource for ratings) about how the programmers on the panel were all women and did that affect their programming decisions.  Yeah, that didn’t go over well with many people in the audience or the twittersphere.  I’d love to hear someone ask an all male panel (which happens SO often) if their gender affects their decision-making.

There were some good nuggets to pull out of the panel.  CTV is experimenting with niche content by doing a 6-episode order of a darker story adapted from a Giles Blunt thriller.  The CBC finds it difficult to program niche content since their CMF envelope is based on mass eyeballs (as is everyone else’s but there’s a political point there).  Sally Catto (CBC) does see an opportunity to aggregate an audience across multiple platforms and in that safely create niche content (which prompted me to launch a “Bring Back Michael Tuesdays and Thursdays” campaign – feel free to use the hashtag #bringbackMTAT – I know not likely but wouldn’t it be nice . . . ).  Both CTV and Global are trying again with comedy but as Corrie Coe pointed out ‘drama is hard but comedy is harder’.  It’s not about not knowing how to do it or not having the talent – it’s just hard and you have to keep trying before you get a hit.  [The US has a much higher ratio of failed tries to hits – commentators often forget that.]

Then we got into the dustup with Mr. John Doyle – or rather I unintentionally did when I tweeted that Corrie Coe disagreed with him and thought “Orphan Black” and “19-2” are both golden age shows.  See John Doyle’s column Where is Canada in the Golden Age of TV?  He took exception to my tweet; others took exception to his position that we don’t have great TV and should.  There was a flurry of tweets.  Broadcasters and producers and creators feel very strongly that Canadian TV is in general quite good these days and we have some really great shows.  The more important issue, for many, is that Canadian TV is really popular with audiences these days with shows like “Saving Hope” earning 1.6 million audiences every week.  [And for those who say it isn’t very Canadian – when was the last time one of the story lines involved a patient’s inability to pay their bill or having treatment refused by an HMO – think how often they were ER story lines – hmm?].

After that there was the fun question – what show would you like to steal from a competitor.  I would like to see that question become a staple of the Broadcaster Programming Panel as it tells you so much about the programmer and the broadcaster.  Sally Catto and Tara Ellis would both love to steal “Orphan Black”.  Corrie Coe would like “Lost Girl”.   Vanessa Case of Blue Ant, the only non-drama group on the panel would like “Amazing Race Canada”.  My only comment to those choices is – when exactly did Showcase become Space2 and except for the regulatory nature of service issue is this a problem?

More schmoozing at lunch (and explaining CanCon rules to a young producer because the CRTC Commissioner I was sitting beside wouldn’t let me inflict bodily harm) and then an interesting panel moderated by CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais on the Future of Television.  Noreen Halpern (EOne) and Mark Bishop (marblemedia) were terrific – really passionate about creating content and needing the rules to evolve to be able to continue to support Canadian content.  They both see the day when there are no silos of funding or licensing because the platform is not relevant – you release it when and where it makes sense for the story.  That world is coming and we need to work now of the framework to support it so that we continue to have a robust Canadian industry in the future [that’s what I’ve been saying!].  I never really got the points that Tom Perlmutter (NFB) was making.

The New Business Models was a very popular breakout panel but I chose instead the International Markets panel.  I won’t write out all the really good tips here but I will Storify the whole conference and I encourage you to look for the specific advice given in this panel.  Experienced producers shared really specific tips about how to attend markets and go to pitch meetings and there were some great tips for both newbie producers and more experienced producers.  Some times you don’t think about comfy shoes.  I do find myself having difficulty ensuring that I get enough sleep at any event like a market while also ensuring that I leverage the social events and the scheduled events.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Friday was mostly a day for Canadian feature films.  The issue that rippled through a few talks and panels was whether the solution to increasing audiences for Canadian feature films was online distribution or television broadcast.  I wish there had been a panel that had allowed Carolle Brabant (Telefilm) and Patrick Roy (CAFDE) to debate the issue since Telefilm seems firmly in the position that we need to get more Canadian features digitized so that they can be downloaded while CAFDE believes that Canadian broadcasters need to make more of a commitment to Canadian features since more people watch television than download.  I think a case can be made that both strategies could and perhaps should co-exist but they do play into different policy solutions.  Dave Forget of Telefilm presented a research study that provided a picture of feature film viewing habits of Canadians and that supported both positions – Canadians mostly watch features in the home and that is mostly but not exclusively on broadcast.  Online is of increasing importance.  The research also pointed out that Canadians pick features on the basis of genre, story and cast with director 6th and producer 10th.  This is of interest because Telefilm’s funding prioritizes producer and director and has always been more director-focused.

I have to describe to you my favourite moment of the conference.  It was unanticipated, unplanned brilliance.  The Governor General, His Excellency The Right Honourable David Johnston, came to be interviewed as part of a Canadian feature film promotion project that he’s working on with the CMPA and other partners.  Before he got up to the stage the Canadian women’s hockey team tied the score with moments left in the game.  Our GG is a huge hockey fan and it was such a pleasure to see him jump up and hold out two fingers in each hand to demonstrate that it was now a 2-2 game.  It was authentic.  When he was on stage though, the women scored the winning goal and his response was to lead us in O Canada while the screen behind him flipped to the live feed.  I’m tearing up just thinking about it again.  What a Canadian moment.  And that’s what we’re all about when it comes right down to it.  Sharing our stories with each other.

You may ask how I felt about Prime Time – was it worth going?  Yes.  I always see people, both Toronto people and those from around the country, and it is important to connect, especially for me in my independent consulting career.  I had a few business meetings.  I promoted a few clients to other stakeholders.  There is one more young producer who understands how our Canadian Content support system works and why.  I picked up a few interesting bits from the panel sessions.  Should you go?  Well, honestly, it depends on what you do in the industry.  There isn’t a lot at Prime Time for digital producers except the ability to meet TV producers (who won’t be showing up at digital conferences – this is a problem).  There isn’t much for creators unless you are also trying to manage the business side of production because this is a business conference.  If you are a producer or work with producers or need to meet producers then you should come to Prime Time.

I’ve updated this post with my Storify of Prime Time 2014 tweets.  It isn’t as complete as I would have liked because Storify and Twitter just didn’t co-operate and at times wouldn’t show me tweets that I knew were there – sigh.  But you can get a feel for things if you weren’t there.

Prime Time – It’s All About the Schmooze – So Far

Prime Time really starts when you get to the train station or the airport.  There are only so many ways to get to Ottawa so the schmooze starts when you see your fellow industry types who have chosen the same method of transportation.  I’m a big fan of the train (see my previous post re Viarail truffles – and my tweets with them where they agreed to consider our pleas for the return of the truffle).  I chatted with a client from a small job last year and a couple of my wonks.  It was a pleasant lead in to the real schmooze, which was the opening party.  Almost everyone is in a medium size room, chatting away.  The noise volume is high.  The hugging and cheek kissing is even higher.  It’s what we do.

And it’s effective.  It really is a great opportunity to have ‘hey how are you, I’m still here and my business is going great’ chats and short, specific, let’s get this work issue out of the way chats.   I said yes to some work and maybe to something else.   And got to talk about how great Molly Parker is in House of Cards – I mean, seriously!!

After that,  I headed to another reception with amazing sliders (William F. White’s knows how to pick hors d’oeuvres) and more schmoozing and then to my oasis of quiet at Zoe’s in the Chateau Laurier to blog, drink my brown drink and eat something with vegetables.

Don’t underestimate the value of the schmooze.  It’s about 2/3 of the reason that I come to Prime Time and the opening evening is prime schmoozing.

Prime Time 2014

Sorry guys, I know I’ve been silent while all sorts of wonky things have been happening (Rogers licence renewal, Talk TV Part 2, Starlight resubmission etc. etc.).  Paying work has kept me occupied not so sadly.  But I am off to Ottawa shortly for the CMPA’s Prime Time conference and they have accredited me as media on the basis of my tweeting and blogging – which I think is pretty cool.  So I will tweet all the panels (and possibly social things too since the networking is an important part of why you go to Prime Time), blogging summaries and Storifying the collective tweets once it’s all said and done.  You can follow along the general conversation by following the hashtag #PTiO.  Last year I was really impressed by how many producers got into the tweeting conversations – I hope to see a few more this year.

Now to head for the train – fingers crossed Viarail saw the error of their ways and have returned to the chocolate truffles.

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/