Category Archives: Conference

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.

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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/

Prime Time 2013

I won’t go through the whole two days – that’s what the tweets are for (search #PTiO).  I just want to share some impressions of the CMPA Prime Time 2013 conference with you.

First, I think this was the most tweeted Prime Time.  Sure, I was tweeting up a storm and so were a number of the usual suspects but there were a lot more newbies including, I was pleased to see, a number of producers.  (Self-promotion aside – if you would like to become active in social media yourself, I have developed a Social Media for Media Executives workshop that I am currently making available to companies.  Contact me if you are interested.) So you may be thinking – is it possible to just stay home and read the tweets?  In my opinion, no.

Tweets are good if you can’t make it to Prime Time but you miss out on a lot if you’re not there.  Prime Time is half panel discussions and half networking.  There is no facilitation of the networking (see my earlier CrossmediaTO post) but it is a great place to build relationships with most of the top television producers, broadcast executives, funders, guilds and associations and a smattering of government people in attendance.  And of course a number of independent consultants such as myself.  There also seems to be a growing number of digital producers.  One year soon, there will be no such distinction and we’ll be talking only about screens.  (And on a personal note, if you’re going through another transition in a fairly long career, Prime Time is a great place to spread the word and feel the love.)

There were two big buzzwords from this year’s conference – disruption and destruction.  Disruption of business models (is international licensing dead?) and outright destruction of markets (video game rental certainly is).  Panelists sometimes disagreed (is it a disruption or just a challenge – does that distinction matter?) but the theme of the conference was that the world has changed and we all – from cable companies to broadcasters to producers to talent – better start thinking creatively if we hope to ride the wave.  Some in attendance already know this and are out in front but there were plenty in the room who need to hear this message oh, a few more times probably, before it sinks in.

Jean-Pierre Blais, Chair of the CRTC, continued the theme with his keynote speech.  It was quite a surprising speech.  Blais told producers that they need to be creative  in their business approach.  He told them to be discontented with the status quo in order to be truly entrepreneurial.  Find new partners and new markets.  He coined a new word when he told the room that under his watch the CRTC would not be ‘protectionist but promotionist’.

There were some key messages here that I think we all should keep in mind over the next little while.  The Canadian independent production industry is very well funded right now with the BDU contribution to the CMF,  the hard won CPE (Canadian Programming Expenditure) requirement and a rather large amount of benefits money.  Benefits will expire and the walled garden that is regulated broadcasting is being disrupted.  I think Blais is telling us here that we need to find new business models and new partners or five years from now we will wake up and find ourselves without CPE or CMF or benefits and there will be no way to finance Canadian television.

The other key message revolved around another buzzword of the conference – discoverability.  In a regulated world with scheduled programs and a TV guide, the audience can find our programs, if they aren’t moved around too much.  But when content is available on multiple platforms without regulation to protect and ensure access then ways to enable the audience to discover Canadian content becomes key.  I am not sure what tools are at the CRTC’s disposal to allow it to be ‘promotionist’ but the message is an important one, and one that carried through to several other panels that day.

‘So think big.  Give us WOW.  Help us discover what we want to watch.’ – Jean-Pierre Blais

P.S. I’ve been asked to finish my Bell-Astral2 post now that the PNI is out and I will get on that shortly.  There’s also a request for a post on the new co-pro policy framework and I’ll get on that one too soon.  But first – some work that pays the bills!!

Banff Media Festival Industry Day

It is Screen Week or something like that, as part of the first annual Canadian Screen Awards.  The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television and the Banff World Media Festival put on a few panel sessions yesterday as part of the celebration of all things Canadian and screen-based.

It was a packed room at the new Four Season Hotel (I went first to the old location – some habits die hard) with representation from film, tv and digital people.  The panel discussions didn’t fully reflect the audience though they were interesting.  The first panel was on “Content Marketing”, which is apparently a very new buzzword that pretty much means product integration.  Then there was an interview with Meg Tilly of “Bomb Girls” and a Media Leaders panel with the usual heads of Bell, Rogers, Shaw and Corus (sadly Kirstine Stewart of CBC couldn’t make it, but more on that later).   That’s a pretty tv-heavy afternoon.  Just sayin’.

Before I get into the Content Marketing panel, let’s just go over a few definitions.  Product placement is putting your product in a scene like Reese’s Pieces in “E.T.” or those ubiquitous Coke branded cups in “American Idol”.  Product integration is putting a product into the story line like the hilarious episode of “Modern Family” where Cameron and Mitchell discover the joys of Costco.  Common wisdom is that with PVRs and on demand viewing, people are watching fewer commercials so there is now a greater need to insert the brands into the entertainment programming to get the eyeballs.  The broadcasters on the panel (CBC, Shaw and Bell) didn’t agree that the 30 second spot is dying but they do see the value in product integration as a new tool to reach viewers.   I suspect that the broadcaster business model is too closely tied to the 30 second spot to be able to imagine life without it.

I haven’t seen any research but my gut is telling me that there’s a lot more product integration than there used to be.  The biggest problem is that it isn’t always well done.  [I just finished a “Fringe” binge on Netflix and laughed out loud in one episode at a demonstration of Sprint’s mobile payment system that didn’t fit neatly into the story line.] There was great insight from Sharon MacLeod, VP Marketing at Unilever Canada (Dove, Hellmann’s, Lipton Tea, Degree and more).  She said that the biggest problem that she found was that there were too many people between the brand and the creators.  She wanted to just be able to talk to the creators about her goals, the nature of the brand and what was possible within the program.  But instead it goes out to the agency, which gets in touch with the broadcaster, who talks to the producer who then talks to the screenwriter.  The broadcasters jumped on this immediately – there was no way that they were going to allow a conversation on brand integration without them.

MacLeod’s other piece of very useful insight was to recommend that not every brand will fit easily into entertainment content.  The brand has to be ‘about’ something that can be communicated easily.  Heat-activated Degree is not a good brand for product integration but Lipton Tea is (I still remember the episode of “Being Erica” where it introduced Lipton Tea Infusions perhaps a bit too much – but since I do remember it perhaps not too much).

But – don’t be a proactive producer and get in touch with the perfect brand for your show.  The broadcasters do not like that.  At all.  That’s their job.  They do have to fit brands into their existing relationships but is that all that’s at stake here?   This might not be the case but the reaction of the panel to that issue and the one about not being left out of the conversation came across like the broadcasters were not going to let product integration out of their control.  They need to control relationships and revenue streams.  This is unfortunate.

If broadcasters could be a bit more open to new models and include the producers in the revenue stream then product integration could be planned and created better. We could have some fabulous content that entertains as well as markets.  Because for me, product integration is successful if either I don’t notice it (eg. sure they’re all using Apple computers but why wouldn’t they be?) or I do and it’s entertaining (eg.  Claire on Modern Family lining up at the Apple Store for the new iPad).   We can and should be able to do better.  With the rise in commercial-free on demand viewing, content marketing isn’t going away.

The issue of broadcaster control came up again in the Media Leaders panel.  It was a shame that work kept Kirstine Stewart from the CBC away from the panel, not only because then it would not have been all guys, but also because she provides an alternative perspective to that of the vertically integrated big companies whose primary aim is to increase revenues for their shareholders.   Without her, the panel’s message was clear – big broadcasters want less regulation and more control of the programs and their revenue streams.   It wasn’t clear whether the panel didn’t understand their audience of producers or didn’t care, but either way their message wasn’t well received.     It is hard work to get a television show financed.  Producers and talent want and need the revenues from exploitation to survive and if it’s a hit, maybe even thrive.  After the years of hard work that it took to get Terms of Trade with Bell, Astral, Shaw and Rogers, I think a few heads exploded when Keith Pelley said that Terms of Trade were broken and need to be renegotiated – with the broadcasters getting a better share of revenues.

It was an interesting afternoon but the clear theme was that broadcasters are in control of the business models of television and want it to stay that way.   The media landscape is rapidly changing and that might not be the best way to adapt to it.

Update:  See Simon Houpt’s article in the Globe and Mail for quotes from the Media Leaders panel and CMPA President Michael Hennessy’s response.

Crossmedia TO 2013

This event inspired me to start a blog because after tweeting the day (and being recognized as one of the top tweeters of the day), friends asked me what I thought of the event.  I think my tweets communicated what was presented more than what I thought of what was presented. If you’d like to get caught up with the tweets, I Storify’d a selection here.

Crossmedia TO 2013 is produced by Jumpwire Media.  It took place February 21, 2013 at the Appel Salon of the Toronto Reference Library.  The idea is to bring together people from film and tv, mobile, gaming, publishing and marketing into one room to learn from each other and meet each other.  The format is a few keynotes but mostly presenters who have 7 minutes to present what they’re working on to the room.  There was a wide variety of projects but they were all somehow linked to digital media.

The best part of the day perhaps were the moments when Gavin McGarry (host and founder of Jumpwire Media) forced the audience to turn to the people around them and meet new people).  No one else does that and it is SO useful.  I met people whose name I knew but had never met and someone I hadn’t done business with in years.  Honestly – I wish every conference did that but particularly those who bill themselves as networking events.  Meeting people is hard.  We need help!

But back to the content.

There were technology pieces, such as the bendable tablet from Queen’s U. Media Lab and the 3D printer from 3dphacktory, which were cool but unlikely to have immediate impact on most of us.  A lot of apps and plugins that will help us understand our digital activity and learn from it were either presented or mentioned:  Chartbeat (realtime site analytics), bit.ly+ (analytics of bit.ly links), If This Then That (automation of online tasks), Rapportive (plugin for Gmail and Chrome inboxes), and Openslate (valuation of YouTube video audience) were ones that caught my attention.

I’ve written up a few highlights of the presentations that I found the most useful or interesting.  You might have enjoyed others.

I was intrigued by Vodo, which is exploring the business and distribution model of creating a film or television series on the cheap and then distributing it through BitTorrent and requesting donations.  They are making enough money to pursue this model on an increasingly larger scale.  The big problem with the model for most film and tv people is that financing generally is dependent on exclusivity of a territory or two so that the financier has some assurance that they’ll get their money back.  If you are able to finance production on your own (angel investors or ultra cheap and with your credit card) then this might be a model to consider.  It is likely to be of more value to you if you are after a well-defined niche audience who can be more easily found and interested than a general interest audience.  A key takeaway from this was that content creators should not be afraid of ‘free’.

As an aside, when users rights advocates would tell me that content creators should give their content away for free and make money other ways I would point out that it’s not as easy for film and tv people as it is for say music.  No tshirts.  But perhaps they weren’t completely wrong – for some people.

Most of you have probably heard Corey Vidal, YouTube star, speak on a panel.  He was at Digital Dialogue a few weeks ago and at Prime Time a few years ago and many other places in between.  His work has matured and so has his presentation.  He quickly glossed over the a capella Star Wars theme video which went viral and launched his business and started talking about how brands have reached out to him now that he has an established audience that he (and his team) feed daily with videos.  The case study that I was most intrigued by was the Contiki travel company.  On behalf of Contiki, Vidal invited a number of successful vloggers to go on a Contiki tour for free.  They went, they had fun and they vlogged about it to their audience, telling them all how great Contiki was.  It was organic and honest and likely more successful with the target youth audience than standard brand marketing.  So, think about who your audience is and think outside the box as you try to reach them.

Get Set Games talked about what they had learned to stay in the Top Ten mobile apps.  It isn’t enough to build a good game that people like.  You have to create new content, more levels, new features, to bring them back.  Cross-promote with other game studios and access ‘free game of the day’ profiles to gain new customers.  Even successful games need to be regularly supported to stay successful.

Trendrr talked about measuring social media to get a better picture of the engagement that an audience with a television program.  You can then go beyond that to use social media to influence the television program.  This works best with factual or competition programs but there may be applications with fiction.  Don’t rule anything out.  Related to that was the planned new versions of the Personal People Meter (PPM) that BBM will be releasing.  They will be able to passively measure content where ever the user is and on whatever platform.  As it does not rely on the user recording their activity in a journal it is much more reliable.  Broadcasters and producers will have a much better picture of viewing (and engagement).

Location-based marketing to date has been based on Foursquare check-in coupons for the most part.  But now marketers and content creators are moving to providing entertainment content when users are identified to be in a location based on their GPS co-ordinates or they check-in.  One of the examples that I found most intriguing was opening up exclusive levels to Angry Birds when checking in at McDonalds.  The line between entertainment and marketing is very unclear.

I know that I was not the only one who really appreciated the presentation of Rhonda McEwen, U of T prof, on how technology is helping autistic kids.  She has learned that these kids are just as social as other kids but harder to reach.  She has successfully used iPads to help them play games, learn, interact and communicate.  The iPad use has improved their intellectual and social abilities.  It felt really good to learn how technology could be used as a force for good and not just to make money.

My key takeaways from the day are these:

  • Creators and consumers are moving away from content silos.  Funders and producers have to stop thinking in silos or they will be creating insurmountable barriers.  Breaking down the funding silos is most likely to be the hardest task.
  • The internet might be global but people engage on a local level.  Create ways for communities to develop locally.  They probably like their stories to be local too.
  • Success measurement is much more than page views.  What matters now is engagement measured by length of visit, shares, likes and return visits.
  • “Don’t think you know, know you know”.  This quote from Adam Clarkson of Chartbeat may have been the most tweeted.  There are a lot of tools out there to help you know what is going on with your digital content.  Use them.

It was a good day, though a very full day.  I learned a lot though I think most of it will sit in the back of my brain and come out at unknown times.  I met people both in the room and virtually – my fellow tweeters.  I’m really glad that I attended.