Category Archives: Strategy

CMF Consultations – Should You Care? Yes.

The CMF Consultation Tour for 2015 launched yesterday with the ‘focus group’ in Toronto.  There will be a road show across Canada as well as topic-specific Working Groups for representatives of industry stakeholder groups. You can see the tour schedule and a copy of the presentation deck here.   As well as in person feedback you can send in your thoughts in a letter or more formal submission or you can tweet feedback using the hashtag #cmfconsults.

Why should you care?

Every two years CMF has a major consultation to inform any necessary changes to their two-year guidelines.  The consultation tour and the Working Groups are a great opportunity for the various stakeholders to get into a room, air their issues and hear the perspectives and explanations of both other stakeholders and CMF staff.  It is also the best opportunity for CMF staff to hear about how their programs are working or might need to be tweaked.

This year though, the CMF is taking on an additional task.  We all know change is coming to how Canadian programming will be funded brought about by changing audience behaviour, technology, business models and regulation (i.e. Talk TV), which will likely all lead to reduced revenues to Canada Media Fund and possibly to broadcasters as well.  Rather than wait for these changes to have a major impact (they have already started) CMF has started thinking about what changes they need to make to stay relevant.  This started with an internal visioning exercise which has resulted in a few new concepts which they would like feedback on from the industry.  Word of warning though – major changes cannot be implemented without the agreement of Heritage because of the limitations contained in the Contribution Agreement between Heritage and CMF, limitations such as requiring broadcast triggers for funding.  It is unlikely that Heritage will agree to major changes in CMF during an election year or during what we all expect to be a minority government.

If little can be done now, then why have this process?  It is actually rare in our world for a funder to look ahead, think about how they need to adapt, and ask for stakeholder input on their ideas.  Even if CMF might only be able to make minor changes this year, if they have a strategy they can make those changes consistent with that strategy.  What a concept! [Oh, for a National Digital Strategy!]

I encourage you therefore to check out the presentation deck and either through your organization or individually share your thoughts with the CMF.  To get you started, here are a few of the highlights from yesterday’s consultation.

The top goals that the CMF sees for this exercise are that the CMF should:

  • support a wider array of linear and interactive content;
  • increase the focus on supporting landmark content; and
  • implement an approach based on supporting content along a continuum, from emergence to growth to sustainability.

Right away I know you are reacting to some of those words but hang on.  The next step in the exercise is to look at those outcomes through the CMF’s three activities:  foster and develop, finance and promote.  The result is a very dense slide (slide 35) of program verticals, targets, project types and objectives.  I’ll try to summarize it.

Going forward, expecting less revenue, the CMF would like to focus on ‘landmark content’ to maximize their resources where they will have the greatest impact now with audiences and with ongoing revenues.  They want to support production companies through the three stages of emergence, growth and sustainability so move beyond just project-specific financing to help the industry reach sustainability.  Project-specific funding should eventually be regardless of platform.  CMF has a role to play in promoting Canadian programming and financing the increased need for promotion in the crowded media landscape.

A lot of time during the consultation was spent on this new concept of ‘landmark content’ and how it differed from what CMF currently funds (i.e. who is going to lose out) and how the definition might need to be adapted depending on genre (i.e. kids or documentary) or platform (i.e. television or videogames).  It wasn’t clear to anyone there who would determine what is ‘landmark’, particularly since ‘high potential for success’ is a rather subjective concept.  Someone in the audience suggested that ‘landmark’ should mean popular like “Big Bang Theory” but the CMF seems to be going in the direction that it means much more than just audience size but also critical acclaim, international sales, longevity and as well popularity within a niche audience.   Feature film, documentary and interactive producers in the room were particularly concerned about what this definition might mean for their sectors.  Even the drama producers, who probably have a better idea of how ‘landmark’ might be defined for them, were concerned that there would be enough development money to ensure the creation of ‘landmark’ content.

A platform-agnostic approach would mean the ability to fund digital-only (or first) linear video content or web series.  Currently only IPF and Cogeco fund web series and they have limited funds and support only some genres.  The CMF can see a role for itself here but needs input on what it should fund and how, if it were to be able to fund web series.  Remember – there’s that pesky Contribution Agreement requiring broadcast triggers.

I found the discussion about potentially moving beyond project-based financing to be very interesting.  The CMF is exploring the idea of slate development or production financing, corporate financing based on a business plan, more financing for marketing and promotion and export development.  Last winter I did some research on different forms of ‘enterprise financing’ in different jurisdictions so I know that this is definitely a timely consideration as funding agencies around the world are trying to supplement traditional project financing with targeted financing that will build the businesses and help create stable and sustainable sectors.  There are many different ways that this could be done with different measurements of success (i.e. revenue generated, jobs, exports, production growth etc.).  If revenues to CMF are going to dwindle with no replacement regime in sight*, then it makes a lot of sense to help businesses need less (not no) government support.

There are no quick fixes to these issues and lots of potential for damage if the wrong decisions are made or impact is not fully thought out.  This is a great opportunity to be part of the planning.  I encourage you to read the materials, attend consultation sessions, ask questions and of course, tweet.  I’ll be following along with great interest.

*In a timely tweet an FCC Commissioner shared a blog post about New Zealand considering imposing a sales tax regime on Netflix, which would be a first step towards confirming that the CRTC had jurisdiction to impose a contribution regime on Netflix and similar non-Canadian OTT services.

Federal Pre-Budget Consultations – Is There Any Point?

As part of the usual budget development process, the federal government launched pre-budget consultations June 6, 2014. The public has until August 6, 2014 to submit written submissions on what they would like to see in the budget. As the press release says, “Suggestions made by Canadians and the pre-budget report compiled by the Committee will be considered by the Minister of Finance in the development of the 2015 federal budget”.

After several years of a majority Conservative government, I believe that a few stakeholders, particularly those in the cultural industries, may be wondering if there is any point in participating in this process. Does the government listen to suggestions from the public or just do their own thing? Is there any point in going to the effort of writing a submission and trying to get on the witness list for the Finance Committee hearings?

I think so. Here’s the thing. The government may not listen. In fact, it probably won’t. I think that the government is looking to the 2015 election now and the upcoming budget will have that in mind. It will be about votes and I do not think that this government sees many votes for them in this sector. In film, television and digital media we got copyright reform (whether we are happy with it or not) and the Canada Media Fund made permanent. I do not think that we can expect anything else in the coming year. So what’s the point?

First, parliamentary committees are always a good way to raise the profile of an issue for government bureaucrats and provide them with data and resources. When the parliamentary committee system is dysfunctional, as it can be argued it is today, this can be the greatest value in participating in a committee process. Many issues take years to work their way through government departments, regardless of who is in power. Annual pre-budget consultations are a good way to keep publicly saying that an issue needs to be resolved and providing up to date data.

Second, there will be an election at some point in 2015 and now is a good time to let all political parties know what your top issues are. You can directly lobby them to try to get in to the party platform but a well-reasoned submission followed by an articulate presentation and well-answered questions will be noticed. There is no guarantee that your issues will fit within any party agenda but in my opinion attempting to influence party platforms in your favour is better than sitting back and complaining afterwards that you were ignored.

Besides, the Finance Committee has limited submissions to 2000 words so this really will not be a big effort on your part. Come up with the top 2 or 3 budget issues, describe them briefly and submit away. Hearings will be over the fall in Halifax, Montréal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Yellowknife and Vancouver as well as in Ottawa. What do you have to lose?

Content is Missing from Digital Canada 150

First, let’s have a quick refresher course on our long wait for a National Digital Strategy. In the summer of 2010, then Minister of Industry Tony Clement launched a public consultation (together with the Ministers of Heritage and Human Resources) on what should be included in a National Digital Strategy though the government called it a Digital Economy Strategy and put a clear emphasis on infrastructure and economy.  [Note – I would link to the consultation but as of writing all those public documents are offline. I will update when I can.]. We were promised a strategy document in the fall, then spring of 2011 and then pretty much annually we’d be told that it would be coming ‘soon’. There were those of us who thought there would never be a National Digital Strategy.

Why do we need one? Other countries such as Australia, the UK, the European Union, and even the US, have created National Digital Strategies to set a plan and measurable goals. What are we going to do to move into the future, make sure that every citizen has the tools that they need, has the protections and can fully enjoy the benefits of the new digital world? How will Canada make sure that it is competitive internationally? How are we going to measure our progress? Where will we put our emphasis – economy, skills training, infrastructure, privacy, content?

Today the government released Digital Canada 150. It’s an odd document. It has five pillars: Connecting Canadians, Protecting Canadians, Economic Opportunities, Open Government and Canadian Content. [Note that Skills Training or anything else to do with the Department of Human Resources, one of the sponsors of the original consultation, is absent.] In each pillar it sets out a few items that are forward thinking and celebrates the government’s past achievements. I think we were hoping for a more forward thinking document. I was. As with a lot of the government’s activities these days, it seems to have been written with an eye on the next election. How else do you explain unbundling of TV channels as a Digital Canada topic? It’s a nice sound bite aimed at getting votes when the reality is that providing Canadians with more choice while still living up to the goals of the Broadcasting Act is a very complex exercise and is unlikely to result in both more choice and less cost for consumers.

There is a goal to extend broadband coverage to 98% of the population by providing $305 million to extend 5mbps to rural areas. This is a reasonable target speed (though some jurisdictions have set faster speeds as their goal) but is only about coverage. Universal broadband as a concept is about coverage and affordable access. Citizenship in today’s digital world means that every Canadian should have affordable access to broadband. This goal does nothing to achieve that. But the rural voters probably will love it.

Back to content though. What does the Digital Canada 150 promise us as tools to give Canadians ‘easy access to Canadian content that will allow us to celebrate our history, arts and culture’ (Digital Canada 150 pg. 21)? Two Heritage Minutes per year every year until 2017. The Canada Book Fund and the Canada Music Fund will become permanent funds. There will be continued support of the Virtual Museum, the Memory Project (veterans stories), digitization by Library and Archives Canada and the NFB. Nice, but we asked for a lot more fundamental changes to be able to provide Canadians with access to Canadian content in the digital age and beyond.

What is missing? Canada Media Fund, Canada Book Fund, Canada Music Fund and more have all had digital content or distribution tacked on to their existing mandates, generally with no increase to their funding. Consumers are no longer accessing or engaging with content through silos. For example, magazines and books are read on iPads with hyperlinks to video. There needs to be a comprehensive overhaul of the funding mechanisms for Canadian content to ensure that they meet the social policy goals of the Department of Canadian Heritage and are structured appropriately.

The government did make the Canada Media Fund permanent and that was a great thing. But it did not increase the CMF’s funding when it extended its mandate to digital media. As Canadians shift to digital platforms and cut or reduce their cable packages, the CMF’s revenue from the BDUs is starting to shrink. Additional revenue sources need to be found if Canadians are going to continue to have access to the excellent Canadian programming choices that they have now. This could be additional funding from the government or a contribution from the ISPs or the OTT services, both of which are benefitting from the consumer shift to digital platforms.

The Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act should be merged into a Communications Act. New technologies and distribution models have frequently left the CRTC unsure as to which Act applies or whether either does, leaving it to the Courts to determine. Vertically integrated companies like Shaw, Rogers, and Bell are governed by both Acts at different times. These companies are able to shift revenues to divisions, such as the ISP divisions, with no or less regulation. A Communications Act would ensure that the Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications system was, where necessary, Canadian-owned and regardless of platform made the appropriate contribution to the production and exhibition of Canadian programming on that system.

The CBC has always had a mandate to provide information and entertainment to all Canadian across the country in both languages. Digital platforms make it easier for it to meet that mandate but at the same time repeated budget cuts have made it harder for the CBC to fulfill that mandate. There should be a review of the CBC’s mandate in light of the opportunities of digital platforms and a clear provision of sufficient funds so that the CBC can meet that mandate.

Another ask was for more support for original digital media through labour-based tax credits. Extending the film and video tax credit to web series and creating an interactive media tax credit would help develop a labour market of skilled talent in these newer digital content areas.

The government reformed the Copyright Act recently but it is up for review as of 2017. At that time, the Copyright Act should be amended to ensure that creators and owners are appropriately compensated when their works are exploited on digital platforms. The last amendment did not appropriately address that issue.

Skills training is a subject that was completely left out of Digital Canada 150, which is odd considering that it was a prominent aspect of the consultation. The content sector has called for improvements in training both at university and for mid-career training so that creators can take full advantage of innovations in digital content creation and distribution. There are gaps in the labour market that need to be filled if the sector is going to be internationally competitive.

Despite a full pillar titled Canadian Content, there isn’t much in Digital Canada 150 for the film, television and interactive digital media sectors.

 

What’s the Significance of a S. 15 Study?

You may have missed this in the Rob Ford scandal of the day, but today the Government announced that it was calling on the CRTC to report on ‘television channel choice’ under s. 15 of the Broadcasting Act.  Specifically Minister of Heritage Shelly Glover said:

“our Government believes Canadian families should be able to choose the combination of television channels they want . . . This decision is an important step in defending Canadian consumers, who want choice and flexibility in their television services.  Our request will ensure that the CRTC develops a more complete roadmap to unbundle TV channels.”

You may be scratching your head on this.  Yes, the CRTC did just launch its Talk TV consultation and among the many questions being asked are:  “If you subscribe to cable TV or satellite TV, how satisfied are you with the way your channels are packaged?”.  Why does the government need to do this and what is the significance of a s. 15 report?

First, the CRTC decides on its own what it is going to study and what public hearings it will hold.  The one exception is if, under s. 15 of the Broadcasting Act, the Governor in Council asks the CRTC to hold a hearing or make a report on any matter under the CRTC’s jurisidiction.  So the significance of the s.15 request is that the CRTC must now report on that narrow issue to the government rather than its usually reporting which is just to the public.  But is that all?

We have to ask ourselves why the government would ask for a report on one question when it is going to get a report (we all will) on the many questions which are part of the Talk TV consultation. This appears to me to be a political response to a very complex issue that the CRTC is trying to look at in its entirety.  It speaks to voters without having to actually implement any changes.

The government has done this before.   I’m sure that you remember the very public fight that went on between the broadcasters and cable companies over Fee For Carriage (which then morphed into Value for Signal).  September 16, 2009 the government requested under s. 15 a report on the implications of a value for signal regime.  The issue had come up time and time again during public hearings and most recently under the April 2009 hearing on the renewal of licences for the private conventional stations (i.e. Global, CTV etc.).  As part of the licence renewal decision, the Commission decided that it would hold a hearing in the Fall of 2009 on, among other things, a value for signal regime.  That hearing was pre-empted by the s. 15 notice which effectively hived off the issue from the other outstanding issues and resulted in its own public consultation.

Did the outcome change because it was a s.15 report and not a regular hearing?  I don’t think so.  There was more of a public consultation than had probably been planned. From the perspective of an industry stakeholder we had the same submission process and public hearing.  The broadcasters and BDUs had the same fight in the media and in the hearing room that they would have otherwise.  There was no legislative response from the government.  And the whole issue became moot when Shaw bought Global and Bell bought CTV.   However, there might have been a political win from the government being seen as a champion of the consumer who was being caught between the broadcasters and the BDUs but little practical impact.

In this case, the CRTC could decide to hold a separate consultation on unbundling or just report specifically on the topic from the existing hearings.  They were given the deadline of April 30 to deliver the report to the government so it is expected that they will prepare it as they are preparing the report on the public consultation. The s. 15 request adds a political layer to the consultation and but it may not have any practical impact beyond the extra workload on CRTC staff.

Update:  Cartt.ca (subscription) has a link the the actual s.15 order as well as a description of the relevant parts of the order and its relevance.

Hashtag Rules

I didn’t think this post was needed but apparently so.

What is a hashtag? It is a word, or group of words with no spaces or punctuation, preceded by #. On Twitter, and now on Facebook and Instagram, soon the entire world (but please not verbally), it allows you to tag your tweet or post with a searchable term. That is basic function no. 1. Say you are watching a TV show and tweeting. You end each post with #MurdochMysteries. Sometimes you need to put the broadcaster in there because there are different Canadian and US broadcasts so #FPCTV vs #FPIon (for Flashpoint). Then other fans can search the hashtag and see all the posts whether they are following you or not. That works great for tweeting television and for attending conferences or following along with CRTC hearings.

Who comes up with a hashtag? Conference organizers set it, broadcasters and producers set it but for the rest they come about by consensus. If the ones that are set don’t work then consensus will find a new one that does work so you might want to think of the rules of hashtags if it is your job to set it.

The Rules:

1. They are short. You are asking people to remove possible characters from their 140 character limit so keep it as short as possible. Stick to what’s necessary. If it is absolutely necessary to have your broadcaster in the hashtag then keep it (eg. #FPCTV) but if it’s not the fans will likely drop it (eg. PlayedCTV). If it is necessary to put the year in do you really need to put 2013 and not 13? But do you really need that year??

2. Search to make sure that your hashtag isn’t already being used by something else. Remember the purpose. You want people to search the hashtag and follow along. That doesn’t work if you want to talk about Canadian TV but the hashtag is already in use for US chat shows, for example.

3. No punctuation. Only the letters before the punctuation will be an active hashtag.

4. It should make sense for what you are trying to identify with the hashtag. If you are a small group, say those following a CRTC hearing, you can be a bit obscure like #91h or #GLR but if you want a wider audience you need to be really clear.

5. Consider an already acceptable hashtag that is in use. Is it necessary to reinvent the wheel or specifically brand your exercise? If you adopt one that is in use you will become part of an existing conversation instead of trying to start your own from scratch. Easier, eh?

What about all those long hashtags or strange ones like #whatdoyoumeanitsFridayalready or #wheelsup. These would be for advanced users ;). They give flavour to a tweet and aren’t intended to be searchable. Sometimes they become searchable re-used hashtags through use (like #loungesoup or #wonkcake) but usually they are one time only hashtags used to add emotion to a tweet, which can often read emotionless. I’m partial to them myself.

If I’ve missed any of the rules or uses of hashtags, let me know.

Update:  For a little hashtag and grammar fun check out this post:  https://medium.com/we-live-in-the-future/1bb14533fbfd (h/t @elizadushku – another fan of hashtags).

It’s all about the fans

As an advocate for Canadian media I have been told time and time again that Canadians don’t watch Canadian television, go to Canadian movies or play on Canadian websites because it just isn’t good enough. We have the stats to prove otherwise but that doesn’t stop the trolls (who are sometimes even mainstream media) from slagging the stuff that we make here. I wish they all had spent the weekend at Fan Expo to see the truth. We have a star system, we have crazy fans, we have a huge audience for our home-grown content. This is a good news story (and a good news blog post). And honestly – if someone tries to tell me today that we don’t make good stuff I think that I might slap them.

I’ve been going to FanExpo for a few years now. The first year (2010) there was one Canadian property at FanExpo – the steampunk web series Riese (that’s the wikipedia reference – I couldn’t find a Canadian source to watch it as it’s geoblocked on Syfy.com) – I saw some fans still cosplaying characters from that webseries this year – which is quite cool. Each year since then the Canadian contingent has grown. This year there were panels and booths and cast signings for “Lost Girl”, “Call Me Fitz”, “The Listener”, “Murdoch Mysteries”, “Orphan Black”, “Bitten” (which hasn’t even aired yet but has a huge following based on Kelly Armstrong’s books – which I first learned about at last year’s FanExpo) and several other series which are American but shot here such as “Warehouse 13” and “Defiance”. The Independent Production Fund hosted a booth for several of the web series that they have funded. Across from them was the booth for “Ruffus The Dog’s Steampunk Adventure” (which apparently Gina Torres loved – #geekheaven). The animated web series “Captain Canuck” had a booth where Kris Holden-Reid, who voices the main character, did signings (I stood there for a while and ogled him – have to admit it). Quite a few indie gamers had booths. The Canadian presence was huge.

And the fans loved it. I spent some time on Saturday in line with fans and I really enjoyed meeting people. In the “Murdoch Mysteries” line people kept talking about being in line to see Jack and that confused me until I realized that was Yannick Bisson’s character name from “Sue Thomas F. B. Eye” (an industrially Canadian series from 2002-2005). My favourite fans were the lady in her 60s and her 90 year old mother in a walker. “Jack” was the mother’s favourite actor on TV. Both mom and daughter were pretty excited when the cast made a fuss over them. [Note – FanExpo is not just for geeky gamer boys and Lolitas. This story shows just how mainstream it has become.]

I took a break from the madness of FanExpo on a Saturday and went early to line up for “The Listener” panel and sit and read my graphic novel. I had passed a surprise “Listener” cast signing and let the women around me know that it was going on and offered to save their places for them. Then I started talking to the identical twins behind me. They now introduce each other as ‘clones’ after becoming big fans of “Orphan Black”. We talked clones (Will there be a new one next season?) and “Bitten” casting (can Supergirl play a werewolf? They think so) and they raved about how terrific everyone they met had been.

When the ladies came back from their cast signing one had brought me a poster and another invited me to join her in her VIP front row, as thank yous for their incredible experience meeting the cast. Awwwww! Listenerds are the best!

It’s not just about meeting the stars though. At each panel I attended (or heard about), fans got a chance to ask questions about story and in a few cases pitched story ideas for future seasons. [Christina Jennings was quite taken by a few of the “Listener” fan ideas.] They loved meeting the creators when they had a chance – I heard about how great it was to meet co-creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson of “Orphan Black”.

And then there were the “Bitten” ears. Everyone who went to their panel got a pair of wolf ears. You could tell after the panel was out and the rest of FanExpo (including the Nathan Fillion line which I was in instead of the panel – sorry guys) was infiltrated with wolf ears. Brilliant.

As we all know Nathan Fillion is Canadian. I’m not sure everyone knew how proud of that fact he remains. He made that clear and the crowd roared in appreciation (I have to admit it – I almost teared up). And yes, an appreciation for our Canadian talent who have gone south and done well for themselves is an integral part of our Canadian media world. Which is not the same as only promoting our ex-pat stars.

So what did I learn from this? Canadian fans are very aware that they are Canadian and different from Americans (you should have heard the crowd loudly correct George Takei when he said both Canada and the US entered World War II with the bombing of Pearl Harbour). We are proud that we are polite and generous whether we are celebrities or fans. We love our Canadian television not because it’s Canadian but because it’s great stuff. It competes with and is just as good as the American shows. We have a star system that seems to have grown organically just on the basis of that great television.

It’s not that the broadcasters do NOTHING – no, they do promote their Canadian programs and talent but just not enough. So the producers and talent take on promotion when they have the time and money to do so. Some of it is as simple as jumping in on social media (I think more than a few fans will be joining Twitter to twatch the “Listener” finale next Wednesday after the cast talked about regularly twatching) and the lack of ego that leads to free cast signings when the big US stars are charging mega bucks and limiting the number of autographs.

Some people are catching on – loved the sneak peeks from Shaftesbury and seriously if someone could send me some wolf ears I swear I’d wear them. Somewhere. Space does a great job at working FanExpo. We can do more. We can grow the audience with more fan support. And if the audience grows then maybe, when benefits money runs out and BDU contributions to the CMF drop, then just maybe broadcasters will see that it’s in their best financial interest to continue to give the audience the great Canadian TV that they have come to expect, with the stars and stories that they love.

Every year I tell people what a great experience it is to go to FanExpo if you work in Canadian television (and digital media but this year I focused on the tv side – maybe next year). Our task now is to support the fans throughout the year. Seriously guys, I don’t think a hashtag is going to do it.

Funding Application Tips – Partnerships

I probably should have done this post on Partnerships before last week’s post on how not to screw up your funding application but there you go.  I’m doing it now.

One of the biggest ways that a project can fail (in general, not just with funding applications) is in picking the right partners to work on the project.  This is co-producers or digital media and television producers or creative partners.  The same rules/guidelines apply.

Audio-visual media is a collective work.  None of us can create (high quality commercial) film, television and digital media on our own.  We need to work with other people to bring complimentary skills together to get the end product completed.  I think that we all understand that a screenwriter, producers, director, actors and crew are needed to produce but this also applies to the producer.  Sometimes it is skills that are needed, for example when a smaller production company or series creators partner with a more experienced production company to take on a bigger challenge.  Sometimes it is financing as when a Canadian production company partners with a treaty co-production partner.  And then there are the partnerships between formats when a tv producer partners with a digital media producer to create affiliated digital media content for a television program.

Early on in my career I learned a few key rules on partnerships from a tv producer who became a broadcaster and then a winemaker and is back to being a broadcaster.  I like to sum them up as ‘can you get drunk with your intended partner?’  It may seem frivolous but bear with me.   You get drunk with people you like (most of us do anyway).  Production is hard and you should only do such hard work with people you like and trust, can talk to and feel that you can rely on.  This means spending time with people and getting to know them before signing an agreement.  Put the relationship ahead of the deal.

How do you do that?  Meet lots of people and companies before decided which one you want to work with.  Attend markets and conferences where you can meet a lot of people (and socialize with them!).  Talk to your friends and colleagues about their experiences with those companies.  Yesterday I told a story about the reactions of two different companies to an event that I was trying to set up and the person I told it to heard the story as more evidence that one company was a better potential partner for her than the other company.  It wasn’t the point of my story but it definitely informed her opinion about which one she would rather work with.

It is more than likeability and ethics though.  What you look for in a partner depends on what you need but you need to be certain that your partner has it and isn’t just BS’ing you or entertaining magical thinking about their abilities.  That’s the due diligence part that you have to do.   Can they bring that financing to the table – check out their past projects.  Can they produce the digital media component – check out their past projects.  Do they have the distribution skills or marketing skills that you lack – check out their team.  Right now possibly the biggest problem in convergent media production is tv producers partnering with digital media companies who do not have the skills and experience to produce what the tv producers are looking for.   For example, if a convergent project is going to be about developing and supporting the television audience with content then a digital media shop that has only created websites that sell products will not have the necessary skills.   The result, if it can be funded, just may be garbage.

If you don’t know the sector that you’re exploring for a partner then consider hiring a consultant who works in that area to help you find potential partners.  Yes, it does sound like hiring a matchmaker but it can work.  Some organizations are partnering with other organizations to facilitate matchmaking, for example WIFT’s Digiscape in partnership with CMPA, CWC and Interactive Ontario.   Go to funders’ websites and check out what they’ve funded and who produced it.

OK, so you’ve found your dream date, now what?  An effective partnership comes out of both parties clearly understanding the strengths that each bring to the partnership, the roles they will each perform and being completely on the same page about what is being produced.  You can do this in a co-production or services agreement but you also need one or more meetings where you can talk about the big picture and all the little details that it will take to get there.  I cannot tell you how often I have been able to see in a funding application that partners appear to have completely different ideas about what they are producing.   An effective partnership involves constant communication – which of course isn’t difficult because you do like each other, right?  [see above re getting drunk together]   You do not carve up the responsibilities and go off and do your thing, assuming that your partner is off in their corner doing their thing and somehow magically it will all get put together and end up being fantastic!

Ideally you want to have such a fantastic working relationship with your partner that you can work with them again and avoid all of this hard finding your partner work.

Women in TV – The Stats Please

We have had two research reports released recently that try to shed some light on aspects of gender representation, and as well diversity, behind and in front of the camera in our television industry.  There was the Ryerson study of Canadian Screenwriters and the Women in View on TV Report.  Both reports left me wanting more – more detail, more explanation, more context.   The Ryerson report was a survey of 266 of the over 2100 Writers Guild of Canada members.  That’s just over 12% of the membership who chose to answer the survey.   It isn’t a large sample.  That being said it highlighted facts which are known to those who work in the industry – it takes time to become a successful screenwriter, they are highly educated, about a third are women and few make a full time living out of screenwriting.  It attempts to draw the connection between few women making a lot of money by screenwriting and systemic discrimination.  That may be true but I couldn’t follow the logic from the available data.

As for the Women in View on TV Report, it was more statistically significant as it researched staffing in key creative positions on 21 live action drama series with CMF funding.  It is a snapshot of a particular time and will not be able to identify trends until this study has been done year after year – which I understand is their hope.  We can see that women are not well represented behind the cameras but we cannot tell if this is a long standing problem, one that is getting better or perhaps even worse.  Also, by focusing on the statistics it again makes it difficult to extrapolate causes and therefore solutions.   It is a very good start but I would like to see the study grow in the future.

Yesterday I attended a panel discussion that Women in View had arranged as part of TIFF’s Higher Learning program to present their research and put it in context and I found what I had been looking for –  Dr. Stacy Smith of the USC Annenburg School of Communications.  Now, this is not to slight the other panelists (John Doyle, Globe and Mail columnist, Ferne Downey, ACTRA  National President, Laura Michalchyshyn Head of Sundance Productions) who had some great things to say (more on that in a minute) but just to say that Dr. Smith’s research on gender representation in the Hollywood film industry had the detail and the context that I was looking for.  She has conducted two studies that she presented to us.  One was a study of women onscreen and behind the camera in big blockbuster Hollywood films between 2007 and 2012  and the other was of Sundance Festival applicants and accepted films over the last ten years.  In addition to the statistics, they also interviewed key creators to ask them the ‘why’ questions.  The results were fascinating.   You can find more information in the links but the key for me was the reasons given for the low representation of women.  It is all about what Hollywood thinks that they need to do to make money.   It is ‘common wisdom’ that women will watch a male driven movie but men won’t watch a female driven movie.  According to Dr. Smith the statistics that she has gathered from a film distribution study proves that is not true.  Men tend to resist writing female-centric stories while vice versa is not true.  Female writers tend to write more female characters but Dr. Smith admits that she does not yet know if that is because they are advocates for women or if there is a ‘pink ghetto’.

The Sundance data showed a much higher representation of women in indie film than in the Hollywood blockbusters.  For example, 20% of the drama screenwriters are women while only 13.5% of the blockbusters were written by women.  There was a definite skew in the doc format as 32% of the docs were written by women.  The same trend is visible in the producer category where 29% of the indie dramas were produced by women, 45% of the docs were produced by women but only 20% of the blockbusters were produced by women.  Here though the reasons given were different as indie film isn’t as influenced by myths of the distribution world.  Reasons included lack of financial resources for women, male dominated networks, stereotyping on set, work/life balance and exclusionary hiring decisions.  More research needs to be done to try and identify why there are more women in documentaries (self-selected or funnelled?) and to determine if the size of the budget and risk is the only reason why there are more women in indie film than blockbusters.

I really love that Dr. Smith has done many studies and will continue to do more.  As our world in Canadian media is different than Hollywood we need to have our own studies like these.  If we can truly identify the causes for lack of representation, then we can try to come up with effective solutions.  Yes – evidence-based policies.

The rest of the panel discussion was interesting as it tried to give context and causation to the Women in View research.  Laura Michalchyshyn thinks that women have been socialized to be quieter and that does not get us the jobs – we need to grow a pair.  We need to encourage women to enter these careers in school and then mentor them along the way.  Ferne Downey offered that it isn’t enough to look at numbers but also to look at portrayal – too many female characters are stereotypes.  More women writing, producing and directing will mean more realistic portrayals of women.  “Orphan Black” was identified as a television show that is proving that men will watch a female-driven show, disproving that myth.  More successes like that (i.e. “Continuum”, “Lost Girl”, “Motive”) will breed more opportunities.  Finally, John Doyle was as provocative as he can be.  He thinks that part of the problem in Canada is that our big broadcasters are all owned by cable companies and as a result their senior executives have less creative vision than traditional broadcast executives.  They are less comfortable with risk and stick to formats that work (ahem – cop shows!).  I took down the following statement as close to verbatim as I could:

“There is a cabal of guys who look after each other, who won’t admit to blocking women from jobs.  They are mostly hacks though some are talented.  They get jobs because they are the loudest voices in the room.  They network, sit on juries, write blogs, promote themselves and their friends.  They hold grudges, organize campaigns against shows they don’t like.  You can’t ask women to say they have to also be the loud voices, that’s not fair.  Though it is incumbent on women in power to promote the work of other women.”

Personally, I don’t think that there’s a cabal with secret handshakes etc.  That sounds way too organized.  But what Mr. Doyle is talking about here is the existing network and it is hard for newcomers to break into it or to move up within it.  We each have to find our own way – whether it’s growing a pair and getting loud or just figuring out how to network better.  I have enjoyed the mentoring and support from some terrific women and I think I’ve turned around and done the same for those who have followed after me.  But I’ve been in this business for 25 years and while there has been progress (oh, the stories I sometimes tell to the younger ones), we clearly need to do something more concrete to speed up the pace of change.  Until we can say that those who create our stories are representative of our society, we need to keep shining a light on the problem and talking about solutions.

Don’t even get me started on diversity!  [actually – I will tackle that but it’ll be the subject of a later post].

The last word today goes to the brilliant (yes – I’m a fan) Joss Whedon, interviewed about his “Much Ado About Nothing”:

Why do you think there’s a lack of female superheroes in film?

Toymakers will tell you they won’t sell enough, and movie people will point to the two terrible superheroine movies that were made and say, ‘You see? It can’t be done’. It’s stupid, and I’m hoping The Hunger Games will lead to a paradigm shift. It’s frustrating to me that I don’t see anybody developing one of these movies. It actually pisses me off. My daughter watched The Avengers and was like, “My favorite characters were the Black Widow and Maria Hill,” and I thought, Yeah, of course they were. I read a beautiful thing Junot Diaz wrote: “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”

 

The Benefits Bulge*

It might have been lost in the dropped jaws reaction to Kirstine Stewart’s sudden move from CBC to Twitter Canada, but yesterday Mario Mota released his 2013 Canadian Television Benefits Monitor. The Report, which is available in detail to subscribers and summarized in his press release, tracks each year English-language broadcasters’ reporting on their CRTC-mandated tangible benefits packages. Those are the benefits required to be spent on the Canadian broadcasting system as a condition of approval of an acquisition of Canadian broadcasting assets. The 2013 Report tracks spending for the year ending August 31, 2012. It takes this long for the broadcasters to report to the CRTC, for the CRTC to publicize the reports and for Mario to then review and analyze the reports.

We are currently enjoying substantial benefits spending on Canadian television and we now have the data to demonstrate that. Due to benefits packages primarily from Bell, Shaw and Rogers that were determined in 2011 but finally started to be spent in 2012, benefits spending jumped from $52 million in 2010-11 to $177 million in 2011-12. Not all of that was for onscreen benefits (i.e. television programming) and the Commission did allow for unprecedentedly low allocations for onscreen benefits for Bell-CTV and Shaw-Global. Even so, onscreen benefits spending increased from $44 million in 2010-2011 to $113.5 million in 2011-12. That is an increase of 158%.

Benefits are to be spent roughly equally in each year but broadcasters will not be sustaining this level of spending in each year going forward. This may in fact be a high water mark, perhaps with next year. Some packages expire in 2014, others in 2015 and the final ones in 2019. There will be smaller packages approved for Bell-Astral 2 (most of which will go to French television or radio but some for TMN), and Teletoon and Family Channel transactions are still to be determined. Currently, according to the Report the total to be spent by 2019 on onscreen programming is $355.4 million.

To give some context to these numbers, the 2011-12 budget for CMF English Performance Envelopes was $189 million. So last year’s onscreen benefits spending of $113.5 million was 60% of the full amount that was available from CMF from the performance envelopes. Additionally, benefits are to be incremental to what a broadcaster already has to spend on Canadian programming through their CPE and/or PNI CPE (see Acronym Decoder). That’s the other part of the story that we do not know yet – how much did the broadcasters spend due to the Group Licence Policy before they started spending benefits money. We need to know that before we can really get a sense of how much money is in the system for Canadian programming.

But it’s a lot! We know that much. What happens when it has all been spent? I have said this before and I am not alone – we have an opportunity here to leverage increased spending on Canadian programming to try and create permanent positive change. Last year in an article in Carrt (subscription needed) Mario Mota suggested that we leverage the increased funding in Canadian programming by implementing Non-Simultaneous Substitution (“NSS”). NSS would break English Canadian broadcasters dependence on the US schedule, give Canadian programs stable timeslots thereby increasing audiences and therefore increasing revenues. If NSS was in place, the benefits-funded “Bomb Girls” would not have been pulled off the air for a simulcast of “Survivor” and might have had a chance at a better time slot when it did return. [See Kate Taylor at the Globe and Mail].

There are technical hurdles to NSS and I am not qualified to discuss them. NSS is just one of the ways though that we can try and take advantage of the current ‘bulge’ in Canadian programming. We have audiences watching Canadian drama in higher numbers than they have in years. How do we sustain that appetite for Canadian programming and the willingness of Canadian broadcasters to keep spending money on Canadian programming when they no longer have to. I agree, getting rid of simultaneous substitution so that Canadian broadcasters have to rely on their Canadian programming is another solution. I am just not sure that the Canadian broadcasters could survive a cold turkey withdrawal of their crack cocaine. Then again, who says it would have to be cold turkey?

What else can we do? Perhaps future benefits should be put in endowments like they used to be so that they could have long term sustained investment in Canadian production as the Independent Production Fund, Cogeco Fund and others have been able to do. That is something for the Commission and broadcaster applicants to consider. Perhaps some of the benefits money yet to be approved could go to building audience demand (i.e. promotion, social engagement, sustaining a star system) so that broadcasters risk alienating their audience if they stop funding Canadian programming. [Note – in no way am I advocating a return to entertainment magazine programming, a notorious broadcaster boondoggle that was intended to build a star system but instead allowed Canadian broadcasters to spend money on promoting a lot of US programming with Canadian stars in it instead of spending it on actual Canadian programming.]

I am sure that there are other things that we could do to leverage this ‘golden opportunity’ if we put our minds to it. We need to learn from the last golden age – the mid-90s. We had so many great programs that Canadians loved to watch: “Street Legal”, “Due South”, “Da Vinci’s Inquest”, “Road to Avonlea” to name just a few. Those shows trained screenwriters, directors, actors and producers and developed a talent pool. When the money dried up with the 1999 TV Policy, which got rid of an expenditure requirement for broadcasters, a lot of the talent went south and did not return. That is what we are risking if we do not have a plan in place for post-2019. We are right now growing our talent pool but will they have careers here in a few years.

*And for the record, I was thinking more of a cow in the middle of a snake kind of bulge, nothing Jon Hamm-ish.

Canadian Media Policy – Is There Any Fun Left?

Recently one of my wonks said over cocktails that all the big tv policy issues had been dealt with and now there was nothing to do but get the work done.  I’ve been thinking about this and I have to disagree.  After years of fighting a decline in Canadian television programming and particularly Canadian drama there is now the Group Licence policy, expenditure requirements and Programs of National Interest (PNI).  Once Bell-Astral is done, it is unlikely that there will be any more large acquisitions.  Or so they say (I’ve heard that one before).  There is a lot of benefits money in the system, there are PNI expenditure requirements and the BDU contributions to the CMF are still going strong.  So what is there to worry about?  Promotion?  No – I’m not going there.

We have a really big challenge that few seem to be considering.  We should be thinking now about how to fix the system that is going to be broken in a few years.  The Bell-CTV and Shaw-Global big pots of benefits monies will be spent by 2017.  By that point, BDU subscriber erosion will likely be very real as more and more cut the cord, buy their iTunes series subscriptions, watch Netflix or catch up the next day on broadcaster digital players.  [Update:  Yes, I did notice that the CRTC released 2012 financial results for BDUs right after I first posted this, and that demonstrates that erosion hasn’t happened yet as subscribers have grown by 2% for cable, though dropped by 1.8% for satellite.  But revenue growth is slowing, most likely due to subscribers cord shaving, ie paying for fewer services though staying in the system.  CMF contributions have grown but that growth has slowed down as well – and note that contributions to Canadian programming are just CMF, LPIF, independent funds and other BDU mandated contributions, not benefits or CPE as they are reported at the broadcaster level.  I stand by my worries for the future.]  BDU contributions to CMF will go down and this government is unlikely to make up the difference.  So how are we going to finance Canadian television?

I can hear the voices saying ‘why do we need to’ and that is an exhausting argument to deal with but I’ll say this quickly.  Canadians want Canadian television.  Look at the audience numbers for “Murdoch Mysteries”, “Motive”, “Cracked” and “Bomb Girls” just to mention a few on the air right now.  I do not believe that Canadians watch those shows just because they are Canadian but because they are good tv that tells stories that Canadians want to watch and reflect values that Canadians share.  So it is important as a society that we continue to be able to offer Canadians the choice to watch quality Canadian television.

How are we going to fund it?  I have not yet heard a viable proposal for how we are going to continue to offer Canadians choice in 2018.  The ISP levy is the cleanest but since the case was lost at the Supreme Court of Canada it will most likely require legislative change.  There is so much resistance to the idea though, particularly from the BDUs who are also ISPs, that an ISP levy is not likely to be an easy solution.  At Prime Time, the Chair of the CRTC told producers to look outside Canada for financing and explore co-ventures.  The problem with relying on foreign financing is that the resulting programs are overly influenced by the creative interests of that foreign financing and we end up with “Sue Thomas F.B. Eye” rather than “Flashpoint”.

It worries me that I’m not hearing conversations about how to solve the problem.  I am reading about the imminent death of Can Con regulation so those on the other side are gleefully anticipating the future.  For those who understand that the system has to change but there still needs to be a system, there aren’t any round table discussions, working groups, calls for papers or one-day symposiums so that we can try to figure this out.  Everyone seems to be taking a breather after a very hectic five or six year period and I get that.  However, if we’re not careful we are going to wake up in a few years with a broken system and no way to fix it.  No amount of promotion is going to help if there are no Canadian shows available to watch – on any platform.