Category Archives: Strategy

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.”

 

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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.

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.