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The Diversity Issue – Are We Doing Enough?

Are we doing enough on diversity in Canadian film, television and digital media?  OK, we all know that the answer is no because you can look around any production office or an industry event and see that it is not reflective of the audience that the industry is trying to entertain. In other industries there are stats that demonstrate that diverse boards or diverse employees result in higher revenues and larger market penetration.  This is likely true for the screen-based industries too but since our purpose is entertainment we have to also ask ourselves how can we reach audiences with our stories when we don’t reflect those audiences?

What is the actual extent of the non-diversity of our Canadian screen-based industries?  That’s hard to say because there are no stats that can answer that question.  There is no agreement even on how to define diversity.  Is it a set of checkboxes pulled from the Employment Equity Act or the broader Charter of Rights or a way of looking at employees and talent to ensure that you are pulling from the largest possible talent pool to get the most creative talent (yeah, I think it’s the latter).

Broadcasters have to track women, visible minorities, disabled and indigenous employees under employment equity legislation and CRTC requirements.  Think about the categories that legislation leaves out though like sexual orientation or identity, marital status, religion, age, country of origin, economic status, neurological differences and more.  There is no requirement by anyone to track the employees at production companies or on sets.  Women in View has published studies of the number of women in key creative positions in film, television and web series but those studies are not a comprehensive look at all job categories nor do they look at other forms of diversity.   Lights, Camera, Access! commissioned a report on employment patterns for people with disabilities in the screen-based industries, but again it was a snapshot of the problem rather than a comprehensive statistical analysis.

If we do not know the full extent of the problem then it will be impossible to measure progress.  In the absence of stats, but recognizing that something has to be done, Telefilm, CMF and others are now factoring gender parity into their evaluation process.  Why are they focused on gender parity rather than full diversity?  My theory is that it is significantly easier to measure the existing gender balance and any improvements and it is easier to put in place measures to improve that balance, than to do the same for any other underserved groups.  One of the greatest obstacles to measuring diversity is the reluctance of marginalized people to self-identify for fear that the identification will be used against them.  With a few exceptions, it is relatively easy to identify gender even if people do not wish to self-identify.

Will a focus on gender parity naturally lead to greater diversity?  I have heard this argument made on more than one occasion and I can’t follow it.  More women means more women.  Even worse, without systemic change it is likely that those additional women will all be white, straight, able-bodied etc. women.

Any systemic change will be more difficult to enact and will take more than a new line on an evaluation form.  We need to ask ourselves how we are recruiting talent, where we are looking, are our job descriptions reflecting bias, do we even understand our own biases.  We need to educate leaders, managers who do the hiring and even funders on what diversity and inclusion means.

In my opinion it is never a bad thing to try to make a difference so I do applaud everyone who is trying, even if it is only to impact the gender balance.  I just ask that we keep working on this problem.  Let’s get the stats we need.  Let’s train more people on diversity and inclusion.  Let’s figure out where to best put our efforts to create long lasting change.  As screenwriter Denis McGrath had been known to say, and put on a button, ‘Best Idea Wins’, but the industry needs to be more inclusive and reflective of our audience if it is going to have the best pool of ideas to pick from.

[At Denis McGrath’s Celebration of Life today, Mark Ellis reminded me that I had promised Denis that I would blog more.  So, after wiping away the tears, I started planning this post.  This is my oh so small effort to ensure that his impact will be long lasting.]

Best Idea Wins button

Prime Time in Ottawa 2017

For a blow by blow feel for this year’s Prime Time in Ottawa, check out my Storify of the top tweets.  Yes, a lot of them were from me, Cynthia Lynch and Marcia Douglas but not out of favouritism on behalf of fellow wonks but we three do tend to be the most consistent tweeters at a conference.

Here’s a little overview thought on the conference.

No matter what the programming is, Prime Time in Ottawa is still a must attend event for the networking if you’re in the business of film and television or are a digital media producer who works with film and television producers.  There are official and unofficial networking events, meetings, coffees, lunches and serendipity.  Both mornings I sat myself at a back table so that I would not distract people with the bright light of my laptop screen during sessions.  Random people sat down at my table and I had the most interesting conversations.  I highly recommend it rather than travelling in a pod of co-workers.

As for the programming, there was a good mix of traditional panels (Exports, Selling to the U.S., Merchandising and Licensing) and more current panels (Financing Digital First Production, Mobile Rising, VR).  The IdeaBlast’s were all technology related and some of them were quite interesting.   I particularly enjoyed Kevin Keane of Brainsights, a company that measures brain activity in response to advertising and entertainment programming.  He had some fascinating insights to offer on how different demographics react to content themes and why.

There were recurring themes from the panels.  There wasn’t a big difference between the Mobile Rising panel and the Digital First panel so they did bring up a number of the same issues.  What was interesting was when those same issues were echoed in other panels.  Things to keep in mind:

  • Think about the content that you want to create and then decide the length that you need for it and the platform(s) where it can find its audience.
  • Understand your audience. Research, research, research.  This is relevant for all audiences whether through Canadian broadcasters, digital platforms, U.S. services or international buyers.  It even came up in the Merchandising and Licensing panel.
  • Be flexible and learn to pivot quickly as new audiences and new platforms come out of nowhere with little warning. One key piece of advice was to get good at all the platforms because you can’t know which ones will be the most successful at any given time.  The VR panel talked about developing skills in VR storytelling now so that you will be ready when the market takes off.

Now, if you’re a policy wonk you may be interested in these themes:

  • The need to do something to create gender balance in production, provided it doesn’t just help white women.
  • What can we or should we be doing to help reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous peoples. Reynolds Mastin, CEO of the CMPA suggested an Indigenous Film Office and Jesse Wente suggested that we as an industry need to help indigenous people tell their own stories (which I think means being more active than just funding an Indigenous Film Office).
  • And of course the recurring (and will keep recurring until a solution is found for the growing shortfall from the regulated system) call to require all the participants in the broadcasting eco-system to contribute to the creation of Canadian programming (i.e. OTT and ISPs too).

In all, I would say that the vibe was hopeful.  Some years it has been downright suicidal but I think more producers are experimenting with new content forms, distribution methods and business models and finding some success.  There is a lot of production and a lot of great Canadian programming on TV, at least right now.

So, another successful Prime Time in Ottawa.  Next year will be January 31 – Feb 2, 2018.

The CIPFs and Digital Media

In my last post I went over the ‘permissions’ and ‘requirements’ of the CRTC’s new regulatory framework for Certified Independent Production Funds (“CIPFs”).  Since then you have heard a lot about the decision to reduce eligibility for Canadian productions from 8 points to 6 points. However, there is another issue that has been quietly bubbling away and now is generating a great deal of concern.

First, a little context.  In CRTC 2010-833, the CRTC amended the existing regulatory framework for CIPFs to formally allow CIPFs to fund digital media associated with television programming and to allow funding of standalone digital media provided that it was limited by a cap of 10% of the revenues received by a CIPF from a BDU.

“the Commission is of the view that there is little cause for concern over permitting the funding of new media projects linked to television programs as any new media content created as a result of such funding would still serve to support traditional television production. The Commission also concludes that the existence of a link to a television program will create a self-limiting process in that the producers and broadcasters will want to ensure that sufficient amounts remain for television production and development and will therefore make decisions in their own best interest. It will also be at the discretion of the funds whether they choose to fund program-related new media projects. As such, the Commission considers that a cap on such new media projects is not necessary.” [para 17]

So it was very confusing to read the new framework and see the phrase “the Commission will maintain a 10% limit on funding that can be allocated to non-programming digital content” [para 45] when there had been no cap on associated ‘new media’ to maintain.  Now, the definitions have been updated so that digital no longer includes digital-first linear video, but the result of the new wording is that all other digital media associated with a television program is now limited to 10% of BDU revenues.

Given the seriousness of this change, various organizations have been in touch with the CRTC to confirm that indeed this interpretation is correct. The potential consequence is significant as it would mean that most of the CIPF funding for digital media that both digital media and television producers have relied on will have to be re-allocated to  only television programming.  At a time when digital media is an essential element in discoverability this is a puzzling development.  Affiliated digital media drives audiences to the television, extends their experience with the television program and the broadcaster, builds both brands, and helps to sell the television show internationally.  Digital media can help documentaries extend their reach and their impact.  In some genres, most notably children’s, international buyers rarely license the television program unless there is associated digital media.

A few years ago I authored a study on co-production opportunities in digital media and in that study I learned that few countries around the world have any funding for digital media associated with television programming.  With the funding that we have, Canadians have become leaders in the field and are sought after for co-productions not just for their potential access to funding but also for the expertise that they have now developed.  Companies like Shaftesbury, Breakthrough, Secret Location, DEEP, DHX Media and Xenophile have developed international reputations as talented television and digital media producers and been able to compete in international markets because of the early and consistent support of the Bell Fund.  Is this not what the CRTC said it wanted?

Moreover, at a time when Minister Mélanie Joly is in the middle of the #digicancon consultation, the timing of limiting the ability of the Canadian broadcast system to leverage digital media to drive audiences to the broadcast platforms and to make foreign sales is hard to understand.  The CRTC seems to be taking two steps back while Heritage is trying to take one step forward.

The Bell Fund has asked for a transition period to be able to react to the new rules, as the decision was effective September 1, 2016.  They have also asked for an increase to the 10% cap, given the significant potential damage of such a small cap.  The CRTC has said that it cannot make amendments to an existing decision but instead it turned the request into a Part 1 application which is now a public consultation.  If you wish to comment on the Bell Fund’s request you can do so through the link on that page.  The deadline is November 28, 2016.   There is no guarantee that any changes will be made but at least there is a forum for industry feedback.

Full disclosure – I have a working relationship with both the Bell Fund and Interactive Ontario, the trade association representing interactive digital media producers in Ontario.  I am not speaking for either of them with this post but trying to explain for you guys what is going on – as I do.  If you would like more information you can reach out to either of those organizations.

Heritage Committee on Local TV

This morning I listened to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (#CHPC).  It was their first meeting on a study on ‘The Media and Local Communities’ which is also their first study.  I tuned in because it’s the first real meeting for this committee in this Parliament and I wanted to hear them interact with senior staff at Heritage and the CRTC (and then last minute additions from Industry – I mean Innovation, Science and Economic Development – and the Competition Bureau).  I’m not that interested in local tv but I’m glad I did tune in.

I was talking to my local MP, Julie Dabrusin, on the weekend since she sits on the Heritage Committee and I realized when I spoke to her about the local tv study that her interests in it were broader than my interpretation of the terms of reference of the study.  The minutes describe it as:

“… how Canadians, and especially local communities, are informed about local and regional experiences through news, broadcasting, digital and print media; the unintended consequences of news media concentration and the erosion of local news reporting and the impact of new media”

In listening to the meeting though I was struck by how wide ranging the questions were. Heritage started off by giving a very rapid ‘Canadian media policy 101’ talk with what sounded like (the feed was audio-only) a lot of slides.  A few of the MPs sounded overwhelmed.  It should be remembered that I believe Pierre Nantel (NDP) and Hedy Fry (Lib) are the only MPs there with previous experience on the committee.   So some of the questions continued on the 101 theme (‘how is Canadian media funded’ – I think I heard Helen Kennedy’s sigh before she started counting the ways) while others went off on to topics like diversity, funding for digital media, local news, newspaper consolidation, Broadcasting Act objectives, the Bell-Astral merger and the inability for anyone to make any money on digital platforms (that was a Conservative MP statement without any evidence).

The CRTC could not really say much because their local tv proceeding is outstanding and there are rules about not discussing a pending proceeding.  They did chat a bit about why LPIF wasn’t renewed, which honestly could have been the topic of a whole meeting as it had been a whole hearing.  They made a pitch that they are lowering barriers to innovation and encouraging broadcasters to evolve to multiplatform businesses, though without specifics.  Innovation, Science and Economic Development made some odd statements about how millennials don’t care about funding for digital media, just access and making money from their content.  Umm, just because you can make content for peanuts doesn’t mean you want to.   The Competition Bureau said they didn’t care about whether diversity of voices was impacted by consolidation, only if there was a negative economic impact.

There were some good questions but my favourites unfortunately were thrown in at the end when there wasn’t time for answers so we won’t hear them publicly.  Julie Dabrusin asked if the CRTC planned to update the 8 year old Diversity study (I swear I didn’t plant that question) and Hedy Fry asked who was in a position to regulate digital platforms for accuracy.  I suspect Scott Hutton of the CRTC was pretty happy there was no time to answer that last one!  The answers should be incorporated in their report so I’ll be looking for them.

Things could obviously change over the minimum 10 meetings that will be devoted to this study but based on today the Committee will be asking all sorts of questions about the media landscape and I’ll try to pay attention when I can.  It’s good to hear what the MPs are interested in and what topics they need help on (i.e. yes, there are businesses making money with content on digital platforms).

Diverse Thoughts on a Train

I don’t know about you, but I live in a diverse Canada.  My mother is Anglo-Indian.  My daughter is Chinese.  My sister-in-law and nieces are from Bangladesh.  My daughter’s friends cover a wide range of ethnicities including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jamaica and China.  Her boyfriend is Vietnamese and Aboriginal.  I have friends who are Chinese, South Asian, Black, Filipino and yeah a whole pile of white ones.  This is my world.

So it is important to me that my Canadian media is diverse – my television, my websites, my videogames.  All of it to the extent that it makes sense for the story.  It should reflect the audience and not some long ago version of the audience.

Which is why I get cranky (cranky enough that I Facebook posted my annoyance and then on the train to Prime Time stewed about it until I started to write this post) when I read articles about the tv industry in the mainstream media which seems to think that it’s an all-white, mostly male, industry.

Bright, creative young people will not join mainstream media unless they see opportunities for themselves and that means seeing people ‘like them’ in positions both in front of and behind the camera.  They have other options – ask Lilly Singh or Jus Reign – and while I applaud them for pursuing their careers on YouTube I am concerned that not enough of them are trying to tell their stories in mainstream media.  Will my daughter and her diverse classmates at Centennial’s Broadcasting and Film program have careers in film and television or will they too find more opportunities on YouTube? Yes, I can hear Jason Kee (Google Canada) asking me what’s wrong with that but we can’t have truly reflective audiences only on one platform.

Content that reflects the audience can only happen when both employers hire diverse talent and when diverse talent pursue those careers.  So – how do we make that happen?  That’s our challenge.

 

 

 

 

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).