Dueling Industry Conferences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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).

Prime Time in Ottawa 2016

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

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

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Ontario’s Culture Strategy Consultation

The Ontario Ministry of Culture launched a consultation back on September 24, 2015.  Sorry – life got in the way or I would have posted earlier.  I appear not to be the only one slowly realizing that this consultation is out there.  I hear few members of the cultural industries have been attending the town halls around the province.  It’s never a good thing to miss an opportunity to be heard by a government so here’s what is going on and how you can participate.

This consultation is aimed at providing the government with input on the development of a culture strategy that will guide the government in its priorities and policy development and in particular guide the allocation of the government’s spending on culture. The Ministry of Culture has released a Discussion Paper that outlines the size and characteristics of the arts and culture industries in Ontario and the questions that it wants answered.  A series of town hall meetings are being held around the province to hear from both individual members of the public and those who work in the arts and culture sector (if you live in Markham, Toronto, London, Kingston, Mississauga or Windsor there are still dates coming up).   There is also a discussion board where people are encouraged to post ideas and vote other people’s ideas up and down the list (which is a format that the Ontario Liberal Party has used to implement grassroots policy development).  Few cultural industries (mainly just music) are showing up in ideas on the discussion board – you might want to think about throwing a few out there.  Finally, anyone (members of the public and stakeholder organizations) are encouraged to file a submission addressing the questions by December 7, 2015.

The Discussion Paper asks the following questions specifically about the cultural industries:

  • What is the Ontario government doing well to support the cultural industries sector?
  • What would you like to see changed?
  • Are there best practices that Ontario could learn from and adapt?

Through the OMDC the Ontario government has been very supportive of the cultural industries with tax credits, the IDM Fund, Export Fund, Research Grants and programs like Digital Dialogue.  Yes, there are tweaks that could and should be done (I think specifically about the OIDMTC preventing co-production with other companies in Ontario and/or other provinces or countries, and the OFTTC expanding to web video) but this is the time to think about new ideas.  What could help the sector, or your part of it, expand, grow, adapt to change, become sustainable?  Yes, more funding but what kind of funding?  Are there gaps in training or skills development?

You might also want to look at the other sections of the Discussion Paper and see to what extent the cultural industries can address those questions.  Can Ontario film, television and digital media be a tool as well as an end in and of itself?  For example, how can the cultural industries be used to inspire youth to create, participate in and consume Ontario culture?  Can the cultural industries help the other cultural sectors better respond to digital challenges and opportunities.  How can the cultural industries help the Ontario government serve the various regions, communities and populations?

You can’t win if you don’t play (which probably quotes a lottery ad but that seems appropriate).

Comparing the Culture Platforms of the Major Parties

Over at TV, Eh! I have compared the Conservative, NDP, Liberal and Green platforms on culture, to the extent they have them.  I’ve also incorporated additional points from the NDP and Liberals from the Screen-Industries Debate yesterday as well as a few points I’ve received from direct questions to the parties.  I’ll update the post if I receive additional info and let everyone know if there’s more there.

If you work in digital media you are likely disappointed by the lack of discussion of your issues.  There have been brief references to a National Digital Strategy (by the NDP) and to digital being part of the CBC’s mandate (by the Liberals) but nothing specifically addressing the sector.  As outlined by Sasha Boersma in her blog post, some digital media issues overlap with mainstream issues while others are very specific to that sector.  The only way to become part of the discussion (for these and other cultural issues) is to ask candidates and parties where they stand – in person, by email, on twitter etc.  These are the last few days of the campaign but every party wants your vote.

Please do vote October 19th (or October 9 – 12th in the Advance Polls).

UPDATE:  The Canadian Media Production Association compiled their own list of party promises including a lovely and handy one page chart here.  Also, the NDP have released a fully costed platform and you can find the costing for the cultural promises on page 70.

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.