Tag Archives: Prime Time

Prime Time in Ottawa 2019

For an ‘in the moment’ feel for this year’s Prime Time in Ottawa conference hosted by the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA), look up my twitter feed for Jan 29 – Feb 1, 2019 and/or check out the hashtag #PTiO to get other perspectives as well.  I used to Storify my tweets but sadly that’s no longer an option.

I have to say that this was a pretty good conference.  Attendance felt up (I don’t know the actual numbers). The opening cocktail was packed and that means interest from local Ottawa media, politicians and bureaucrats as well as delegates.

I like to pick a theme for the conference after the fact, often an unintended theme that comes out of what people are thinking and talking about, regardless of what is actually programmed.  I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised to declare that this year’s theme was diversity. I need your help sharing my blog post on terminology widely as the misuse of the term diversity as a synonym for people of colour was pretty widespread but more and more people are getting it and talking about what needs to happen, how to improve it and why.  It came up in a variety of panels that technically were not about diversity. The fact that we’re still talking about why is a little depressing but at least more people accept the fact that better reflecting our own audience and reaching a global audience is a pretty good why. Netflix was pretty clear. They target a global audience so need a diversity of stories and storytellers. The panel on working with Netflix therefore veered off at one point to talking about how to improve the diversity of talent in Canadian production with producer Noreen Halpern calling for more training programs and showrunner Dennis Heaton telling the audience it was everyone’s responsibility to mentor emerging talent who aren’t otherwise getting opportunities.

I do object to a call from talent agent Glenn Cockburn (on the Scarcity of Talent panel) for more programs that target kids in high school since I know that many colleges and universities are already graduating pretty diverse classes but everyone who isn’t white and male are having a harder time getting hired.  I tweeted out the story of my daughter who graduated from Centennial’s Broadcasting and Film program, one of a very diverse class, and did her work placement where she was the only non-white face. How can you hire an all white crew in the city of Toronto?? Two of her female non-white friends are DGC trainees and they are getting great support from that union so it’s not all bad news.  I am in the camp of mentoring and financial support to give emerging talent work opportunities. Hold the door open everyone.

Now was the conference itself diverse?  Only if you measure gender balance. Conference producer Marguerite Pigott was pleased to announce that 50% of the speakers were male (I did enjoy the stat being flipped like that).  But by my rough calculation (and this is not scientific as ethnicity and identity are the choice of the speaker, not the person counting) only nine of 56 speakers were people of colour. Yeah, we’ve got some work to do.

The marketing pitch session (Prime Time Throwdown) was a glimpse into that future.  All three projects were pitched by women. One was an LGBTQ team and one was a half-POC team.  Two of the projects are web series that will likely earn good audiences but are the kinds of shows that are unlikely to find a home on traditional broadcast.  Barbelles is targeting ‘queer women 18-34’ and as we have seen with Carmilla that audience segment is very hungry for content. Tokens on Call won the pitch and I’m looking forward to its launch later in the spring as it takes a very funny look at attempts to subvert traditional casting to create more diversity (see that theme again).  In general though, it was an entertaining and informative session as the audience learned about the marketing strategies, and potential pitfalls, from producers who will be undertaking an aspect of marketing themselves.  Two out of the three had received Bell Fund funding for a Discoverability Plan so it was also interesting to see how that new program can impact producers.

What else went on?  The talk of the conference was the opening panel of broadcasters.  Every year Prime Time starts with this panel and it’s usually pretty tame as the broadcasters say the same thing year after year – the CRTC needs to deregulate as life is just so hard, they love producers, the broadcasters have great CanCon (that they’re doing because they love it, not because they have to) etc etc.  Well, not this year (and not just because of a controversial statement from the head of CBC – see here). There was a feisty dispute between Stéphane Cardin of Netflix Canada and Catherine Tait of CBC (which was a little strange since Netflix buys a lot of CBC comedy and dramas) and between Stéphane and Mike Cosentino of Bell Media (which made more sense since Bell is calling for Netflix to make a contribution to Canadian programming of 20% of their annual revenues).  Reynolds Mastin tried to squeeze Terms of Trade into the conversation by calling it Code of Practice – not sure that worked. Stéphane suggested that more people in the room wanted to work with Netflix than would likely admit it and judging by the packed room for the Working With Netflix panel later that morning and the very positive experiences of the panelists, I’d say he’s right.

There were a few panels on the latest info on a topic and they provided up to the minute insights and that was refreshing.  Too often we’re lucky to learn one thing new in a panel but I enjoyed the insights from the Kids panel (don’t think tv first automatically, might be better to build a game first to get their attention), the Distribution panel (distributors are increasingly getting involved at development because of increased competition) and the last minute (due to keynote cancellation – a conference producer’s worst nightmare) Future of Features panel (producers have to use digital platforms and interactivity to find audiences where they are and not leave it to distributors). 

While it is discouraging that we still have to have conversations about the need for diversity and exploiting digital platforms, it did feel like the dial had moved a bit in the right direction so there was cause for optimism.

 

Imperialism Explained

I was thinking about the British Empire and how, if you were there and you were the viceroy of India, you would feel that you were doing only good for the people of India. Or similar, if you were in French Africa, you would think, ‘I’m educating them, I’m bringing their resources to the world, and I’m helping them. There was a time when cultural imperialism was absolutely accepted.” Catherine Tait at Prime Time in Ottawa conference, January 31, 2019

By now most of you have read or heard Catherine Tait’s comment comparing Netflix to imperial Britain and France in their ‘cultural imperialism’.  I was immediately shocked but then surprised that there wasn’t much of a reaction in the room to the comment. Then I saw a growing reaction to it on my twitter feed and then in mainstream media.  It became a topic of conversation in the halls for the rest of Prime Time with some people admitting to having been speechless in shock while others, well, didn’t understand or think it was that bad. So for the benefit of the confused, this why her statement didn’t go over very well for some of us.

Imperialism in India and Africa killed a lot of people.  A lot. Here’s are a few examples. In 1943 approximately 3 million people died in Bengal from famine caused by British imperial policies and exacerbated by British war time policies that prioritized sending relief to Europe over India. From 500,000 to 1 million Algerians were killed or died from famine when France conquered Algeria from 1830s to 1860s. In 1898 the Voulet-Chanoine Mission was mandated to conquer the area now known as Chad to bring it under French control.  They did it by looting, raping, killing and burning entire villages as they marched.

These are just a few examples of the impact of imperialism in India and Africa. I did a bit of googling to make sure that I had the numbers right but it wasn’t hard to find this info.  Many, many books have been written about it. Imperialism’s goal was the economic success of the Empire in question, in disregard of the life and liberty of the local residents. Millions died as a result.  You can’t separate ‘cultural imperialism’ from actual imperialism as the Empires never did. The valuing of the Empire’s culture over that of the local culture was just one of the tools used to subjugate the local population and maintain control.  

So, in my mind, to compare policies that resulted in the deaths of millions to an OTT service that wants to offer Canadians another choice for the delivery of content and to provide Canadian content with a pathway to a global audience trivializes those deaths.  Yes there are (very good) arguments to be made for Netflix to contribute into the system that it participates in and to ensure that it is spending a portion of its money on Canadian production (and not just production in Canada) but is talk like this helpful or disturbing.  For me, it is disturbing.

I write this not to slam Ms. Tait but to try to use this as a teachable moment for anyone in a public position, those who advise those in public positions and well, everyone else who was confused by the reaction.  We can do better.

 

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.

 

Prime Time 2015

I’ve been getting great feedback that you guys really enjoyed Prime Time 2015.  As the programming consultant this year that makes me very proud.  It really was an eye-opener to be part of the team that put that annual event together.  It takes a lot of work for quite a few months.

If you couldn’t make it and wonder what all the fuss was about (and not just Kevin Crull’s speech or Michael Wolff’s stirring the pot), I Storify’d the tweets here.

Prime Time – Talking About TV

The theme of Prime Time 2014 is Talk TV – the hashtag for the CRTC’s consultation with the public about the current and future Canadian broadcasting system.  A lot of the panels led into that theme.  But even if they didn’t, that’s pretty much all anyone was doing today – talking about TV.

After a breakfast burrito, large latte and talk about CRTC expenditure and exhibition requirements with my tablemates over breakfast, the keynote was an interesting talk by Wendy Bernfeld on the European VOD/OTT rights market.  Wendy came out of the Canadian broadcasting system but has been in Europe for about 20 years (I worked with her when she headed up the Atlantis Amsterdam office).  Her basic thesis was that there are now so many VOD buyers who are trying to acquire catalogues to either compete with Netflix or establish themselves before Netflix that this is now a good time to either make a lot of non-exclusive deals or a few big exclusive deals and reap the rewards.  For those making those European deals themselves, her slides will be very helpful just to help get to know who the players are and CMPA will be posting the slides at some point.  It was good to hear someone talk positively about revenue opportunities with OTT and in the fractured universe.  She also provided insight on the shifting windows of VOD – they no longer have a set order in windowing but can be before, during or after the main screen (i.e. theatrical or primary broadcast) release.  A good piece of advice for those dealing with broadcasters who have retained certain distribution rights was to cut those rights holders in to their deal so that the deal can be made and everyone win rather than just assume that it can’t be done because you don’t have those rights.

Rita Cugini (so strange not to be referring to her as Mme Cugini as I always did when she was a CRTC Commissioner) moderated a Talk TV Super Panel with Raja Khanna from Blue Ant, John Morayniss of EOne, Louis Audet of Cogeco, Kevin Crull of Bell, Michael Hennessy of CMPA and Christina Jennings of Shaftesbury.    As Blue Ant is a small group of independent services it was no surprise that Raja Khanna was an advocate of regulation, though he suggested that the key question was ‘regulation of what’.   At the very least that regulation needs to ensure that the small broadcasters have a place to ensure diversity in the system.   I did react negatively when he brought up the 17 year old YouTube sensation making ‘big bucks’ on that platform and cited that as the future of content.  In the first place, how many people are making that kind of money (I couldn’t find stats but I don’t think THAT many in Canada).  And second, it ignores the fact that people like to watch big budget dramas, which need broadcast partners to be financed.  Some people also like short form or edgy content that can be found on YouTube but mass market content like “Saving Hope” and “Big Bang Theory” will always be popular and need a platform.   Michael Hennessy pointed out that the evidence for this was that the top pirated content is all mainstream television.  [Devil’s advocate – why would they need to pirate YouTube videos?].

It always surprises me when I agree with anything that the top guys at Bell, Rogers or Shaw say, and truthfully, that doesn’t happen very often.  But Kevin Crull said a few things that I agreed with.  For one, he suggested that a problem with the CRTC’s TalkTV consultation is that people will always say that they only want to pay for what they watch but they forget the discovery process that they went to, to find that content.  You need the larger pool of content to pick from.  I do agree.  The other point that he made that I agree with was that with the business models under pressure we have to ensure that changes in the system don’t reduce the money that is available for Canadian content because it can’t be done for less.  Now I kinda think he’d like to do it for less but the point is no less valid.

The next panel that I attended was the Canadian Broadcaster Programming Panel.  I have to say that I was expecting it to be as boring as it has been in the past with programmers saying very little about what they were actually looking for.  We didn’t get a lot about what they want to buy but it wasn’t boring.  It started with an offensive comment from Bill Brioux (who I am otherwise a fan of for his reporting on Canadian TV, particularly as a resource for ratings) about how the programmers on the panel were all women and did that affect their programming decisions.  Yeah, that didn’t go over well with many people in the audience or the twittersphere.  I’d love to hear someone ask an all male panel (which happens SO often) if their gender affects their decision-making.

There were some good nuggets to pull out of the panel.  CTV is experimenting with niche content by doing a 6-episode order of a darker story adapted from a Giles Blunt thriller.  The CBC finds it difficult to program niche content since their CMF envelope is based on mass eyeballs (as is everyone else’s but there’s a political point there).  Sally Catto (CBC) does see an opportunity to aggregate an audience across multiple platforms and in that safely create niche content (which prompted me to launch a “Bring Back Michael Tuesdays and Thursdays” campaign – feel free to use the hashtag #bringbackMTAT – I know not likely but wouldn’t it be nice . . . ).  Both CTV and Global are trying again with comedy but as Corrie Coe pointed out ‘drama is hard but comedy is harder’.  It’s not about not knowing how to do it or not having the talent – it’s just hard and you have to keep trying before you get a hit.  [The US has a much higher ratio of failed tries to hits – commentators often forget that.]

Then we got into the dustup with Mr. John Doyle – or rather I unintentionally did when I tweeted that Corrie Coe disagreed with him and thought “Orphan Black” and “19-2” are both golden age shows.  See John Doyle’s column Where is Canada in the Golden Age of TV?  He took exception to my tweet; others took exception to his position that we don’t have great TV and should.  There was a flurry of tweets.  Broadcasters and producers and creators feel very strongly that Canadian TV is in general quite good these days and we have some really great shows.  The more important issue, for many, is that Canadian TV is really popular with audiences these days with shows like “Saving Hope” earning 1.6 million audiences every week.  [And for those who say it isn’t very Canadian – when was the last time one of the story lines involved a patient’s inability to pay their bill or having treatment refused by an HMO – think how often they were ER story lines – hmm?].

After that there was the fun question – what show would you like to steal from a competitor.  I would like to see that question become a staple of the Broadcaster Programming Panel as it tells you so much about the programmer and the broadcaster.  Sally Catto and Tara Ellis would both love to steal “Orphan Black”.  Corrie Coe would like “Lost Girl”.   Vanessa Case of Blue Ant, the only non-drama group on the panel would like “Amazing Race Canada”.  My only comment to those choices is – when exactly did Showcase become Space2 and except for the regulatory nature of service issue is this a problem?

More schmoozing at lunch (and explaining CanCon rules to a young producer because the CRTC Commissioner I was sitting beside wouldn’t let me inflict bodily harm) and then an interesting panel moderated by CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais on the Future of Television.  Noreen Halpern (EOne) and Mark Bishop (marblemedia) were terrific – really passionate about creating content and needing the rules to evolve to be able to continue to support Canadian content.  They both see the day when there are no silos of funding or licensing because the platform is not relevant – you release it when and where it makes sense for the story.  That world is coming and we need to work now of the framework to support it so that we continue to have a robust Canadian industry in the future [that’s what I’ve been saying!].  I never really got the points that Tom Perlmutter (NFB) was making.

The New Business Models was a very popular breakout panel but I chose instead the International Markets panel.  I won’t write out all the really good tips here but I will Storify the whole conference and I encourage you to look for the specific advice given in this panel.  Experienced producers shared really specific tips about how to attend markets and go to pitch meetings and there were some great tips for both newbie producers and more experienced producers.  Some times you don’t think about comfy shoes.  I do find myself having difficulty ensuring that I get enough sleep at any event like a market while also ensuring that I leverage the social events and the scheduled events.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Friday was mostly a day for Canadian feature films.  The issue that rippled through a few talks and panels was whether the solution to increasing audiences for Canadian feature films was online distribution or television broadcast.  I wish there had been a panel that had allowed Carolle Brabant (Telefilm) and Patrick Roy (CAFDE) to debate the issue since Telefilm seems firmly in the position that we need to get more Canadian features digitized so that they can be downloaded while CAFDE believes that Canadian broadcasters need to make more of a commitment to Canadian features since more people watch television than download.  I think a case can be made that both strategies could and perhaps should co-exist but they do play into different policy solutions.  Dave Forget of Telefilm presented a research study that provided a picture of feature film viewing habits of Canadians and that supported both positions – Canadians mostly watch features in the home and that is mostly but not exclusively on broadcast.  Online is of increasing importance.  The research also pointed out that Canadians pick features on the basis of genre, story and cast with director 6th and producer 10th.  This is of interest because Telefilm’s funding prioritizes producer and director and has always been more director-focused.

I have to describe to you my favourite moment of the conference.  It was unanticipated, unplanned brilliance.  The Governor General, His Excellency The Right Honourable David Johnston, came to be interviewed as part of a Canadian feature film promotion project that he’s working on with the CMPA and other partners.  Before he got up to the stage the Canadian women’s hockey team tied the score with moments left in the game.  Our GG is a huge hockey fan and it was such a pleasure to see him jump up and hold out two fingers in each hand to demonstrate that it was now a 2-2 game.  It was authentic.  When he was on stage though, the women scored the winning goal and his response was to lead us in O Canada while the screen behind him flipped to the live feed.  I’m tearing up just thinking about it again.  What a Canadian moment.  And that’s what we’re all about when it comes right down to it.  Sharing our stories with each other.

You may ask how I felt about Prime Time – was it worth going?  Yes.  I always see people, both Toronto people and those from around the country, and it is important to connect, especially for me in my independent consulting career.  I had a few business meetings.  I promoted a few clients to other stakeholders.  There is one more young producer who understands how our Canadian Content support system works and why.  I picked up a few interesting bits from the panel sessions.  Should you go?  Well, honestly, it depends on what you do in the industry.  There isn’t a lot at Prime Time for digital producers except the ability to meet TV producers (who won’t be showing up at digital conferences – this is a problem).  There isn’t much for creators unless you are also trying to manage the business side of production because this is a business conference.  If you are a producer or work with producers or need to meet producers then you should come to Prime Time.

I’ve updated this post with my Storify of Prime Time 2014 tweets.  It isn’t as complete as I would have liked because Storify and Twitter just didn’t co-operate and at times wouldn’t show me tweets that I knew were there – sigh.  But you can get a feel for things if you weren’t there.

Prime Time – It’s All About the Schmooze – So Far

Prime Time really starts when you get to the train station or the airport.  There are only so many ways to get to Ottawa so the schmooze starts when you see your fellow industry types who have chosen the same method of transportation.  I’m a big fan of the train (see my previous post re Viarail truffles – and my tweets with them where they agreed to consider our pleas for the return of the truffle).  I chatted with a client from a small job last year and a couple of my wonks.  It was a pleasant lead in to the real schmooze, which was the opening party.  Almost everyone is in a medium size room, chatting away.  The noise volume is high.  The hugging and cheek kissing is even higher.  It’s what we do.

And it’s effective.  It really is a great opportunity to have ‘hey how are you, I’m still here and my business is going great’ chats and short, specific, let’s get this work issue out of the way chats.   I said yes to some work and maybe to something else.   And got to talk about how great Molly Parker is in House of Cards – I mean, seriously!!

After that,  I headed to another reception with amazing sliders (William F. White’s knows how to pick hors d’oeuvres) and more schmoozing and then to my oasis of quiet at Zoe’s in the Chateau Laurier to blog, drink my brown drink and eat something with vegetables.

Don’t underestimate the value of the schmooze.  It’s about 2/3 of the reason that I come to Prime Time and the opening evening is prime schmoozing.

Prime Time 2014

Sorry guys, I know I’ve been silent while all sorts of wonky things have been happening (Rogers licence renewal, Talk TV Part 2, Starlight resubmission etc. etc.).  Paying work has kept me occupied not so sadly.  But I am off to Ottawa shortly for the CMPA’s Prime Time conference and they have accredited me as media on the basis of my tweeting and blogging – which I think is pretty cool.  So I will tweet all the panels (and possibly social things too since the networking is an important part of why you go to Prime Time), blogging summaries and Storifying the collective tweets once it’s all said and done.  You can follow along the general conversation by following the hashtag #PTiO.  Last year I was really impressed by how many producers got into the tweeting conversations – I hope to see a few more this year.

Now to head for the train – fingers crossed Viarail saw the error of their ways and have returned to the chocolate truffles.