It is no longer about winning in the previously defined entertainment categories such as television viewership or OTT subscriptions. Entertainment companies are now competing on a larger scale for their share of the time and money consumers spend on entertainment overall.
This September, the annual Content Canada conference brought together broadcasting, OTT platform and podcasting leaders as well as their content creators to discuss how they are evolving to stay competitive. Here are their insights and some additional thoughts on how to win in this rapidly evolving marketplace.
“The more local it is, the more universal it feels”
Resonate with a core community
“Be super niche, and try to own that community,” explained John Young, the CEO of Boat Rocker Media. Even with limited resources, creators can develop breakthrough hits by being the voice of distinct communities. Channels and OTT platforms can do the same with content that is showcased through their brands. And as Topic’s general manager Ryan Chanatry explained, these platforms can be “format agnostic, based on what’s best for the story”.
While there is an increasing amount of content, there is also an increasing number of platforms in search of content with unique perspectives. As CBC’s executive director of OTT programming Gave Lindo explained, they showcase a “variety of backgrounds and perspectives”. Bell Media’s VP, strategy, OTT distribution and premium SVOD Jeff Hersh ensures that Crave showcases content for “diverse Canadians from a ‘unique Canadian lens’” whereas Lisa Hamilton Daly, Netflix’s director of original series, wants “all parts of Canada represented on the platform”. That is great news for Canadian content creators, and also a strong reminder that we must dig deep to uncover and share platform-relevant stories of communities in Canada to break through the clutter of the shows available in the marketplace.
“The more local it is, the more universal it feels,” explained Hamilton Daly. It is possible to establish profound connections between stories that originate in niche communities and international audiences. After all, communities are no longer confined by demographics.
Extend the story appeal to additional audiences
Nickelodeon’s executive vice president of programming and content strategy, Paul DeBenedittis, shared that when content is developed, they first “dig deep into the fandom of [their] core audience” and then build out. When developing content for the network, they are always “kid first”. He cautioned that he has seen concepts that were developed by starting with the combined co-viewing audience in mind that have not performed as well. This is because the concept then resonates less with the core audience.
There are different ways to uncover what content appeals to core audiences, and those they are likely to be co-viewing with. The simplest method is to identify where the viewing relationship is the reverse, and the core audience is the co-viewer. Kids, for example, are often co-viewers of competition-based shows such as cooking or performance-based competitions. But this insight may not offer enough depth to inspire a new hit show. “Listen to what kids are talking about, listen to what concerns families, and speak to those,” encouraged J.J. Johnson, founding partner of Sinking Ship Entertainment. Understanding the narratives that target audiences share or want to share together can create stories that engage and inspire valuable conversations.
As show brands can be extended to other forms of monetizable experiences, the objective of developing content that encourages co-viewing should evolve to developing brands with which it is possible to co-engage. Brand engagement can occur both on screen and off-screen, from location-based entertainment experiences to licensed games.
“Stand for something”
Build brands, not shows, not channels
“Stand for something,” explained Johnson. Content that stands for something not only captures the hearts of its audiences, but it can dramatically increase the value of your IP to being more than simply a hit show. And, by being a voice for a concept, it becomes easier to bring its purpose to life across multiple products and services.
Consider how top brands whose core business is not entertainment clearly stand for something. Brands such as Nike, Dove and Lululemon represent certain mindsets that have allowed them to seamlessly extend into a range of formats of storytelling with viral videos, longer-form content, entertaining experiences, apps, and more.
Building content with purpose also helps with discoverability. Non-entertainment brand videos have gone viral with little-to-no ad buys because they told stories that connected to their cause which their fans also care about. Content creators can provide creative assets to their fans to help them engage with and organically promote the story that stands for something they care about. Marketing materials are in essence an extension of the story, and not just a short description and call-to-action to watch it.
When it comes to defining how content brands should come to life, Peter Emerson, president of Cineflix Media Inc., shared that it is vital for creators to “start the conversation… from day one.” This early-stage planning is essential for the creators all the way through to their partners that may range from broadcasters to local distributors and marketers responsible for ensuring that the brand resonates in all markets, with the right messages and at the right times.
Extend the brand story across multiple platforms
Extending a show’s brand story across multiple platforms increases its ability to engage more audience members, extends the time that audiences spend with it, and opens up the door to test new concepts that generate insights as well as revenue.
Bell Media’s president, content and programming, Mike Cosentino highlighted the importance of being where the consumers are. Love Island aired on CTV this summer, but, as he shared, by allowing access to it online, and developing a complementary app, CTV was able to bring in a new highly engaged young female audience.
Extending across platforms also opens content up to the unique benefits of each platform. Serial Box CEO Molly Barton explained that when stories are developed in audio format, they have more flexibility to “break the fourth wall”. This can create a more personal connection with the characters.
The unique benefits of certain platforms also include their ability to garner a wealth of audience insights to inform decision-making when it comes to brands. Barton is able to uncover insights from Serial Box that range from the different audience segments interested in different story types, to what format people prefer for each story type. Podcasts and digital books are also relatively faster and cheaper ways to test new concepts for entirely new stories as well as existing brands. And the analytics from those tests can help to gain buy-in and extend those brands to other formats such as film and TV. In an industry where content presenting a new perspective or format can be considered risky, Steve Raizes, senior vice president of Viacom Podcasts, highlighted the benefits of podcasts: they are less constrained and they give creators the chance to create content that is more “out there” and to prove that it can be incredibly engaging.
Propagate Content’s senior vice president of alternative comedy and worldwide formats, Kevin Healey, cautioned that “it is not a direct translation to other platforms” and, to extend successfully, you must “unlock what the ‘transition out’ is”.
“We need to partner with our networks, encourage them to invest more… to invest to build something that will be a world leader.”
Develop meaningful relationships to scale fast
Relationships through partnerships, investments or otherwise can help IP to achieve what it could not on its own, adding more value to all stakeholders.
Insight Productions’ CEO, chairman and executive producer John Brunton encouraged creators to have more of an “export mentality”. With an increased amount of international content and OTT platforms coming to Canada, we “have to be in the export business”. To do this, show brands developed in Canada should be developed from the start with the intent to monetize the IP in the appropriate global markets. As he explained, “We need to partner with our networks, encourage them to invest more… to invest to build something that will be a world leader”. In exchange, creators must be open to offering a greater revenue opportunity for them.
Collaborating with leaders in the development of other forms of content can reduce the risks and costs of extending into new format territories, and accelerate the content’s speed to market. Serial Box has extended the story and lifespan of Orphan Black with Orphan Black: The Next Chapter, available in audio and digital book formats. They have also partnered with Marvel Entertainment and are developing original stories for brands such as Black Panther, Jessica Jones and Thor.
Relationships with companies that focus on sourcing the key ingredients of hit content were also discussed. For example, Jocelyn Hamilton, president of Entertainment One Television’s Canadian television division, leverages the company’s relationship with Wattpad to “find new content”. Also, Lionsgate Television’s chairman Kevin Beggs highlighted his company’s investment in Starz and 3 Arts to “get closer to talent”. He explained that companies “can unlock added value in a vertically integrated environment”.
Carter Pilcher, the CEO of Shorts International, shared the importance of collaborating with local market experts to expand brand engagement with the right audience globally. While the core brand message will remain consistent globally, how, where and when it comes to life in each market can best be informed by local marketers.