A little over a year ago, the CMF unveiled its new guidelines and introduced the concept of « rich and substantial », a new prerequisite for digital media components in the Convergent Stream that excited some… and puzzled many. As the CMF is releasing its first annual report, we sat down with the CMF’s English market director at Telefilm Canada Francesca Accinelli to take a look at the challenges and successes of the Fund’s most talked-about criteria.
When the CMF first released its new guidelines in April 2010, it didn’t take long for producers to react to one of the Fund’s new requirements: the now famous “rich and substantial” criteria instantly caused a stir. “In the beginning, I think people struggled to understand the concept,” remembers Francesca. “And in truth, without examples of exactly what we wanted, we also struggled to explain it to them. In television, you know, we have a fixed format, things to respect. This was much larger.”
As a reminder, there are three ways for projects to trigger eligibility in the Convergent stream: the DM component related to the TV program has to either be streamed on-line in a non-simultaneous manner, be broadcasted by a CRTC-licensed VOD service or – and the preferred option from the CMF’s point of view – present a “rich and substantial” digital media component aimed at at least one other platform than television. Yet, there was no “formula” or set-in-stone elements that made a project rich and substantial.
For Francesca, being creative and thinking out of the box also means being adaptable: “We try to let people know that there is flexibility. It’s always in terms of why – why is it rich and substantial? What are you offering other than photos of the cast?” The CMF’s first task was thus to meet with the industry and expand on their expectations, case by case. As sites became richer and richer, they started to have more examples at hand. “Now we can sit down with broadcasters and look at their own websites and say: ‘this series, absolutely rich and substantial’ and this series… ‘not’. We spent a lot of time doing that with everyone (broadcasters and producers), and I think it paid off.”
An unforeseen enthusiasm
For its first year of operation, the CMF had set an objective of 50% for the rich and substantial criteria: at the end of the year, out of the 486 projects funded, 65% had a rich and substantial component. For Francesca, this enthusiasm of the industry for R&S translates into creative benefits both for the audience and the producers — which was one of the original intents behind the Fund: “We wanted producers to go beyond the simple promotion of the project, and for the broadcaster to understand that as well — understand that audiences can be reached in many different ways. The projects that we’ve seen as “rich and substantial” really do that, they truly enrich the audience’s experience and the viewership, and it created an additional dimension to the project.”
Spawned from sometimes otherwise unused original content, this new vision often enriches the whole production: “In the case of documentaries there may be hundreds of hours of footage that they were’t able to put in that brings a whole other aspect, that litterally tells a different story.” For Francesca, establishing the ‘rich and substantial’ criteria also entailed the conversion of the broadcasters. “Sometimes you reach audiences through a digital platform and then they will go to the television. And digital allows audience engagement in between seasons! Original, on-going content keeps your audience coming back. You don’t want your audience to go away. There is a lot of competition, and when you’re off, somebody else is on. By adding new material every week, returning for new clips, little quizzes, producers keep the audience coming back, and that’s what we want to happen.”
More components… more work?
Francesca recalls many producers first thought that ‘rich and substantial’ meant more work for them. “Some thought – ‘Oh no, I am going to have to learn a whole other thing’. They think they have to do the work — and they don’t. There are interactive producers waiting around the corner to help you tell your story in a different mindset.” Francesca firmly believes in the power of partnerships between traditional and new media producers: “I think the ones who are doing it right are the ones who have found individuals to help them.”