Managing Film and TV Industry Transformation: Perspectives from Broadcasters and Producers

It’s now more important than ever to sell globally, establish international partnerships and explore new deal structures. Key players in Canada’s film and TV industry share their tips on how to stay buoyant in a changing sea.

By now, everyone in the audiovisual industry knows that major change is afoot—from falling licence fees to competition from OTT providers like Netflix, to data and analytics and personalized recommendations pushing programming to viewers.

And that isn’t even a comprehensive list, but what is indisputable is that the monopoly on attention long held by broadcasters and networks is being challenged, and the challenge is coming from many different directions.

So, if the volume and pace of change in screen-based industries feel like a juggernaut, it’s largely because it is. As noted in the CMF’s white paper titled Adjust Your Thinking :

“[…] the business model of television was largely unchanged between the mid-1950s and the late 1990s. It is only after the 1990s that it started to become obvious, but certainly not to everyone, that massive change was coming through new technologies for not only the delivery of programming but also an opening up of choice for viewers at an unprecedented rate in the industry.”

How to deal with so much change and ideally make it work to the advantage of producers and creators was a widely discussed topic at Prime Time 2018, the annual television industry gathering held in Ottawa.

Change is never easy, but to quote Reynolds Mastin, president and CEO of the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA) in his opening address at the conference:

“If all we do is look back to the halcyon days of 1993, then we set ourselves up for failure.”

Focusing on exports and co-productions

When asked about what new opportunities are available for producers, John Young, CEO of Boat Rocker Media (Being Erica, Orphan Black, The Next Step), took a bit of a plus ça change stance. “It’s not new. The opportunity is the same. It just may be in different places and formats,” he said.

“It’s to create original IP [intellectual property] and to sell globally. Because the globalization genie is not going back in the bottle.”

Heather Conway, CBC’s Executive Vice President, English Services, described her organization’s contrasting position. “We’re a public broadcaster, so we’re not thinking so much about international rights. We’re interested in supporting production.”

Conway then cited as an example the budget allocated by Netflix to its hit royal drama The Crown—$130 million for 10 episodes—and pointed out that it’s equal to the CBC’s annual budget for all of the corporation’s non-news programming.

“So yes, there’s a war for talent,” she said. “And one way we manage that is with co-production. For example, Anne (on CBC) / Anne with an E (on Netflix), which is one of the most binge-watched shows on Netflix worldwide.”

Boat Rocker Media’s Young agreed: “Partner to get content made and to have it travel around the world. Getting revenue streams from the around the world while you’re sleeping is a wonderful thing.”

Creating for worldwide platforms

Partnering and co-production are not new to Canadian producers, but creating programming for over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix with a worldwide reach is.

Laura Michalchyshyn, President of Sundance Productions, believes this means there are some key differences to grasp:

“It’s a global platform. It’s not about ticking boxes and getting 6 out of 10. It’s about a level of quality and a level of excellence.”

Among the Canadian firms rising to the global challenge is DCTV (Don Carmody Television), whose President, David Cormican, has plenty of stamps in his passport to show for the company’s enthusiasm for international partnerships and new deal structures.

“My frequent flyer status is Super Elite, so that’s an illustration of how we’re looking at things.”

For DCTV, the result has been such projects as the Emmy-nominated miniseries Tokyo Trial for Netflix, a partnership between DCTV and Japan’s public broadcaster and the Netherlands’s FATT Productions, as well as an upcoming Dutch-Italian-Canadian co-production.

Taking advantage of new investments

Cormican also sees Amazon, Facebook and other tech companies and platforms following in Netflix’s footsteps by injecting more money in the system and creating more buyers. But the optimism does not end there.

“I’m willing to bet that 5 years down the road, we’re going to find out that Netflix spent $600 million or $700 million [vs. the $500 million currently committed over 5 years]. I’m doing the mental math, and I think it makes all of us raise our game to get some of those dollars,” stated Cormican.

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