The Future of Media: From Competition to Collaboration

Photo: Marc-Olivier Becotte

Last September 13, the second edition of Plateforme(s), Quebec’s media summit organized by Infopresse, was held at the Montréal Science Centre. In a mode focused on solutions and good practises, the event intended to showcase the creativity that certain media companies demonstrate when it comes to dealing with the technological, economic and social changes that their ecosystems undergo.

The day ended with a large round-table discussion with executives representing some of Quebec’s main media outlets: Pierre-Elliott Levasseur, president of La Presse, Michel Lorrain, president of Cogeco Média, Michel Bissonnette, senior vice-president of Radio-Canada, Gerry Frappier, president, French-language TV and RDS (Bell Media), and Nicolas Marin, president of Mishmash Média. In an age where their operations are destabilized by foreign competition on the web, these competitors seem determined to combine their efforts and showcase local culture.

Towards A New Definition of the Media?

The first question asked by Arnaud Granata, the round table’s facilitator and editor of Infopresse, had to do with definitions. What exactly is a media? Whereas audiences, contents and platforms have all evolved, the media are maybe no longer what we thought they were.

For Michel Lorrain, a media is a transmission vehicle used by content producers and generators. Fundamentally, the historical role of the information and entertainment distributor has not changed. However, the tools used to produce content and how content is consumed have evolved. Citizens consume content when they please, when it’s available. “It forced us to evolve. However, when it comes to collecting information, making verifications, ethics, equity, relevance and proximity, nothing has changed.”

Radio-Canada’s Michel Bissonnette agrees with that but focuses more specifically on journalism. “We used to be on a one-way track when it came to broadcasting. Today, we evolve in a universe in which all of the content we produce is available in the digital space. We are no longer constrained when it comes to creating.” He gives the example of one of his journalists sent to India with only his iPhone to prepare his news reports. “Nothing has changed when it comes to complying with journalistic standards and practices, but how stories can be told today has changed a great deal.”

Of course, the proliferation of content that is so easily accessible raises certain questions with respect to local content discoverability. Bell Media’s Gerry Frappier proposes a colourful analogy: “Today, when you enter a bakery, you can choose among an incredible assortment of breads. Twenty years ago, we all ate white sandwich bread.”

From Competitors to Collaborators

International competition seems to have given birth to a new form of collaboration. Michel Bissonnette claims that the offer proposed by Netflix and other major players has contributed to consolidating ties: “We have developed a level of national solidarity that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Individually, none of us will ever have the strength to compete. However, together, we can have that strength.” He explains that each television broadcaster maintains its own objectives and business plan, but that their concerted efforts may produce surprising results.

For example, since last May, Groupe V Média (V), Bell Media (Canal Vie, Z, VRAK), TV5 Québec (TV5 and Unis TV) as well as Canada’s National Film Board (NFB) provide content on Extra ICI TOU.TV. Mr. Bissonnette points out that, after only a few months, almost 15% of the platform’s traffic is today generated by these partners’ content.

A Shared Responsibility

According to Michel Bissonnette, the collaboration era concerns not only the media, but also the ecosystem as a whole. Advertisers and content producers must develop reciprocal trust. “Both for us as media and for them as advertisers, we have an obligation to our citizens, to be able to support our homegrown content. Otherwise, we’ll no longer have money to fund that type of content.”

And it’s a business relationship that seems more sustainable to Gerry Frappier. “You have more purchasing power when you deal with local producers.” He cites the music industry as an example and explains that, even before CD sales began to freefall, Costco and Walmart began selling music. “At the time, everyone said that it was going to be good and attract new clienteles. However, the decision had a devastating effect on small music stores. It was next to impossible to showcase talent in a big-box store.” He believes that there exists a double responsibility: preserving a healthy local industry and enabling this ecosystem to continue to operate. “We are the only ones who are going to bother with that,” he claims.

Income Diversification

Media owners are seeking to convince advertisers to invest more in their platforms than in those of the American giants, but they are also trying to come up with new sources of income. It’s a hard balance to reach seeing as news media also have a social mission, according to Pierre-Elliott Levasseur, i.e., the mission of producing quality news that is available to the entire population.

In that sense, he says that he is very inspired by the approach adopted by Britain’s daily The Guardian that decided to keep access to its content free, for example, while monetizing certain customizable features. “Also, they are asking their readers to become ambassadors, such that the public is given the impression that it is contributing to some sort of local mission. The result is impressive. Their approach is modern and now generates more income than advertising.”

Mishmash’s Nicolas Marin points out that, beyond the subscriptions and advertising, transactional revenue is also an avenue that has potential seeing as it consists of an added-value product. Last spring, the L’actualité magazine entered into a partnership with travel agency Uniktour to offer the opportunity to travel abroad along with journalists who are very familiar with the visited country’s local issues.

La Presse also offers the same types of experiences in collaboration with Voyage Traditours. Before the trip, participants visit La Presse’s newsroom and discover how a daily paper is produced. The trip is also enhanced by an event designed on site by La Presse. Pierre-Elliott Levasseur is quite satisfied with the initial results: “We sold out seven trips in the space of a few months. It’s an example of operating the brand in a way that is a little different.”

Michel Bissonnette believes that it’s an underlying trend. The media are moving away from a one-way brand and adopting an experience between citizens and this brand. The multiplication of direct contacts, such as those that, for example, make the CBC Music Festival possible, thereby opens up a very interesting avenue to explore.

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