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The Road to Discoverability

Is there a road, a path, dare I say it, an information highway to discoverability?  With a multitude of channels and platforms, how can producers and broadcasters make sure that audiences can find their program and that audience members can find the programs they want?  The CRTC is trying to figure this out with their Discoverability Summit to be held next May in Toronto.  The first of two lead up events happened yesterday in Vancouver (the second, in French in Montreal, happens December 3, 2015).  “En Route to the Discoverability Summit:  Content in the Age of Abundance” was live streamed for those who couldn’t get out to Vancouver or hadn’t known about it.  I livestreamed it and I’m going to share my overall thoughts with you.

Tony Chapman, marketing expert and frequent speaker, gave the keynote.  As you would expect from a marketing guy, the talk was all about the power of brands and a shift from brands going through broadcasters to the consumers, to going directly.  Gary Maavara of Corus asked Chapman for specific advice for broadcasters.  He said Corus should delete one of their U.S. programs, take the money and commission three programs from teams of Canadian producers and brands.  The brands would then distribute the programs globally.  To me, that sounds like the brands are the owners and the producers are service producers.  That would not be good for the independent production sector.  I don’t see the upside for broadcasters in doing that either, unless they had a share in the global revenues.  And I’m not sure what that would mean for the content, if it became a glorified product sales tool.  There are good examples of branded content (i.e. “Carmilla” and Kotex) but being limited to product promotion does tend to stifle creativity.

That conversation set the theme for the session as the roundtable (Sara Diamond of OCAD, Tessa Sproule of Vubble, Ling Lin from YouTube Canada, Nathan Wiszniak of Spotify, Ashkan Karbasfrooshan of WatchMojo and Moyra Rodger of Magnify Digital) also spent a lot of time talking about the disintermediation of the content supply chain (to use marketing-speak). The new paradigm is apparently the content producer (either funded by brands or a self-funded YouTube creator) reaching the consumer directly.

However, there were no answers to the question of the day, which is how will consumers find the content that they want in this new universe?  It was clear that everyone is struggling with this problem but there were no new solutions presented (sorry but ‘transmedia’ and ‘gamification’ are not new ideas, particularly when the terms are misused).  I’ve been saying to anyone who will listen that I want a site or an app that will tell me where to find the programs that I want, whether they are on broadcast or iTunes or Shomi or CraveTV or Netflix.  I am tired of bingeing a show on one platform only to find myself a season behind and not know where to find the next season.  Apparently there’s a word for what I’m looking for – universal search.  We have all agreed that it is needed but no one has yet figured out how to do it.

I found it very odd that the CRTC would host a session that said that the future of content was going to bypass the broadcasters.  Based on the responses from Bell Media in the Q and A I think they were too.  They see themselves and their brand as a necessary filter or guide in the very crowded content universe and until I get my universal search app I think that’s going to be true.

We should hear details on the next stage in this process, the Discoverability Summit, in the coming weeks.  We’ve been promised a unique and international event.  Stay tuned.

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Kelly Lynne Ashton

Kelly Lynne has over twenty years of experience on the business side of Canadian film, television and digital media as an entertainment lawyer.She took a slight departure to produce children’s digital media. When it was time for something new, moved back to business affairs but now in film, television and digital media. More recently she discovered that all along her true calling was as a Canadian media policy wonk. Now she assists clients with research projects, policy and strategy development, government and government agency submissions and social media consulting.
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12 thoughts on “The Road to Discoverability”

  1. For me there is only one answer – word of mouth. In 2015, I don’t see ads really. I listen to podcasts (generally from public broadcasters), I watch Netflix, I PVR, I iTunes , I turn my adblocker off for sites I visit frequently but honestly I hardly notice the ads anyway. The only way I find out about new shows/movies is from sites like this one and from recommendations by people I talk to. Fortunately my Twitter and Facebook feeds are crowded with actors, directors, producers and writers so I get a lot of recommendations.

    Still there are about 25 shows on my list (yes I have an actual list) that I try to keep up with. The other problem – equally as large in my opinion – is quality. With so many options, shows have to be consistently excellent to stay on the list. They also have to be reasonable original and not formulaic or repetitive.

    1. For me it’s word of mouth and Netflix’s recommendation engine. From the content creator/broadcaster point of view I think seeding that positive word of mouth requires great content as well as great marketing (as in, some tipping point number of people or some major influencers have to know about a show to effectively spread the word ), and Canadian broadcasters tend to have not so much of the latter. It doesn’t sound like this event really got into solutions for either one though.

  2. Claude Joli-Coeur of NFB referred to the Hot Docs study on audience (http://www.hotdocs.ca/i/learning-from-documentary-audiences), which is the only audience study that I’m aware of. It’s interesting though it’s only for docs. It says that audiences learn about their docs from media (reviews, articles), word of mouth and a distant third, social media. Which is an argument for a more robust media criticism industry in Canada.

    And no, not much in the way of solutions. Maybe we’ll get that in May.

  3. With me, word of mouth or I’ll glance through everything when it’s time for a new crop of pilots be it fall or midseason. An ad alone isn’t enough to get me to check out something usually. I’m a big Orphan Black fan but didn’t even know it existed in its first season. How’d I catch on? Commenters going crazy over it on several of the sites I visit, not just the reviewers themselves, and luckily CTV itself was running the same ad about 50 times a day for the Season 1 repeats. (They really overdo it though, the same ad over and over again actually irritates the viewer and could turn them against seeing a show, Comedy Network is especially bad for this).

    Same thing happened this year with Mr. Robot. TVLIne, The AV Club, Entertainment Weekly, Hitflix, IGN etc. and their readers wouldn’t stop praising it. It took Showcase until the end of the US run to air here but it was great. They need to simulcast it next year for it to be worth anything for the though. A day late equals a dollar short in the new digital world. I don’t usually watch crime shows but everyone is talking about Fargo Season 2 so I might actually catch up when the season is over.

    In terms of Kelly’s point about binge watching and then being a season behind, part of this is the networks themselves. They usually don’t have the current season up for streaming until the next year, and only the last 5 or so episodes on demand. You finished The Flash Season 1? Too bad CTV only has episodes 6-8 online and even then you have to sign in with a cable provider if you want to see them.

    They are getting a bit better though. Syfy is premiering a show with a huge buzz and Canadian crew in the middle of December about a week before Christmas. That sounds like a way to kill a show, but they released the first episode online last month, and Space did it at the same time for Canadians with access to YouTube. I watched it because of word of mouth buzz and now fully plan to record both episodes on December 14th & 15th, and the 22nd.

    Will TV itself and the broadcasters completely die out? No. This abundance of choice and “golden age of TV” is because of consumer appetite. Can the telcoms act like consumers are restricted to them in the same way we often are for cell phones and internet? No. The broadcasters themselves aren’t who I look to guide me to stuff, other viewers are. They can try and filter shows between them but trying to limit viewers to only what they have when conversations about TV are happening globally is impossible especially as the internet generations get more buying power. They aren’t competing with just 2 or 3 Canadian rivals anymore, they’re competing with everyone.

    The Big Four US Networks have been in a ratings decline for years now. They’ve only officially canceled one show so far this year (Wicked City) and just let the other weak ones show what they have already made. They know launching a new show in a failed timeslot right away is pointless. Streaming has changed the game and both the US and Canadian broadcasters are going to scramble for a while before catching up.

  4. The point I was trying to make in that part of my keynote is that brands – which, through their advertising dollars, has been a major source of funding for content. Many are moving there dollars from mass channels to on line, or worse to simply fund pricing and in store initiatives – which doesn’t benefit the mass or new media networks, or the content creators.

    We need to bring them back into our marketplace and the only way is to ensure that the content we create for them engages on mass and new media platforms as well as in store.

    The primary point is that there is a Great Divide – much of our economy is under extreme pressure as we ‘race to zero’ without an airbag. We see the casualties in terms of restructuring, budgets being cut, and quality being sacrificed. This isn’t marketing it is more economics – too much supply – brands, channels, content, apps etc, and not enough demand.

    The answer first begins with producing exceptional content – genius and talent will always find an audience. Content that is based on human insights – to do more, be more, experience and feel more. We also though need to bring math into the creative world – and use data to navigate away from the sea of sameness. What audiences are we targeting, what are their current and unmet needs, where, when and how we should we serve them our content? When can we hope for new ways to ‘value’ our content by seeing what happens when the viewer absorbs it – do they watch all of it, post it, share it with commentary, does it motivate them to do a deeper dive, to create, connect or buy. Then we will be less dependent on ‘eyeballs’ and impressions and much more on immersion.

    I wish this was as simple as a ‘marketing challenge’. There is an unprecedented opportunity – media and tech will be a $2.2 trillion dollar industry by 2020 – but we no longer can count on the protection of our ‘boundaries’ or the hope that we will continue to have much of our content subsidized. It is survival of the fittest. It will take a collaborative effort.

    Does that make sense?

    Tony

    1. Thank you for bringing up the topic of data. I had left that out of my highlights not because it wasn’t important but because I wasn’t sure exactly how it relates to discoverability. I totally agree with you and see your point that data provides content creators (and those who pay for the content) with so much more information about what is working and not, and digital first creators are nimble enough to be able to respond quickly to that data. However, I do disagree on your point that genius and talent will always find an audience. I know of way too many brilliant Canadian shows that did not find an audience because they were not promoted and no one knew they were there (“Strange Empire”, “Michael Tuesdays and Thursdays”, “Intelligence” to name just three which all happen to be on the same broadcaster). So it still goes back to discoverability. When the brilliant content is created (with the help of data), how do we make sure audiences know it’s there?

      1. I think discoverability and data will become intertwined. The reason – promotion. As you mentioned, in a world of abundance – great content is going unnoticed. At least at a scale where it can be monetized and earn the right to produce more. One of your other readers talked about the importance of word of mouth and the algorithms being deployed by Netlix to guide us.

        Big Data will drive the recommendation economy. It will enable you to identify who are the key influencers for the content you want discovered, and how best to engage them. Some will want an exclusive teaser, content or interview, others a behind the scenes look, others a prize pack if they are going to talk about and share your content. Your data will show you what worked, and for what investment. We certainly trust people in our social network – 10X over conventional advertising and 4X over google search. We have to realize those with influence can also be influenced.

        Either way it will be a very challenging time for the old model of linear media, supported by advertising.

        1. There’s the connection that I was looking for – data to help the audience discover content, not just to help creators with their content or to help brands to sell more effectively to the audience. I know that to some extent it’s just perspective, but this is a ‘Discoverability Summit’ that we’re en route to so I was looking for a more direct link to Discoverability. Thank you.

          It sounds like a whole new industry will arise that can track and interpret that data for all of these purposes. Definitely interesting times ahead.

          1. Currently big data isn’t very good at recommendations either – when I signed up for Netflix I rated more than 500 shows, since then I’ve probably watched and rated 200 more and their algorithm still doesn’t seem to have any idea what kinds of things I like.

    2. “We need to bring them back into our marketplace and the only way is to ensure that the content we create for them engages on mass and new media platforms as well as in store.”

      For better or worse, I don’t think that this is going to happen. I think that advertising revenue will continue to dwindle. The Netflix model has shown itself to be successful, consumer friendly and profitable without advertising: In 2014 the company took in $9-13/month per household and spent $3 billion on original content while banking $300 million in profits, all without any advertising at all. It’s going to be difficult to get people, especially young people, to accept that its necessary for them to watch ads unless the content is free (even at that I think you’ll find that most would rather pay the $9/month than watch ads).

      1. As I talked about in my keynote – introduce streaming into a home and we quickly move from broadcast to binging. Convenient, uninterrupted, we can stay with the storyline. We also need to realize that shows like House of Cards have a ton of branded content within the show. I also pointed out (I believe in the Q&A) that Netflix has a content acquisition budget of almost $6 billion this year. If they choose to invest some of that bidding for the NFL rights and are successful – that will be a sledgehammer to conventional television that still attracts big audiences to sports, and events like the Grammy’s.

        We have seen a model with young people to accept advertising – freemium as a way of sampling content or a game before committing to it.

  5. The worry with big data is niche targeting. While you want to reach the niche audience identified by data, you don’t want to leave out receptive potential audiences outside of the niche. That does not mean rejecting big data but instead developing better algorithms.

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