At least itâ€™s not a Royal Commission?
Recently the Canadian Media Production Association posted to their blog an ask for advice and volunteers to help promote Canadian content:
At Prime Time in Ottawa a few weeks ago we provided an update to delegates about a National Promotional Strategy to raise awareness about the great on-screen content produced in Canada. While there are a number of initiatives underway, (creating a platform for access and discoverability, branding), the working group that I co-chair with Barb Williams from Shaw Media has a very specific mandateâ€” and that is to promote the success of Canadian TV, film and second screen content in terms of shows, its creators, talent and economic value. …
The first project involves using social media and online tools (and you as experts and audience) to build a buzz about success stories by reaching a critical mass of grassroots supporters. …
We simply want our initial ideas to be catalysts for grassroots movements and engagement in creating and promoting Canadian success stories.
The problem? Theyâ€™ve arrived at a tactic before determining the stakeholders or even a measurable goal. Never mind a critical mass of grassroots supporters â€“ have they talked to a grassroots supporter?
Iâ€™ve said it before:Â TV, eh?Â shouldnâ€™t exist. It ghettoizes Canadian TV. Iâ€™d be thrilled if a coordinated strategy could place Canadian shows on the same playing field as their American counterparts, so that the audience, the bloggers, the grassroots and mainstream media know about Cityâ€™s upcomingÂ Package DealÂ as much as NBCâ€™s failedÂ OfficeÂ spinoff, and I could retire and start a site of cat videos. This isnâ€™t that strategy. Itâ€™s not a strategy. Itâ€™s not even the start of a strategy. Itâ€™s the start of alienating people who should have been at the table before that post was written.
I donâ€™t just meanÂ TV, eh?Â I also meanÂ First Weekend Club,Â The Shorts Report,Â Limited Release,Â The TV Addict,Â Mikeâ€™s Bloggity Blog,Â Press Plus 1, etc. â€“ sites either dedicated to various forms of Canadian content or that include Canadian content in their coverage. The CMPA post lists industry groups as stakeholders, but no sites that have a direct connection to the audience they want to reach.
Iâ€™ve been promoting Canadian television success stories for seven years and they didnâ€™t think to ask me who the audience for my site is, what efforts Iâ€™ve made that have succeeded or failed, what similar sites I know of (or even bother to look at my blogroll), or what I see as barriers to audience engagement. I know that TV, eh? was name-checked at Prime Time (â€œpretty goodâ€) and they reached out to me after the post was published so ignorance of the site wasnâ€™t an issue. This was a deliberate top-down approach. They made decisions about a grassroots effort without wanting to get any icky grass on their shoes.
Canadian television doesn’t have a shortage of success stories. It has a shortage of credibility.
The CMPA thinks it has to tell individuals to feel free to promote themselves without permission? Twitter — and my inbox — are overflowing with actors, writers, directors, producers, and public relations professionals promoting their latest series, and with industry organizations pumping out information about how amazing their latest project is. Who are these people that they arenâ€™t inundated with everyone from their favourite TV star to their mother trying to push themselves as a â€œbrandâ€? Can we trade places?
Gosh, you mean the people with a vested interest in the success of a show or the industry as a whole are telling me itâ€™s good? Let me set the DVR.
Promotion isnâ€™t engagement.Â One of the sites I mentioned above resorted to buying fake twitter followers â€“ thatâ€™s how difficult it is to build a large audience when catering to a Canadian audience. And thatâ€™s how poorly the concept of engagement is often understood.
The suggestion is to get more industry people sharing success stories. And … then what? If you build it, they will not come. The average audience member isn’t following industry associations on social media, and has little incentive to seek out that kind of information. It’s a closed loop unless the media or one of these grassroots sites or a connected individual picks it up.
Where do success stories come from, the CMPA asks? In great part, they come from all of these sites and people already interviewing, reviewing, passing on information and building community who have no ties to the industry other than an interest or passion, wanting to share with other fans. Â Engagement comes from contributing to conversations. It doesn’t come from sharing success stories.
Plus, a success story to the industry is not the same as a success story to the audience. Media releases from networks and industry associations often focus on the arcane â€“ ridiculous parsing of ratings, foreign sales without context â€“ that have little interest for any but the most jingoistic of audience members. And the CMPA post includes many of those examples that will cause the audience to tune out or, more likely, never tune in at all.
What’s my measure of success, as a member of the audience? Do I like the show.Â And I’ll only get to find out if I know about the show.Â Absolutely we should share successes, but more importantly we need to foster discussion, Â positive or negative, about the shows.
To be fair, the CMPA is asking for advice, and theyâ€™re probably sorry they ever asked me to spread the word about that post. This is their invitation for the grassroots to speak up. Â But the initial ask is dismissive to those of us who have been doing this work for years without waiting for a coordinating body, and without a vested interest in the success or failure of the Canadian industry.
Because of the way this idea has been launched, it feels like another attempt by industry types to create another bubble where whatâ€™s meaningful to them should be meaningful to the audience. Because of the way itâ€™s launched, theyâ€™ve demonstrated an aptitude for alienating those they are hoping to engage.