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OTT and digital trends topline Banff fest

Our list of Top 10 takeaways from Banff World Media Festival, where media execs discussed how they grapple with the traditional-digital divide.
June 16, 2014

Even when they are held in one of the world’s most beautiful places, 4-day media conferences can be enough to tire anyone on made-up words (“eventizing”), references to Netflix and Orange is the New Black and — sorry creatives — the phrase “content is king.”

No one was really saying it to the media directly at the time, but one gets the impression that Netflix’s presence at the LA Screenings in May wreaked more than a bit of havoc on buyer’s budgets.

But putting all that aside, it’s also an excellent way to see what the production community is making of this disruptive transition from traditional to digital media. Based on hours and hours of immersion in a darkened ballroom filled with media luminaries at the annual Banff World Media Festival in Alberta, here are 10 of the hottest trends shaping the TV landscape right now.

1. Personalization and customization:

Lionsgate‘s Kevin Beggs kicked off his keynote by declaring that personalization and customization would be the driving forces shaping the industry in the years ahead, as pick-and-pay discussions heat up, consumers become more accustomed to being their own programmers, and YouTube reshapes the idea of niche content: “It will be a major shift of wealth and income and revenue from the big players that we know today into niche players. It will be easy to get whatever you want. We won’t watch much live, and you’ll pay for the things you really care about and not for the things you don’t care so much for,” he said.

2. The kids are alright – but reaching them isn’t

“We’re desperately looking for ways to make our products relevant for 15- to 25- year-olds. That’s the litmus test. That’s the most-scary area,” David Purdy, SVP content at Canadian media giant Rogers Communications, said during the “Future of Television” panel on Monday. The sentiment was echoed by other Canada-based execs including head Corus Entertainment programmer Jocelyn Hamilton (who listed “getting the attention of kids” as the number-one programming challenge facing Corus right now) and Bell Media’s Catherine MacLeod: “One of the lessons I’ve learned is that their concept of television is not sitting at home on the sofa and watching TV. It’s just video – TV is everywhere.”

3. Rise of the tentpole

No one was really saying it to the media directly at the time, but one gets the impression that Netflix’s presence at the LA Screenings in May wreaked more than a bit of havoc on buyer’s budgets. Yes, content is king, but increasingly, good, expensive, high-concept programming, both factual and dramatic, is almighty. This is already having a huge impact on broadcaster commissioning and acquisitions as well as production models, with co-productions increasingly necessary to share risk, but the accompanying red tape is causing trepidation as well. (See also #10)

4. Short-run programming and expedited production models

Noreen-Halpern1Also the topic of a panel led by veteran TV exec Noreen Halpern (pictured left), short-run programming is hot, hot, hot right now. “The one comment I kept hearing (at the LA Screenings) was ‘Isn’t it great that it’s 10 and out?'” said Bell Media’s Catherine MacLeod. With the benefits of reducing broadcaster risk and spend, while dovetailing with viewer trends and expectations, short-run seasons are leading the trend of “cable coming to conventional,” as MacLeod pointed out. This need for speed and efficiency is being reflected on the production side as well, with one broadcaster reflecting that they have no time for long development cycles anymore.

5. Never not new

According to Lionsgate’s Kevin Beggs, the mini-studio can no longer keep up with the demand for content and is pitching on a feverish basis all the time. Others reflected on how viewer tolerance for re-runs (once a driver of fanbase development) is almost gone.

6. “Eventizing” and new business models

Copied from Media in Canada - RajaKhanna“Entertainment has up until now been a B2B business,” noted OTT panel moderator Mary Ann Halford, managing director, FTI Consulting. “Now, the world is changing from a few buyers to a direct-to-consumer business.” See here Toronto-based Blue Ant Media. As co-CEO Raja Khanna (pictured right) explained, building media brands as an in-depth consumer experience is a primary focus for Blue Ant, citing the example of Cottage Life: a channel, magazine, event series and cottage rental service. “It’s really hard to create that connection (with the consumer) on the internet – no matter how good it is. That’s why we’re creating magazines and doing all that other stuff.”

7. A growing Silicon Valley influence

Whereas a good gut instinct and excellent salesmanship used to be key drivers of success in the TV business, a new skill set is being demanded of traditional media companies: UX, coding and development. Citing the success of Amazon and Hulu’s user experience, Yahoo Canada’s Claude Galipeau said traditional media companies have a lot of work to do if they’re going to catch up: “I think this is one of the challenges for the BDUs– they are not experts in software, they are not set up for doing software. That’s a soft underbelly to the system.”

8. Fan power

Over and over again, panelists spoke to the power of creating fan bases for content and creating content for fan bases: with so much media to choose from, brands matter more than ever. “The biggest audiences aren’t necessarily the most engaged ones. This is a picture of the world we are facing into and we have to embrace rather than fear,” said former ad exec Farah Ramzan Golant, now CEO of U.K. “super indie” All3Media. “People pay for brands they love – people pay more for brands they love because they reflect the values they live,” she added later.

9. TV is not dead. Or is it? Who knows.

“I think the streaming players like Netflix, Hulu, Yahoo getting into the business – that is the current game-changer (and) that will redefine the place of television. In two years, everything will be completely different,” said Lionsgate’s Kevin Beggs. Taking a softer stance, All3Media’s Golant said she thinks old and new will merge: I feel it will be a blend rather than just winners and losers,” she said. But it was Corus’s Doug Murphy who really nailed it: “I think we as a business need to look at the consumer experience that Netflix offers and answer that. Because if we can’t answer that, we are fundamentally not pleasing our audiences. At the end of the day, all we care about is audience growth.”

10. The rise of creative(s)

Nothing is more powerful than a good idea and that is especially true in television today. Over and over, executives said content was king and that good stories will get audiences regardless of how, where and when they are offered. Whether or not that is true — let’s be honest: great stories often don’t find audiences — but in this current moment in time, there is tremendous power in the hands of the business’s creative side. (See also the rising profile of the celebrity showrunner.)

From Playback Daily

About The Author
Katie Bailey is the editor and content director at Stream sister publication, Playback, Canada's film and TV industry journal. She can be found on Twitter at @katie_bailey. Playback is a Brunico Communications publication, which includes the brands Media in Canada, Stream Daily, Realscreen, Kidscreen and Strategy.

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