Digital co-productions being encouraged in Canada

Producers are urged via a new industry guide to collaborate with foreign partners on interactive digital media content.
September 26, 2014

Backed by generous subsidies at home, Canadian interactive digital media producers for some time remained a city apart from foreign counterparts and markets.

Now their funders have produced a road map for new media producers to follow traditional film and TV counterparts and embrace the risks and rewards of  so-called “glocal” digital co-productions with foreign partners, or deals that work with audiences at home or abroad.

“Broadcasters in some jurisdictions, France and Germany in particular, are prioritizing digital media and looking to Canadians to fill a skills gap.”

This week, the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC), the Canada Media Fund and the Bell Fund unveiled the industry blueprint, International Digital Media Coproduction: A Guide for Canadian Companies.

The goal is to encourage digital media co-productions where foreign producers can work with Canadians in the international arena to ensure market success in Canada and abroad.

The guide discusses getting through a maze of obstacles to, for example, closing financing gaps; taking on larger-scale projects; and tapping new audiences, especially in Australia, France, Germany, the U.K. and New Zealand.

The message is also that digital content in an increasingly interdependent world market no longer needs to have one language or country of origin, but can thrive if aimed at international, cross-platform markets.

An example is found with documentaries, which Canadian producers are increasingly hard-pressed to finance at home as broadcasters opt for less-risky lifestyle and reality TV fare.

So Canadian documentary producers are following the money to international markets and interactive platforms. “Canadian producers report that foreign broadcasters, particularly in Europe, are still very interested in documentary programming and seem to be much more interested than Canadian broadcasters in commissioning innovative cross-platform documentaries,” the guide stated.

Producers are not just being opportunistic. The TV component of the cross-platform documentary can be carved off in a foreign market to tap domestic financing under the treaty coproduction framework for traditional media.

Conversely, generous funding for convergent or cross-platform projects can then come forward from the Canadian side to produce the standalone digital media.

And there are creative skills in Canada available to foreign partners.

“Producers report that broadcasters in some jurisdictions, France and Germany in particular, are prioritizing digital media and looking to Canadians to fill a skills gap as there are fewer experienced cross-platform and digital media producers in Europe,” the report said.

The upshot is producers that collaborate across borders for bigger audiences can be rewarded as they leap from one precipice to another.

“The large guaranteed audience can also be leveraged for further distribution or format deals, as the ratings or traffic patterns from the larger audience are greater evidence of audience success,” the guide stated.

To be sure, digital co-productions pose challenges as Canadian producers attempt to read the mood of a wider world market.

That means taking the extra time and cost to structure and negotiate deals with foreign partners, only to share producer fees and revenues down the line.

And foreign markets have different audiences and needs.

“That need for a shared sensibility often limits the kind of project that can be a co-production,” the guide stated.

The bottom line, however, is the very lack of a treaty framework for digital co-productions has allowed Canadian producers to innovate to establish relationships with foreign producers and broadcasters.

“Some producers would trade this creativity for a solid treaty framework that would allow them simplified business arrangements with non-Canadian producers so that the projects can access domestic funding in both countries but others intend to develop their international relationships regardless,” the guide stated.

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