Like producers in many countries outside of the U.S., Canadian indies are looking to get a foot in the digital-first door.
While glossy dramas were once only the domain of traditional TV, the emergence of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu means consumers can now stream digital-first dramas like Orange is the New Black, House of Cards and Mozart in the Jungle right from their laptops or devices.
Right now, original production for OTT is a field the U.S. has a distinct edge in: Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have the buying power for product from indie producers, while Canadian upstarts like CraveTV and Shomi are only now racing to catch up.
So how should Canadian indie producers dive into this new digital-first-series world?
Slowly and deliberately, a white paper from the Canadian Media Production Association entitled Content Everywhere 2 argues ahead of the Canadian industry’s Prime Time media conference in Ottawa this week.
For a start, Canadian producers are disadvantaged in this new digital-first series business.
Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are based in the U.S., CraveTV and Shomi are only getting off the ground and Canadian TV’s funding system is more set up for traditional TV than digital-first content. Other digital-first content players include AOL, Google/YouTube, Microsoft and Yahoo, with middle-ranking players like BuzzFeed, Conde Nast Entertainment, Crackle, Discovery Digital Networks and Fullscreen also in the mix.
“Canadian producers, to the extent they can get their digital-first series made, will have to pitch against U.K. and American producers for those slots on those big platforms,” said Catherine Tait, author of the white paper and founding partner of Toronto- and New York-based prodco Duopoly.
“That’s going to be tough, just as tough as it’s always been. Because we don’t have an equivalent Netflix and Amazon, and there’s not an [out]pouring of subsidies,” she added.
The big U.S.-based OTT platforms are also difficult to get in front of for meetings. Canadian producers only need to reach programming heads at broadcasters like the Shaw Media, which does one or two digital-first projects a year, Bell Media, which launched CTV Extend, and Blue Ant Media, which invested in the U.S. MCN Omnia.
And Vice Media is very much open for business now with digital cross-platform studios being built in Toronto and Montreal ready to tap homegrown subsidies.
But Netflix, which offers a range of genre content, can only be pitched via agents and lawyers, and Amazon Studios covets “proven talent” to produce its content, the white paper found.
Other players, like Starz Digital and Dailymotion, want producers to bring sizeable and sustaining audiences to the table when they pitch ideas.
Hence the proliferation of YouTube stars getting TV deals these days.
“Producers have to, in order to compete in the digital arena, find properties [and] identify talent that are already engaged in audience interaction in some way. So for the gem or creative property that doesn’t have a digital footprint, it’s much harder to tell those stories,” Tait said
Some Canadian players like Lionsgate, which produces Orange is the New Black for Netflix, and Sinking Ship Entertainment getting Annedroids on Amazon Prime (pictured) have penetrated the foreign market with digital-first content.
Tait advises other Canadian producers to go beyond the Canadian market with global stories for worldwide consumption.
But she’s not saying where they should set up overseas, though Tait being based in part in New York City provides a clue.
“I wouldn’t be as prescriptive as that. The new marketplace for content is a global marketplace. It’s not enough to just address the domestic audience. They (producers) have to address global audiences,” Tait said.
From Playback Daily / Image courtesy of Shutterstock