Time to get innovative – Playback Summer 2017

Interim editor Megan Haynes crunches the Indie List numbers and urges producers to spark their marketing creativity.
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I am not a mathematician (though I know a surprising number of them). But I love numbers.

And while going through this year’s Indie List, I saw some interesting digits. Diving into scripted drama (where most of the money is being spent), it’s interesting to see that while there has been a consistent decline in Canadian producers working on dramatic shows since 2013, the average spend in the category has increased each year since we started tracking the Indie List. In 2013, producers spent roughly $368 million in the category (that’s just series and doesn’t include miniseries and MOWs). Today, it topped out at $1.1 billion – more than triple growth in four short years.

(Now, this isn’t a totally scientific approach: we rely heavily on the industry’s annual participation and honesty, but also on my sometimes questionable math skills.)

That obviously doesn’t mean the money is going into producers’ pockets. “Golden age of TV” quality content means more money has to be spent on screen just so producers can compete. Coupled with decreased licensing fees and less programming shelf space, it’s probably no surprise then that producers believe opportunities are worse than ever. In fact, almost 40% of respondents this year think things are bleak in Canadian production – compared to 21% in 2016.

Predictably, broadcaster consolidation, a lack of inventory, government regulatory uncertainty and an increasingly borderless world (while also a positive) resulting in increased competition are all common laments from the production community.

What I found interesting, however, is how few people have turned their attention to advertising and marketing. Only 5% of respondents to this year’s survey said marcom presents an opportunity for growth in the year ahead.

But again, perhaps it’s not that surprising that producers aren’t turning their attention to marcom. It’s not your background, and getting the “word out” can feel daunting. If you’re on the TV side, traditionally the broadcasters have handled things, while indie film marketing budgets are pennies (nickels?) compared to big Hollywood blockbusters (case: Marvel and PepsiCo’s partnership that literally put a music player in a bag of Doritos). Attempting to grab a slice of attention away from big global networks and studio fare can feel pointless when the deck is stacked against you.

I was disappointed, however, to see a mid-budget movie this past winter fail to capitalize on a premiere opportunity. I won’t shame the production company, but let’s just say the film took place in a unique venue…and nowhere in its release schedule did they set up a showing at that venue. It felt like a huge missed opportunity.

So to spark your marketing creativity, we enlisted some people whose job it is to be creative and within budget: an ad and a PR exec were given the modest budget for Ingrid Veninger’s upcoming films (Porcupine Lake and A Permanent Process: The Other Side of Porcupine Lake) and asked to come up with a rough plan to get the word out and help the films achieve their sales goals.

The ideas aren’t meant to be prescriptive of how the films should market themselves. But they’re different. It’s more than just a press release, a trailer and strategically placed movie posters. Both our participants suggested building a brand around the movies, and marketing the brand – rather than marketing the films themselves.

I know marketing won’t solve everyone’s woes. But, with so many things out of producers’ control – those broadcast, regulatory, competitive landscape uncertainties – it feels like there are a diminished number of things you actually can manage yourselves. The quality of content will always be a driving factor in your success, but you can also control how well you let others know about it. (Outgoing CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais agrees with me. Check out our exit interview with him.)

And I know some producers are already taking that message to heart: SEVEN24 has revamped its development process to put building a social community at the start of the cycle in the hopes of mimicking the success it saw with Wynonna Earp (pg 24). But I think you can get even more creative.

I know you have it in you: Canadian producers regularly come up with original and fascinating ideas – unique films and TV shows that easily (and often) traverse the world. But now, it’s time to turn at least some of those talents to getting people to tune in.

Links to content will be posted here as they are added to the site.

  • Let’s Talk JP: Playback caught up with Jean-Pierre Blais to talk big decisions during his five-year term as chair of the CRTC and how he envisions the future of TV. Read more here.
  • Hacking Porcupine Lake’s marketing campaign: For those who think a knock-out marketing campaign isn’t possible on an indie-filmmaker’s budget, we challenged two agency execs to prove it’s doable. Read more here.
  • 2017 Indie List: The year in review – Through the ebbs and flows of another (typically) unpredictable year in the world of Canadian content production, Playback gives you an inside look at who’s spending what and where. Read more here.
  • Muse spies unscripted growth: With a focus on MOWs, factual and producing for the international marketplace, the Montreal prodco climbed the ranks last year. Read more here.
  • Seven24 streamlines into sci-fi: the Calgary prodco has dropped genres outside of its core lines of business as it looks to build on the breakout success of Wynonna Earp. Read more here.
  • Peacock Alley invests in packaging:  The Toronto prodco behind Travelers made the list for the first time with a focus on scripted and finding the right partners. Read more here.
  • Breakthrough delves into SVOD: With its niche focus on horror films and family fare, the Toronto prodco aims to help fill the OTT pipeline. Read more here.
  • Eugene Levy joins Playback‘s Hall of Fame: The iconic actor and comedian helped put Canadian comedy on the map. Read more here.
  • What’s trending in…Books:
    • Scholastic Canada’s Maral Maclagan on trends in the publishing industry. Read more here.
    • Are mermaids the new zombies? Wattpad’s real-time analytics show “smart horror,” diverse characters, Canadian writers and murderous mermaids are the hot properties going into summer. Read more here.
    • What’s steaming up the romance genre: Harlequin execs weigh in on the evolution of thrillers, the surging popularity of women’s fiction and the power of unique voices. Read more here.
    • Expanding book-based IP for multi-season TV: House of Anansi’s Barbara Howson on how the optioning game has shifted toward TV in the age of Netflix and what that means when expanding IP for the small screen. Read more here.
  • What’s driving the MOW craze?: Production of TV movies and specials skyrocketed in 2016, with audiences – and broadcasters – looking for family friendly, uncomplicated fare. Read more here.