Banff 2014: Top 10 takeaways

Banff 2014

Even when they are held in one of the world’s most beautiful places, four-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.”

But putting all that aside, it’s also an excellent way to get (a little) outside the Bell-Shaw-Rogers bubble and see what the rest of the world 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, 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 on both sides of the border, 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, Rogers Communications, said during the “Future of Television” panel on Monday. The sentiment was echoed by both head Corus 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 coproductions 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

Also the topic of a Noreen Halpern-led panel, 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

“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.” An example is Toronto-based Blue Ant Media, which, as co-CEO Raja Khanna explained, is building its media brands as an in-depth consumer experience. Citing the example of Cottage Life, which is a channel, magazine, event series and even a cottage rental service, he says the goal is to provide a rich brand experience that transcends medium. “It’s really hard to create that connection [with the consumer] on the internet – no matter how good it is,” he says of online-only content. “That’s why we’re creating magazines and doing all that other stuff.”

7. Silicon Valley comes to Canada

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, panellists 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.)

Bonus: This conversation will be continued this fall

When asked what’s keeping him up at night during the “future of TV” panel, Bell Media’s Phil King didn’t hesitate in naming this fall’s Let’s Talk TV hearings. “It remains to be seen, what we end up doing but what they are proposing is a little scary for some of the networks,” he said (in understatement). Stay tuned to revisit all of the above when the industry reconvenes this fall for the CRTC hearings on the future of television in Canada