Thursday, December 14, 2017

Getting schooled by Degrassi

We're now into 4 decades of Degrassi, the teen-oriented show that began its life as a staple on Canada's public broadcaster then moved on to PBS in the US and later to cable and specialty channels around the world and most recently to Netflix. Along the way Degrassi has picked up Emmy and Peabody awards, future famous stars such as Drake, and famous funs such as filmmaker Kevin Smith, he of Jay and Silent Bob, Mallrats, and Clerks fame.

But you don't need to spend the $8000 Kevin Smith mentioned above to dig into the Degrassi vault. Now, thanks to a new YouTube channel called Encore+, you can pair 21st century binge watching habits with the 20th century problems of the kids from Degrassi as full episodes of the show are available for on demand viewing on the channel, along with other Canadian favourites such as Mr. Dressup and DaVinci's Inquest and sundry documentaries

The first iteration of the Degrassi franchise was The Kids of Degrassi Street, which ran until 1986, followed by Degrassi Junior High, from 1987 to 1989, then it became Degrassi High from 1989 to 1991, Degrassi: The Next Generation from 2001 to 2015, and most recently Degrassi: Next Class which made its way to Netflix in 2016.

In parallel to Degrassi’s development across its five franchises has been the show’s migration from public broadcasting to cable channels and now to OTT. Degrassi creator Linda Schuyler spoke recently in Toronto about the show's evolution across time and tech platforms, and my story on the talk can be found here.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Twin Crises: Traditional Media and Digital Media

It turns out that crisis in the world of media is an equal opportunity employer. Organizations and people on both the digital side of the business and its analog ancestors are feeling the pain, though for different reasons. A recent talk given by by Postmedia columnist Andrew Coyne served as the impetus for this post, and I’ll share my notes from that talk in a bit. 

My old school handwritten notes from Andrew Coyne's recent talk
at Innis College, University of Toronto

Coyne draws a crucial link between the crisis in the media and the current crisis in the public and political spheres, where the left and the right couldn’t be further apart and the prospects for anything even resembling consensus or compromise are grim indeed.

But first some context for our look at the duelling crises in the mediascape. On the one hand we’ve got the race to the bottom of advertising-based digital business models, in which even the most high profile, highly trafficked sites such as BuzzFeed, Vice, and Mashable, are feeling the pain as they miss revenue targets, despite, in most cases, continuing growth in users and clicks.

On the other hand we’ve got the ongoing erosion of traditional media’s revenue stream, particularly with newspapers, as seen in the chart below.

Source: The Economist

Whether it’s in print, analog, or digital, much of the talk now is around the viability of advertising-business models as the way forward for a dramatically reconfigured media landscape. Now it’s abundance, not the scarcity of column inches or the broadcast dial that is the rule. And on top of that, those once considered amateurs or non-experts are able to command audience and in turn dollars.

So what’s next for the besieged components of the media and entertainment industries? We’ve all become so accustomed to the ‘free’ content, which comes in a few basic forms: ad-supported, freemium-supported, pirated, and non-monetized i.e. labor of personal interest/love. If I’ve missed any, let me know.

Some say, that despite the runaway success of Netflix, and on a global scale, that ad-supported OTT television may well be the future. There’s also a compelling argument being made for a move away from ad-supported publishing online.

A key culprit in the digital world is what Marc Pritchard, global head of marketing  for P&G, one of the world’s biggest advertisers, calls the fraudulent media supply chain, littered with fake clicks, bots, and content that just isn’t brand safe. “We had substantial waste in a fraudulent media supply chain", Pritchard has pointed out. "As little as 25% of the money spent in digital media actually made it to consumers. But digital is now a $200bn industry. We have to stop giving digital media a pass and insist it grow up.” 

Of course these are just the broadest of brush strokes to provide some context for the complex scenarios that have led to a media industry fighting a battle on several fronts, but the gist is pretty clear: The last 10 years or so have been devastating to legacy media, the houses of the digital giants are anything but clean, and things are far from settled in terms of business models.

And with that, my notes, in point form, from the recent talk given by journalist Andrew Coyne at the University of Toronto, entitled: Crisis in the Media: Causes, Consequences, and Cures

A brief history of the internet and news:
  •        The cost of distribution became almost zero
  •        The speed and updateability of electronic media
  •        Anyone could publish, whether blogger or legit media organization
  •        The rise of global news brands, such as Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal

On the upheaval that followed:
  • “We have ourselves to blame”, said Coyne. “A lot of our ills are self-inflicted. We made lousy websites, then lousy iPad apps. Craigslist then Facebook and Google got the ad dollars because they built a better mousetrap.”

On the price charged for newspapers:
  • “We never charged readers more than about 25% of the actual cost. Ads paid for the rest. And this made us vulnerable.”
  • William Thorsell of The Globe & Mail said: “We’re not in the business of selling you newspapers, we’re in the business of buying your time.”

On Fake News: A Red Herring?
  • “Fake news is a fact of life in the age of social media. It’s the demand for it, not the supply, that’s the problem. It’s the people seeking and/or finding/receiving information that confirms their own point of view. And it was always that way. What’s different now is it’s being amplified, and then weaponized.
  • “The cures for fake news may be worse than the disease…e.g. government oversight.  The last people I want deciding what’s ‘true’ is the government.” 

On Trust:
  • “The crisis of trust isn’t just in the news, it’s a crisis in knowledge. It’s an epistemic crisis. There’s a boiling resentment of the liberal, educated elite. This led to the rise of populism seen in the U.S….the politics of know-nothing-ism.”
  • “The contempt for media morphed into contempt for knowledge and expertise.”
  • “The internet played an important role in the growing partisanship/lack of consensus between the postmodernism of the radical left and the cynicism of the right.”
  • “There was never such a thing as a well-informed public.  Only some ever chose to be.”

On whether or not news is a public good:
  • “I found the Shattered Mirror report unnecessarily menacing.  I think you can now charge people for what they watch, listen to, and read, vs. the bundled model that aimed for the mushy middle. And not everybody is going to be able to make it in the pay model world, but government subsidies are not the answer.”
  • “I’m against government/public funding of news because it’s not 3 or 4 outlets now, but 3 or 4 thousand. Should the government be deciding who is and isn’t a journalist?”

On the fact that some people are doing journalists’ jobs for free, out of passion for subject matter

  • “We should have to justify our paycheques. If you’re going to be the New York Times writer on a topic then you’d better be damn good.”

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The post-broadcast, post-border world

Globalization -- the flow of goods, ideas, and people across international boundaries --  is nothing new. It’s been around for centuries, enabling the movement of everything from tea in cargo ships to cultural and social phenomena.

What is new is the expansion of these globalizing practices to the world of media production and distribution. In the music world the combination of globalization and the internet means pop hits from South Korea and Puerto Rico can freely cross national borders and become the most watched videos in the history of YouTube. In television it means that instead of thinking in terms of the infrastructure required for cable TV and fixed broadband, producers ought to consider new options for content delivery such as OTT and mobile.

To use my home country of Canada as an example, the impact of globalization on media seen in the form of homegrown YouTube personalities with massive global followings, such as Michael McCrudden of Before They Were Famous, Mitchell Moffitt and Gregory Brown of ASAP Science, and comic actress and musician Lilly Singh whose Superwoman channel now has over 2 billion views.

Another great example is The Indian Detective, slated for release on Netflix in mid December 2017. It's a co-production shot in India, South Africa, and Canada starring Russell Peters as a Toronto cop of Indian heritage who finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation while visiting his father in Mumbai.

Together the new delivery mechanisms for content as well as the new form factors and viewing preferences form the foundation of an entertainment industry that's dramatically different from the one largely defined by broadcasters, cable companies, and fixed television schedules.

To provide some perspectives on the various industry changes afoot the CMF commissioned me to write a White Paper entitled Adjust Your Thinking: The New Realities of Competing in a Global Media Market.

It's both a standalone document and a companion piece to the series of 7 Fact Sheets released by the CMF over the course of Fall 2017 which analyzed key geographic regions in the global media and entertainment industries.

Adjust Your Thinking: The New Realities of Competing in a Global Media Market was released this week at the Whistler Film Festival, and can be found here.  

Thursday, November 23, 2017

On the Other Side of The Great Firewall

This week sees the publication of the 7th in a series of 7 reports I penned on international media markets, and this one focuses on China. With its population of 1.4 billion China is, in many ways, a market unto itself. Yet what happens in China is increasingly affecting the rest of the world, despite the country’s protected media and tech markets. 

What do those markets look like?

While much of the world doesn’t go a day without using Facebook, Google, or Amazon, in China the ‘Big 3’ are Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. They operate on the other side of what is called The Great Firewall, the country’s censorship system that controls the inflows and outflows of information and services online.

China’s Big 3 tech companies serve close to a billion users with messaging apps, social networks, information and entertainment content, and eCommerce services.


When we think about anything to do with China it’s also important to also think about scale. 1.4 billion is really a lot of people. Consequently, most of the numbers we’re accustomed to conceiving of pale in comparison to those that come out of China. For example, China’s version of Black Friday, called Singles Day, makes the US’s look like a flea market. This year revenues from Singles Day were $25 billion in online sales for Alibaba, an increase of 40% from last year. Compare this figure with the juggernaut that is Amazon. There’s no question that Amazon is eCommerce royalty, but their annual sales in 2016 were $136 billion. Alibaba’s were $485 billion.

The country also now has as many mobile phone users as it has people, with Chinese manufacturers such as ZTE, Huawei, and Xiaomi able to mass produce smartphones using low cost local labour.


This revolution in low end, low cost smartphones is now being brought to the world of high tech hardware, with 200+ companies in China producing sophisticated handsets, headsets, and terminals for VR and AR, for use everywhere from medical facilities to museums, schools, and retail environments.

The full report on the media, tech, and entertainment industries in China can be found herewith sections also devoted to gaming, television, and documentary, one of the fastest growing industries in China's media sector.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Beyond Bollywood: The media and tech industries in India in 2017

It has one of the fastest growing economies on the planet and one of the world’s top tech hub ecosystems, despite internet penetration of just 35%.

It is also home to Bollywood, the massive national movie industry that outguns Hollywood with its thousand plus films produced per year...but not in revenue, as the video below explains.


We’re talking about India, a country of 1.5 billion people, and it’s the focus of the latest in a series of reports I penned on the media and tech industries in select international markets.

Some fast facts, and a couple of riddles about the current state of the media and technology industries in India:

· There are about 850 television channels, reaching about 500 million people

· Almost half of the country’s 700 million mobile phones are internet-enabled  

· Netflix doesn’t dominate in streaming video

· Amazon isn’t the leader in eCommerce

To learn more about the distinct media and tech markets of India -- and to find out the answers to the above riddles – you can read the full report here.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The State of the Media Industry in Mexico

As the chill sets in for the beginning of Winter 2017 the time couldn’t be better for some warm weather content, and here you go, in the form of a report I penned on the media, tech, and entertainment industries of Mexico that’s being released to coincide with this week’s Los Cabos International Film Festival.


Am I there? Nope. (Although I did once interview Sammy Hagar on location at his Cabo Wabo Cantina  so I’m not short on Cabo stories.) But back to the topic at hand.

When we think of media in Mexico we may think of shows like this...


Of course there’s a lot more to the Mexican industry, particularly in the wake of mobile technologies shaking up a media landscape once monopolized by single players enjoying as much as 2/3 of both the Pay TV and broadcast TV markets.

Mexico has traditionally been a country with low internet penetration, due largely to the weak infrastructure for fixed broadband. On top of that, broadband internet was, until governmental reform in 2013, only available to those who purchased a package that also included a landline, and the price point was well out of reach for most in the country.

But hope for greater connectivity came, as it has in many emerging markets, with the the widescale arrival of mobile. It offered a workaround to the costlier, often difficult to access fixed communication networks, and as of 2017 Mexico has 110 mobile users, which represents 90% mobile penetration. The popularity of mobile in Mexico is also relevant to the size of the country’s gaming market. It’s the largest in Latin American, valued at about $1.5 billion, and close to half of the revenues come from mobile gaming. Mexico also has one of the world’s highest rates of YouTube consumption, at 4 billion video views per month.

One thing we haven’t yet discussed about the media industry in Mexico is kind of the elephant in the room, so let’s do that now. Piracy. According to some estimates as many as 90% of DVDs sold in Mexico are pirated copies. Massive markets like Mexico City’s Tepito and Guadalajara’s San Juan de Dios have been key distribution points for counterfeit goods. Despite being in full public view officials turned a blind eye for decades, only occasionally bringing out the front-end loader as one way of dealing with the issue, as seen about a minute into this clip.


More recently, digital piracy has become a more urgent issue, though the arrival of a variety of ‘all you can eat’ streaming services for TV and movies has decreased the incidence of illegal downloading. Netflix has about 50% of the streaming market in Mexico, with competition coming from other American-owned services such as HBO Go and Amazon Prime as well as local providers Blim (owned by media conglomerate Televisa) and Claro Video, a division of telco America Movil.

For more on the state of the media industry of Mexico in 2017 click here for the full report.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Industry of YouTube: A 2017 Snapshot

Going back to the earliest days of this blog, now close to 5 years ago, I have been fascinated by the new opportunities for creators to go direct to fan, using what has become for most people everyday networked technologies. Instead of going the institutional route of music labels, book publishers, and movie studios, open platforms have been made available for the publishing and distribution of music, video, writing, and even the funding of projects, by people you may not even know. What this means is that there's more than one way to get from A to B, and more than one definition of success.

And what we've seen is thousands of micro-celebrities born on platforms such as YouTube, SoundCloud, Instagram, Wattpad, and Vine (remember Vine?) At the same time, the initial wide-eyed optimism for a brave new world of a disintermediated entertainment industry has been replaced for some with a jaundiced view of an internet ecosystem made up of a small handful of overlords calling the shots.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? Not exactly. There are those who have finessed the new system, often through trial and error, and built careers for themselves that otherwise could not have existed. And still others who have adapted to today’s world of content abundance vs. yesterday’s world of content scarcity, figuring out how to make money when most people want most things for free most of the time. You might think of these folks as 'Who-Tubers' (did I coin that?), celebrities of the small screen of no great consequence, but then the joke would be on you, because they're carving out a new version of a career path in the media and entertainment industries.

But how? As with much of what happens online, what often starts out as a crazy idea (e.g. strangers sleeping in your home when you're not there) can turn into a bona fide industry. And this is what has happened in the case of YouTube and the millions regularly uploading to the site, of which a small percentage become the media professionals of a parallel world.

To learn about the state of YouTubing, from the points of view of both creators and the advertisers that make the flow of money into their bank accounts possible, I headed to the 5th annual Buffer Festival, an international get together of the YouTube community held each fall in Toronto.

Another lanyard for the collection
A very organized industry event

I filed two stories from Buffer Festival 2017, and if you got this far into the post you may be interested in having a look at them:

Tube Life: How YouTube Creators Make a Living in an Increasingly Crowded Space

What Brands and Advertisers Have Learned from YouTubers

An assortment of YouTubers breaking it down at Buffer Festival 2017