Tips From Canadian TV and Digital Producers

Six tips from some of Canada’s most successful TV and digital content exporters.

Prior to the arrival of OTT and the multi-platform media world, creating programming primarily for one’s national market was the way-to-go model for many producers. Today, however, the borders that once defined broadcasters’ and producers’ playing fields are disappearing. And so those in the media industry face a new reality, as relying exclusively on revenue generated from the Canadian market is going to be an increasingly difficult path to stay on.

The way things worked in the past may not be the way they work in the future. While not everyone is a fan of change, there are a number of forward-thinking Canadian producers who are embracing the array of new opportunities with relish.

For example, Nelvana recently announced a new co-venture with Discovery Kids Latin America to develop and distribute linear and digital content around the world, including the intellectual property (IP) rights for brands and merchandise.

On the African continent, Vice has partnered with telco and pay TV operator Econet to continue to expand its production base for millennial-focused content distributed in 45 African countries. It also plans to launch local production studios in Johannesburg, Nairobi, and Lagos.

Given the new awareness of the importance of creating programming not just for Canada but the entire world, the OMDC recently hosted a session in Toronto titled “Going Global” as part of its Digital Dialogue Breakfast Series. You can listen to the full audio from this event here.

Maria Armstrong, the producer of hit show Love It or List It, and Anne Loi of DHX Media, two of Canada’s most successful exporters of television and digital content, were invited to give a firsthand view from the global media trenches.

1. Create a show everyone can relate to

Maria Armstrong of Big Coat Media, producer of the real-estate fix and/or flip show Love It or List It, told the audience that having an international franchise was never part of her master plan. It just happened organically, and the home design show that debuted in 2008 is seen in 149 territories worldwide.

Armstrong believes that one of the keys to the show’s global success is that, regardless of country, people recognize themselves in the show. Indeed, everyone can relate to the delays, budget overruns and conflicts with contractors that come with of any renovation and resale project.

2. Focus on children’s content

Anne Loi of DHX Media, home to children and family media brands such as Inspector Gadget, Degrassi, Teletubbies, Caillou and Peanuts, noted that the younger the content audience is, the easier it is for DHX to find an international partner for it. “It gets harder with teen and tween content,” said Loi, “because it has a shorter shelf life.”

3. Create platform-agnostic content

Loi also mentioned that being platform agnostic, i.e., not producing for any single technology or media platform in particular, opens up more doors for DHX. And, in contrast to Armstrong’s experience with Love It or List It, Loi revealed that for DHX, the strategy has always been to develop content for a global audience. “We never thought make it for Canada first and then worry about the rest of the world.”

4. Hold on to IP

But when you do present media property to the world, some tough decisions need to be made. Armstrong said that, in the case of Love It or List It, the biggest challenge when negotiating with a U.S. broadcaster was holding on to the IP rights. “It was a gamble,” she admitted. “But we walked away. Holding on to IP is getting more and more difficult, but for us it was essential.”

5. Manage cultural differences

Issues of format flexibility can also arise when dealing with global markets, as cultural differences and sensibilities can come into play. “We have a lot of control over the format,” said Armstrong when describing a situation in which the U.K. licensee proposed changes to the Love It or List It format.

“The pacing was slower, the editing style was different and the way the realtor showed the house was different,” she pointed out. But, ultimately, an arrangement was made that satisfied the licensee and kept the new version of the show on brand.

6. Aim for a basket of rights

And what about the business impacts of handing over global programming rights to OTT platforms such as Netflix?

Armstrong said that, in her experience, OTT buyers seek to obtain global rights for a fixed number of years, after which producers have the leeway to make new sales.

DHX’s Loi pointed out that such a situation is exactly why you don’t want to sell the global rights of all of your shows to an OTT platform for a fixed term. “You want a basket of rights. That gives you greater flexibility.”

The full audio from the October 2017 OMDC Digital Dialogue Event, including recommendations for market and festival attendance and tips on accessing international markets, can be found here.

To learn more about opportunities for Canadian producers in international markets, refer to the CMF’s 2017 series of fact sheets titled “Your Market Is Everywhere.” They examine China, India, South Korea, South Africa, Mexico as well as selected countries in Africa and South America and can be found here.

Leora Kornfeld
So far in life, Leora has been a record store clerk, a CBC radio host, a Harvard Business School case writer, a blogger and a crossword puzzle clue. Currently she’s a media and technology consultant, working with clients in the US and Canada.
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