The discoverability dilemma. We need a new playbook.

With the CRTC/NFB Discoverability Summit playing out in Toronto,  I am reprising a couple of points raised in my March 2015 article for Playback. Namely that early stage audience and market research is an essential part of the equation if creators are to connect their content with audiences.  Equally, that the key players in the game need a new playbook. Funders, broadcasters, producers, and distributors need to imagine new ways of working together – sharing data, leveraging social tools and paid tactics – to build audiences and make content discoverable, both in and outside of Canada. 

It seems to me the Summit is an earnest attempt to set the stage for the writing of these new rules.  Fingers crossed that the momentum sustains.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please reply here or email me

Best, Moyra

Excerpts from March 2015 article in Playback

Leaders inside major Canadian funding organizations have worked hard to innovate within frameworks and policies left over from another era. The CMF Experimental Fund and The Bell Fund’s TV Development Online Program are evidence of those efforts. However, despite best intentions, these organizations have struggled to find ways to support early stage marketing and audience development particularly with “convergent” projects.

Funding applications require producers to generate marketing strategies before there is money for research. It means online marketing tactics are conjured up with little or no analysis of target audiences, competitor content, online advertising opportunities, best practices, etc. Dollars to outsource marketing expertise at this stage are rarely available. Producers, already stretched by the ideation/pitching/funding application process, are left to double down as digital marketers.

It is understandable, even commendable, that funders want to know how proposed projects are going to be exploited and made discoverable. Trouble is, the requirement is predicated on an unreasonable assumption – that content creators can simply whip up hit-making promotional plans.

Marketing content online looks easy because channels for reaching audiences are now ubiquitous. Television production looks easy, too, but how many user-generated Downton Abbeys or Rookie Blues do you see on YouTube?

We need to find ways for market research and meaningful, measurable audience engagement strategies to be baked into the early stages of production. Discoverability starts here.

Audiences without borders

When broadcasters license a show or series, they also acquire the rights to promote the content online. This is not unreasonable. Broadcasters invest heavily in original content and they need the ability to build viewership. However, the domestic deal can preclude producers from initiating their own audience building activities.

Often, there is tremendous opportunity to generate buzz and two-way conversation with online audiences early in production. Seeding content, testing story ideas, identifying key influencers and tracking user feedback can lead to deeply engaged audiences down the road. The parameters of the broadcast licence or the short time frame typically devoted to audience building, may prevent production teams from seizing these opportunities. As many online tools transcend geographical borders, restrictions on domestic exploitation simultaneously thwart efforts to stimulate foreign interest.

Further, Canadian broadcasters often insist a show’s website and related interactive components reside within the network hub. Positioning content on a high traffic broadcaster site offers obvious marketing advantages. It can also present limitations for producers trying to build and sustain broader audiences.

Show web pages or micro-sites that exist within a broadcaster domain often become dormant or may be deleted altogether when the broadcast licence expires. At that time, producers may need to create a new website to support international and online sales of their content. Scenarios arise that may not have been contemplated in the original broadcast agreement. For example, what happens to the content on the broadcaster-controlled show site? Who owns it? May it be repurposed? Are producers able to access audience tracking data? What happens to the online community that may have gathered around the content?

Before anyone calls foul, I enthusiastically acknowledge there have been successes, especially in specialty, where broadcasters have created sometimes complex interactive elements on show-specific websites that link from the main network hub but reside on a separate domain. We recently worked on the CMT series Tornado Hunters with Saloon Media, which contacted us early in the project to conduct an extensive online assessment. Those findings informed both the show content and a comprehensive online strategy that was developed early and collaboratively. [Editor’s note: to read more about Tornado Hunters’ web-to-TV strategy, click here.) The webisodes and broadcast pilot attracted significant audiences interest in and outside Canada and Corus recently greenlit production on the series.

Other producers are investing time, energy and resources in driving discoverability and audience engagement, too, experimenting with tools to deliver imaginative content online and diligently tracking success. Some are struggling with a spray-and-pray approach, distributing “push” messaging across social channels, forgetting that social media is a tool not a strategy. Still other producers, broadcasters, and distributors seem to wish the responsibility of connecting directly with audiences would just go away. …

I believe there are ways for broadcasters to maintain the control they need to market original content while allowing creators to cultivate international exposure. I am convinced the funding application process can be tweaked such that adjudicators are able to evaluate a project’s commercial viability without forcing producers to pull audience engagement strategies out of thin air. And, there is no doubt in my mind that with time and resources, Canada’s producers can engage vast audiences around their outstanding content.

If, as an industry, we work together, we can create seismic change. When the ground stops shaking, Canadian content will indeed be discovered, and continue to be celebrated, the world over.

Moyra Rodger is the founder and CEO of Vancouver-based Magnify Digital, a boutique online strategy agency. In addition to her work as a consultant, speaker and business mentor, she is also a producer and previously produced television series under the prodco Out To See Entertainment.