Canadian Broadcaster Looking for Next YouTube Stars

Submitted by Robert Alstead on Thu, 10/01/2015 - 22:03

The seismic shifts that the internet is bringing about in the entertainment and media industry continued to concentrate minds on the second day of VIFF Industry.

The themes that speakers came back to were familiar ones: the old guard is rapidly slipping away. Business models are by necessity being re-invented. New stars are rising. Audiences fragmenting and exploding. For those nimble enough, opportunities abound. For producers and media companies trying to follow the traditional path, it will only get tougher.

The first of two “VIFF Exchange” days was a mix of tête a têtes between producers and executives, with the forums focusing more on the business of content creation, financing, and distribution.

The various networks and platforms took their opportunity to make their pitch to producers and creators to partner with them. First up, was Ling Lin, Head of Content Partnerships in Canada at YouTube who gave us a brief history of the online video platform’s staggering growth over the last 10 years. Citing a recent talent survey of teen influencers by trade magazine Variety, she showed 8 of the top 10 slots were YouTubers. It’s quite likely, if you are over a certain age (like many in the audience were), that you will not have even have heard of many of these online stars. Many have been practically out-of-sight of the mainstream media channels. But that is already changing.

With a billion users globally YouTube has a massive reach and the potential for stratospheric results. Lin, by way of example, mentioned Gangnam Style, the most popular video online ever. According to YouTube’s proprietary stats it surpassed a billion views when it came out in 2012 and at the time of writing has had nearly two and a half billion views to date - it broke Google’s views counter.

YouTube has sucked into its orbit many big content creators - Lin cited Disney and FreemantleMedia who have highly active YouTube channels - further blurring the boundaries of television, film, and online media.

Multi Channel Networks (MCNs), the service companies that bundle YouTube creators together, have also grown in size and reach. In return for a cut of the advertising revenue (20-30%) these digital agencies typically promise to expand the audience and advertising revenue of their partnering creators. They also promise access to production resources and sponsorship opportunities.

CBC | Fullscreen Creator Network.

One of the new players in the MCN sphere, is Canada’s own public broadcaster, the CBC. Just a couple of weeks ago the CBC announced that it was partnering with MCN FullScreen to create CBC | Fullscreen Creator Network. Through the partnership CBC will support the 2,000 of Fullscreen’s 70,000 creators who are Canadian.

Richard Kanee, Head of Digital at the CBC, and Damon Berger VP of Business Development at Fullscreen introduced the new multi-year partnership in a VIFF Industry side session. Kanee said that the partnership was a “tweak on the gatekeeper role” that the CBC has traditionally played, designed to “foster and empower” Canadian web video stars so that they don’t drain south to L.A..

The CBC will be providing the content distribution platforms as well as production and marketing support, and its sales team will manage the advertising within Canada. Kanee talked a little bit about the potential for partners to collaborate on CBC programming and opportunities for cross fertilisation with the CBC's broadcast audience. By way of example, he said creators could be doing voice-overs for the Olympics for their particular audience.

The CBC has developed a large digital footprint, but Kanee said that he had an “epiphany” when a recent study showed that, while the CBC's traditional broadcast audience is older, the public corporation is the largest consumer media brand for millennials online in Canada.

As Berger and Kanee discussed the new partnership, it seemed that the typical creators that they are looking to partner with are those youthful millennials, particularly those with a large following (or clear talent) and advertising/brand friendly content that they can package and sell.

Berger said the older youth demographic was just the easiest to attract, although all Canadian creators whatever their age would be welcome - Star Trek’s George Takei has a big following after all, he pointed out.

A recurring question at this VIFF Industry has been where does the traditional producer fit in, particularly those used to bigger budgets and longer production time frames, where the emphasis has been more on quality of the final product rather than the shorter, punchier, and generally more raw and in-yer-face content that proliferates on YouTube.

Berger talked about the huge opportunities for those of an entrepreneurial bent, particularly anyone who brings a large number of subscribers to the table. But for some producers in the audience, it wasn’t just a glass half full or a glass half empty situation, the glass was fogged over with mist.

This isn’t the first time that the CBC has drawn on its wider creative digital community for content. In 2002, the CBC launched a pioneering, late-night magazine show ZeD, broadcasting music and short, edgy segments. Around a fifth of the content was reportedly generated via its website. The show closed in 2006, but one wonders whether ZeD might have evolved into something like CBC | Fullscreen Creator Network. Maybe it was ahead of its time?