6 Takeaways from the first 6 episodes of Now & Next

The CMF’s first podcast series, Now & Next, has just wrapped. And because bingeing need not be limited to gingerbread and chocolate over the holiday season, all six episodes are available now so you can indulge in, all at once if you so desire.

The premise of Now & Next is to examine the digital transformation of the media and entertainment industries through a series of in-depth interviews with key players. The six takeaways focus on the essentials of each podcast episode, highlighting what we’ve gleaned in our one-on-one talks with some of today’s leading digital practitioners.

1. You can build a major media business by going direct to consumers

In episode 01 we talked with YouTube Space Toronto head Mark Swierszcz about the phenomenal YouTube business opportunities for producers and individual creators. In the process we look into Skyship Entertainment, the company behind the entirely YouTube-based Super Simple Songs kids’ channel and its 11 billion+ views.

“Once the ecosystem for content started to change and kids’ programming became a little bit more on demand…I think producers like Skyship started to see, ‘Well look, we could completely run our business and skip the whole distribution problem, or distribution challenge on tradition broadcast television, go directly to YouTube.’ They’ve figured it out and they’ve got a built-in global audience and they’re not really concerned about the whole distribution conundrum that the traditional Canadian system maybe 10, 20 years ago had.” – Mark Swierszcz, head of Toronto’s YouTube Space

2. Audio has become a low-cost testing environment for TV and film projects

Our second episode focused on a part of the media industry that historically had little overlap with TV and film: audio.

Guests Steve Pratt and Dan Misener of the podcasting company Pacific Content helped us understand how and why there’s been not just a boom in audio production thanks to podcasting, but how a new relationship exists between the things first heard on earbuds and things seen on screens, as witnessed in such podcast to TV success stories as Dirty John.

“Podcasting’s wide open and I think, the same way as the rest of the internet, you can get some really powerful niches being built where you can be the best show about a particular niche that would never, ever make it on radio and you can find a huge, passionate, loyal audience precisely because it’s like nothing that’s ever existed on radio before.” – Steve Pratt, Pacific Content

3. Data can seriously reduce the industry’s 90% failure rate

Episode 03 takes on what is perhaps the Achilles heel of the entertainment industry: About 90% of shows fail. Recently deceased Oscar-winning screenwriter and author of the bestselling book Adventures in the Screen Trade William Goldman reduced Hollywood’s astonishingly high failure rate in three words: Nobody knows anything.

But Wattpad’s out to change all that. The online writing platform generates a billion data points a day from its 65 million readers and writers and thinks it can use all that data to improve Hollywood’s odds. And they have plenty of examples to prove it. Like The Kissing Booth, which started out as a story written by a teenage girl on Wattpad and became one of the most-watched shows on Netflix in 2018.

“We’re really diving into data that nobody else has access to, which does give us that unique view of how stories are growing, how genres are changing, how writers are writing. And that’s a very important way we look at data…we can use data to better predict success…whether it’s a 90% overall fail rate or 80% of shows that can’t make year two, that audience is going to make the difference, and it is going to make it easier for us to better see our chance of success.” – Aron Levitz, head of Wattpad Studios

4. Blockchain can unlock new value with one-of-a-kind digital assets

This episode looks at internet economics through the lens of, believe it or not, digital cats.

The democratization brought about by digital technologies came with great promise. Anyone could do anything and reach anyone. And usually at a minimal cost. But as we’ve come to know that comes with an upside and also a downside. At the same time we’ve gone from the free- for- all of the early days of the internet to a highly centralized internet dominated by a handful of a companies.

And so there have been new winners and losers over the past 20 years or so since most of us were signing up for our first email addresses. The media and entertainment industries are among those that are still working through the turbulence.

Enter blockchain technologies. They make possible a future of decentralization, which of course comes with much complexity and many, many unknowns.

But could people shelling out $140,000 for a digital cat be a bellwether for the future?
Bryce Bladon, one of the founders of CryptoKitties, thinks so. Their individually distinct digital cats became so popular on release they actually crashed a part of the blockchain.

“There can be just one of a digital asset. This asset can actually belong to someone. There is a record of who made this asset, where it came from, who it belongs to, who has owned it…” – Bryce Bladon, co-founder, CryptoKitties

5. Streaming means competing globally and also financing globally

How can producers of kids’ content differentiate themselves in a newly global and therefore more competitive marketplace? In this episode we talked to J.J. Johnson of Sinking Ship Entertainment to find out how his company, started with a few friends from Ryerson, now has shows seen in over 100 countries. Sinking Ship is the producer of, among others, Annedroids, the longest running show on Amazon Kids. What’s worked for J.J. and the team at Sinking Ship is expanding their thinking and financing to a global level.

“I think Canada, or at least how we've always looked at Canada, should always be a wonderful home base and a place where you can take some risks and get a piece of the pie, but it should never be the whole pie. We're not competing just in Canada. We're competing globally, and we should finance globally. If that means that you need to change your strategies, in terms of what you're producing, to attract a global audience, and if that means that you need to maybe make some riskier content.” – J.J. Johnson, Sinking Ship 

6. Skills for location-based entertainment are found across various industries and sectors

The final episode drills down on the integration of VR and AR into physical spaces, in an industry sector abbreviated as LBE, which stands for location-based entertainment.

Some major new developments in LBE in Canada include strategic moves from Cineplex, Canada’s largest theatrical chain. In addition to a partnership that has brought a VR experience based on the popular Ghostbusters franchise to locations in Toronto and Edmonton, Cineplex recently became an investor in Seattle company VR Studios.

The result will be several dozen VR arcades installed in their cinema locations across the country and new opportunities for content producers for the immersive, in- person experiences.

Our guest for this episode, Alexis Macklin, is a San Francisco-based analyst on the VR & AR industries. She points out that the talent pool for LBE is unique, coming from both the traditional and digital corners of the industry.

“If you're doing more of a location based experience, you may need people with theatre backgrounds to be able to think about setting up the set, then building props and thinking about how people would go about the space. You definitely need gaming background for those game engines, but you would also need the cinematography background as well to know how to best bring up a shot, especially for those VR movies. When we look to the future, we’ll definitely need developers that are more of a mix between the cinematic Hollywood background and the gaming background, and visual effects as well.” – Alexis Macklin, Analyst, Greenlight Insights 

About Now & Next 

Now & Next is a podcast featuring in depth interviews with experts for a closer look at emerging trends and the digital transformation of the media & entertainment industry. Now & Next is produced by the Canada Media Fund and is hosted by Leora Kornfeld.

*Please note that a French adaptation of the podcast is currently in development and will be released in the upcoming months.