Lights, Camera, Inclusion: episode 5
Lights, Camera, Inclusion is the first video series by Now & Next, the editorial platform of the Canada Media Fund (CMF). It focuses on issues related to inclusion and representation on Quebec screens and the potential we see on the horizon.
Gaëlle Essoo, Lead Editor of Now & Next and Diego Briceño, Senior Manager, Diverse Community Content at the CMF, have united about 20 key people from Quebec’s screen industry around five round tables, with the goal of engaging in lengthy and fruitful conversations.
Throughout these episodes, we will address various issues and points of view in order to demystify the particularities of Quebec’s situation, and together, imagine the future of a more inclusive and equitable industry, with future generations in mind.
Episode 5: New models and business opportunities: what is digital media’s role?
In this fifth and final episode, the conversation is focused on digital media and what distinguishes it from traditional media in terms of representation and inclusion.
● Dédy Bilamba, Co-founder of Afro VFX and Program Manager at the Canadian Film & Television Academy
● Harry Julmice, Co-founder and President of Never Was Average
● Ghassan Fayad, Founder & President of KNGFU, multiplatform content producer
The 'Key Takeaways' section is by Rime El Jadidi.
Having evolved on the fringes of traditional media, and therefore far from its rules and constraints, digital media is inherently more inclusive and representative of society.
As a multi-platform content producer for the past 20 years, Ghassan Fayad remembers his first efforts years ago to transition from digital to traditional media. “We went to pitch [a web series] to a big broadcaster and we were told: ‘Oh, well, your thing doesn’t work, because your character isn’t a white Quebecer. It doesn’t fit our audience.’ I immediately saw there was a huge gap, but since I came from digital media, it was natural for me. This was like a slap that made me understand that, ‘Wow, OK, in these other media, we're still here.’”
The idea of contacting a big mainstream broadcaster never even occurred to Harry Julmice and Joanna Chevalier, co-founders of Never Was Average. They created and broadcasted where they consumed their own content: on social media. “Because we unconsciously knew that the media industry wasn’t for us. It wasn’t made for us.” explains Harry Julmice. “As a Black person, when you create, you don’t think of saying: “OK, I’ll create a film, I’ll produce a film, a piece of content, and I’ll go see these broadcasters to see if they’re interested. Your reasoning doesn’t work that way, unless you took a traditional route where you went to [cinema] school and were given the structure of how things are done, but that wasn’t the case for us.”
The co-founders of Never Was Average fell into the industry by accident. Initially, Joanna and Harry wanted to document an exhibition they were working on. That’s how the short film Amour is love was born. “Without even knowing what it takes to make a documentary, we produced it, we directed it ourselves, and after that, it won the “Prix de la relève” award at RIDM, it traveled to several festivals around Canada, it was broadcast on Tou.tv.”
A new generation of audiences
Digital media has democratized content creation and broadcast, while enabling new talents to emerge and maintain direct connection with their audiences. More agile and adaptable to change, digital content creators also often have more pressure to constantly produce quality content that resonates with their audiences. “Online, if your content doesn’t resonate, you don’t have an audience,” Harry Julmice attests, adding that in contrast to the previous generation, the new generation of audiences isn’t in the habit of passively waiting to receive content through a screen; rather, they seek out the content they desire.
As for young audiences, they have deserted television screens, since as Dedy Bilamba puts it, “they get the feeling they won’t be missing anything.” Some traditional media are just starting to catch up on this lateness by creating their own digital platforms. Ghassan Fayad considers this to be “too little, too late.” He adds: “had they gotten on board earlier, when YouTube was starting, when all these things were starting, if they had immediately created their digital platforms, I think they could have had their place.”
According to him, it’s indeed a generational problem: “There’s a generation that didn’t see this coming. [...] They didn’t really want to listen to those who, in my generation 20 years ago, were starting to say: ‘Hey, we should check out the digital side.’ We weren’t taken very seriously.”
But Dedy Bilamba feels that in addition to the generational argument, traditional media are comfortable with their monopoly, which means they don’t necessarily feel an urgency to modernize or adapt to new ways of consuming media. “It’s not just a question of one generation being replaced overnight, because you can change the people, but ways of doing things can remain, culture can remain. [...] But since networks, in the advertisers-centered business model, still continue to get, maybe less, but do continue to get ads from the same advertisers, and what these advertisers like is to see their ad on television or around the Canadiens, things will stay like this.”
Making digital talent sustainable
The main challenge creators is that of sustainability. Many are learning on the job and don’t necessarily have entrepreneurial skills. According to Dedy Bilamba, it’s urgent to develop business models for digital media. “Without having a precise business model, without a strategy from the start, many web creators disappear and are replaced by someone else. And when they disappear, their knowledge and techniques leave with them,” he explains.
Harry Julmice insists on the need to create an ecosystem around talent, and not leave this responsibility to creators. He believes that if there were local platforms similar to YouTube created by and for racialized talent, this would completely change the situation. “At the end of the day, we can’t wait for BIPOC [talent] to master every part of the industry like that. They know how to create, let them create. Now, we need professionals to build the industry around their creations. After that, we also need platforms that will be able to generate profits, and these profits would come back to feed the creativity coming from BIPOC creators.
Traditional and digital media have a lot to learn from each other. But, as Ghassan Fayad suggests, maybe the conversation should be focused on all “content that reaches its audience,” regardless of the broadcast platform.