Perspectives - Flipping the screen (Fall 2023)

Chapter 3: Crossover



Not a generation ago, viewers had to tune their TV to the right channel, on the right date, at the right time, and settle in to watch their favourite show. If they missed it, they missed it. Better luck next week. Today, user-generated content (UGC) platforms such as YouTube and TikTok play host to traditional scripted programming, airing it with ads or in installments, allowing audiences to tune in at their leisure, from their phones, and watch from anywhere in the world. The boundaries between the traditional broadcast industry and UGC platforms are blurring, with the former tapping into the unique skill sets and creativity of digital content creators and the latter exploring new ways of reaching traditional media audiences.

The diversity and potential reach of content created for the digital sphere are nearly unlimited. Almost any idea can find a home online if someone has the impetus to create it and hit the upload button. As Lee Naimo, Head of Online and Games at Screen Australia, stated when interviewed for Perspectives, “Digital creators … don’t wait for permission. They get out there and make something, which can come from the fact that there are fewer gatekeepers on platforms like YouTube [than in traditional media].” Digital creators are often people, as Naimo puts it, “with a real willingness to try and experiment” — people who have developed distinct creative voices, editing styles, music choices, and graphics abilities. They’ve learned how to engage with their audiences and can respond to their audiences’ desires in near real time. Things move quickly in the digital space, and broadcasters are taking notice. Interviewed for Perspectives, Fiona Campbell, Controller, Youth Audience for BBC iPlayer and BBC Three, says, “You can’t ignore the fact that this is where the next generation is finding their entry points to the industry, so if you want to find the future executive producers, showrunners, writers … they’re over there, probably doing it anyway. You’ve got to grab it while you can.”

And broadcasters are looking to grab this kind of go-getter artist. The BBC Creator Lab was launched in October 2023 in partnership with TikTok. Built on their shared ambition to develop the UK creator economy, the Lab offers networking opportunities and support to 100 digital artists from across the UK who want to explore longer-form opportunities: bigger shows with bigger budgets on a more mainstream platform. Asked why, as a public broadcaster, the BBC feels compelled to support digital creators, Campbell explained that central to the BBC’s ethos is that they “provide entry opportunities to create the talent of the future and add to the development of the creative sector in Britain, given how important it is in terms of jobs and literally GDP.” She described the Lab as “a two-day masterclass and brainstorming opportunity with TikTok executives and long-form commissioners from the BBC.” It’s a way for digital creators to broaden their careers and a way for the BBC to tap into talent representing a diversity of voices from across the country. Nurturing that talent — if successful — could bring the creators’ existing fanbases to the BBC and “potentially create dozens and, over decades, hundreds of other jobs in the production of their material.”

TikTok is, in turn, making a strong move beyond the UGC platforms ecosystem, its BBC partnership being just one of many expansion strategy efforts. While holding its position as a global entertainment destination, TikTok is committed to “powering innovative storytelling amongst emerging and established creatives, artists and filmmakers.” The platform partnered with the Toronto International Film Festival in 2022 and the Cannes Film Festival in both 2022 and 2023, connecting the festivals to the app’s more than one billion users worldwide and hosting filmmaking challenges in collaboration with the festivals.

Promoting synergy between the platform’s creators and the traditional broadcast ecosystem (including streaming) is also happening on the app itself. As a hub for audiences and fanbases to connect and build communities, TikTok is breathing new life into forgotten programs and catapulting new series, chopped up into short installments, to the centre of the zeitgeist. Killing It was the first Peacock show to be streamed on the platform 1 (albeit in the very specific context of the SAG-AFTRA strike). 2 The same move was done later by Paramount. As anyone with their finger on the pulse of early-aughts pop culture knows, October 3 is “Mean Girls Day” in honour of the 2004 classic. Paramount launched an official account for Mean Girls on TikTok and made the entire film available in 23 parts 3 on October 3, 2023. Viewers who previously had consumed only short soundbites of the film had the chance — for one day only — to see the whole thing for free.

YouTube has also moved closer to traditional streaming offers. In 2022, the company launched Primetime Channels, allowing users to subscribe to a package of over 40 streaming services all in one space. 4 As YouTube’s CEO Neal Mohan wrote in an open letter in March 2023, 5 the platform is set on “bringing the best of YouTube to the living room.” Users are already on the site for videos related to TV content or movies (e.g., behind-the-scenes clips, trailers, promotional interviews), so why not stay on the platform for movie night? Mohan stated their undertaking begins with “meeting the viewer where they’re watching content, [which] more and more leads back to the largest screen in most households, the TV.” Primetime Channels helps YouTube reach a wider audience, including those who may not be tied to phone screens, and fits into the growing goal shared by UGC platforms, as Jennifer Park of Telus STORYHIVE 6 explained, “to keep people on [their] platform as long as possible.”

“You can’t ignore the fact that this is where the next generation is finding their entry points to the industry.”

—Fiona Campbell, Controller, Youth Audience for BBC iPlayer and BBC Three

As one of the earliest UGC platforms to serve as a launchpad for digital creators entering the traditional media sphere — think Lilly Singh — YouTube offers huge potential for digital creators. Lee Naimo is aware of the various routes to success YouTube offers. He explains that Screen Australia, in allocating funding, “wants to be responsive and reactive to where creators want to go with their careers. Sometimes that’s away from online platforms,” as with the series Deadloch on Amazon Prime, 7 the brainchild of digital-first creators The Kates, 8 “and sometimes it’s just to keep building that business out,” as with Glitch Productions and their show Meta Runner, 9 which airs on YouTube.

At home in Canada, Bell Media and Crave — longstanding key players in Canadian broadcasting — are seeking out collaborations with digital creators, melding and therefore building audiences on both ends. Asked by Perspectives how he sees the future of these collaborations, Mike McShane, Director of Digital Content Development for Bell Media, had a clear answer: “Growing.” According to McShane, Bell Media “recognized that the lines were blurring between traditional talent and digital talent [and] moved with intention to … create unique, original programs from this unconventional space.”

This was put into practice in 2021 when the iconic MuchMusic 10 brand was relaunched, offering programming exclusively on TikTok. As McShane explained, “The DNA of MuchMusic has always been about popular culture, access, irreverence, and excitement. That’s also what TikTok is today, [and] MuchMusic should always be in the spaces where our audience is.” Crave’s upcoming series Made for TV with Boman Martinez-Reid 11 is another exciting example of digital/broadcaster crossover. For Bell, it’s important that creating a launch pad for digital creators is pursued under the umbrella goal of getting the show right. “Made for TV,” McShane said, “is the right show for Boman. It’s the perfect marriage between his social persona, his comedy, his love for TV, and his exceptionally creative critique of it, and [Bell] is very proud of this collaboration.”

There will always be, as Lee Naimo states, “desire for different kinds of content at different levels for different moods.” The future, “essentially bringing both linear TV and online [content] closer and closer together,” says Jennifer Park, should be embraced.


The full interviews with Fiona Campbell (BBC), Lee Naimo (Screen Australia) and Cameron Zinger and Jennifer Park (Telus STORYHIVE) are available here: