Canada Goes Multiplatform, or, the Message is the MediumComplications Ensue
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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Think creating a TV show is hard? Starting March 1, Canadian TV series not only need to have a great hook, great characters, and a kick-ass pilot. Now they need to have a multiplatform business plan too.

Telefilm will now require all funded television series to have internet, iPhone, or social networking apps that go beyond mere marketing and are viable (ideally, profitable) projects in their own right.

To inspire panicked TV writers, Telefilm has been criss-crossing the country, hosting conferences about what all this means for the future of Canadian entertainment. Lisa Hunter (my wife and often writing partner) went to the Montreal conference, and I asked her to share what she learned. Lisa writes:

The Good News:

1. Multiplatform apps can be a creative opportunity. They’re a chance to tell stories that don’t fit into a conventional 22 minutes with commercial breaks. Writers can expand the “world” of a show, flesh out a story thread, or spend time with characters who don’t get a lot of screen time. 30 ROCK, for instance, has on-line webisodes starring some of the show’s most hilarious minor characters.

2. Multiplatform is a foot-in-the-door for newbie TV writers, because there aren’t many old timers in the field, and the demand for multiplatform content is going to explode on March 1.

3. There’s money falling out of the sky. If you’re Canadian and your multiplatform idea is any good, you should be able to get funding for it.

The Bad News (these are my personal observations, not the party line):

1. This is one more hoop that a Canadian TV series has to jump through to get a green light. They already need a US or foreign sale. And it could potentially slow down the development process of timely, in-the-zeitgeist series.

2. Viable TV shows don’t necessarily lend themselves to other platforms. Right now, most multiplatform/TV pairings are in animation and kids shows – the sort of programs that also lend themselves to Happy Meal toys. I can easily imagine a video game app for ANIMAL MECHANICALS, but how about for THE RON JAMES SHOW?

Demographically speaking, most multiplatform apps skew young (even though “old” people over 30 own computers and iPhones). That could make for some ridiculous adult drama apps (“Which WEST WING Character Should You Date?”) But more worrisome, the multiplatform requirement could unintentionally shift Canadian TV development more towards teen and youth programming. Those proposals are going to look a lot more viable than a nuanced adult drama. Network execs: please tell me I’m wrong.

3. Where is all the multiplatform development money coming from? I’ve heard it’s coming out of the TV development funds. If that’s true, then even fewer Canadian shows will go into development. We’ll find out on March 1.

4. What happens when the internet's entrepreneurial culture, where content providers cheerfully do all the work for free in the hopes of getting famous, mashes up with unionized television? Let’s say a TV show’s multiplatform proposal includes a series of webisodes. Since the show is required to have them to get funding, and the WGC doesn’t cover internet work, the creator is in a very bad negotiating position to get paid for that work. No doubt some producers will suggest that it’s “promotion” for the show and ought to be done for free, like giving promotional interviews. WGC negotiators ought to focus on this issue, before we set any bad precedents.

UPDATE: David Kinahan of the WGC writes:
Section F of the IPA provides for contracting for Digital Production. It states “the Guild, producer and producer association shall negotiate the applicable fee for each production.” This means all fees for digital writing are negotiable. (The other general terms of the IPA still apply, however, i.e. payment on delivery, I&R, copyright, grievance, etc.)

The guidelines (PDF), offer some suggested rates formulated by the WGC in consultation with members already working in digital formats for different types of digital writing. The rates and conditions offered are a guideline for writers and agents in their individual negotiations with producers. But we believe they are fair rates to ask.

Tomorrow, Lisa will talk about the "conventional wisdom" of multiplatform.

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I think your worries are justified. I,too, believe that, like the Unified Theory of Everything, there will be one finite pot of money to finance everything. And, the onus on the writer to provide it all for one low price, as this will not be covered under the IPA and the producers will not want it covered under the IPA.

And, just a reminder, that all this cash is under the control of the broadcasters. This is really part of a TV fund that is looking to broaden its appeal through government paid-for advertising on the web.

By Blogger deborah Nathan, at 4:14 PM  

How does an iPhone App even factor in this equation?

You don't get to be an iPhone App until you submit the finished product to Apple and they approve you.

So somebody at Heritage can love your mobile concept but after your show is up Apple can easily say, "No, we already have enough of those" or "We can't see it selling" and then the money spent on it was wasted.

Or are decisions on Canadian culture now being outsourced to Apple?

By Blogger jimhenshaw, at 8:25 PM  

Jim -- I should have said "mobile phone" but I guess I'm just brand loyal. :-)

By Blogger Unknown, at 9:35 PM  

thanks for the article and bringing up your concerns - I am very interested in transmedia/multiplatform storytelling and while on one hand I go oooo more transmedia narratives, I also shudder as there are many concerns - some of what I have deal with how well transmedia resources/story are archived and weather time - also - many people find transmedia to be confusing and if your audience is a certain age/type, you will find them left out....

By Blogger docwho2100, at 7:27 PM  

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