Michael Hennessy Opening Speech at Prime Time in Ottawa, Thursday, February 20, 2014

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen I am delighted to welcome you to the 24th annual Prime Time in Ottawa Conference.

One of the real pleasures in my job is having the opportunity to represent the CMPA and our member producers at international markets like MIPCOM, the Cannes Film Festival and Berlinale.

It’s not travel that gives me a buzz but the high from watching hundreds of Canadian producers promote their films and shows and pitch and partner in a global marketplace. This month we had a contingent of 50 Canadians in Berlin alone, doing just that.

It’s also being part of efforts with the Canadian Media Fund, Telefilm and Embassy staff to promote our brand abroad that provides such satisfaction.

And it’s the rush you get talking to Film and TV Commissioners and Agencies from all over the world that really want to do business with Canada and with Canadian producers.

We are now truly part of a global market and we have real credibility and respect in that market as a preferred partner.

Growing our international presence is a huge opportunity for us; particularly in light of the challenges independent producers from many countries face in an increasingly competitive and very uncertain marketplace.

According to PWC the global market for content continues to grow at a compounded rate of 4.8%. Demand for content has never been higher. The quality of Canadian content by any measure is world class and the Canadian brand is a hot commodity overseas.

In a generation we have gone from “telling our stories to each other” to “telling, and selling, our stories to the world.”

Our own market at home is among the most open and dynamic around.

Canadian consumers today have more choice than any policy-maker could have imagined 20 years ago when His Excellency, and our keynote luncheon speaker, the Governor General David Johnston was Chair of the Information Highway Advisory Committee.

In part, that is due to our early adoption of broadband technology, but also because, contrary to common wisdom, we have one of the more open markets in the world.

So why then in what is arguably a golden age of content in Canada, are so many of us from producers, broadcasters, distributors and policy-makers so stressed?

In a word, uncertainty.

Uncertainty amongst film-makers and distributors about how to make money from the theatre in the home to replace what has been lost at the theatre down the street.

Uncertainty for TV producers about their continued ability to hold onto and exploit the intellectual property in the content they produce that is so essential to building sustainable companies with international reach.

Uncertainty for broadcasters and cable and satellite distributors about the erosion of a Canadian territorial rights market and consequent revenue erosion from unlicenced and unregulated over-the-top services.

And general uncertainty about the changes to broadcast policy that supports our industry as a consequence of the government’s promise to introduce pick and pay, and the CRTC’s promise of a proposed new policy framework this spring.

At Prime Time this year we are going to try to look both at the roots of uncertainty but more so at the opportunity that it presents, starting with our keynote speaker this morning Wendy Bernfeld who will shine a light on the growing number of VOD or OTT platforms emerging globally in virtually all key genres.

The search for new opportunities and new markets has never been more critical.

There has never been more competition, more choice and more demand for content than at any time in our industry. That should be good news but pressure on production margins has never been greater.

The problem is that with more competition and more choice there comes more risk. And while there is increasing demand at home and more platforms to distribute it, there are fewer doors to knock on.

And there are fewer broadcasters and distributors that are willing to consistently take that risk and licence high quality content and often not enough money to distribute and promote content that is licenced.

This is a real concern for our businesses. And make no mistake broadcasting and film productions are businesses–big businesses that are creating jobs and export opportunities for Canada.

In 2013, total production expenditure was $5.82 billion or slightly less than 2012. But there was also a big decline of $250 million in the Canadian independent sector, in part, by downward pressures on licence fees. That is our challenge; better productions, better talent, better audiences but less money in the domestic market.

Hence the need for finding new revenue models from international to digital to co-production and co-ventures.

So- many of our breakout sessions today focus on new financing sources for production. An expert panel will evaluate emerging options from crowd-funding to accelerator programs. And this afternoon cutting-edge producers share their successes and failures in exploiting these new business models to create film, television and digital media content.

Ironically even as we experience all this disruption and uncertainty, Canadian producers have never seen the level of success they have achieved with audiences not only domestically but internationally as well. And even as our brand grows overseas, some negative perceptions of Canadian content at home simply don’t reflect anymore what audiences, “the consumers”, are increasingly signaling through their viewing habits.

In Canada, according to recent BBM data, shows like Saving Hope, Murdoch Mysteries and Rookie Blue pull in over 1.4 million viewers. Dragon’s Den and Battle of the Blades reached 1.2 million viewers.  while other shows like The Listener, Republic of Doyle and Arctic Air are over or close to 1 million viewers.

Those are great results. It’s akin to a U.S. production hitting audiences of 10 million and above in their home market. And what is more remarkable is that we produce this content often at a lower cost than U.S. productions. That quality and cost efficiency in turn has helped open access to U.S. markets.

And ironically while some of these big hits don’t get the “critical” acclaim they deserve, they clearly resonate with Canadian consumers.

And at a time when broadcast policy is being heavily influenced by the interests of consumers, what is wrong with making shows that people most like to watch.

Later this morning we will be hearing from Canadian Broadcast Programmers who are constantly trying to read the minds of discerning consumers to make sure the kinds of TV shows they green light are actually the kinds of shows people want to see.

But it’s not just the conventional shows where we see success. Canada consistently punches above its weight especially when it comes to format programming, kids, and science fiction.

And it is no secret that Canada practically owns prime time in the sci-fi genre at home and in the U.S. with shows like Lost GirlContinuum, HavenOrphan Black and Bitten.

But even in the midst of success there are a lot of contradictions and uncertainties in our business.

Consumers around the world seem to have more access to more content, than ever before.

And Canadians in particular have more choice and more access to content, both authorized and unauthorized, than virtually any country in the world over cable, satellite, IPTV, the Internet and over some of the most advanced mobile networks in the world.

In many respects as consumers we already operate in an on-demand fashion be it through, the PVR, VOD and SVOD, online broadcasters like Netflix or BBC iPlayer or the most current episodes of most major shows and the latest film content on-demand from Apple TV.

And Canadians particularly millennial cord-nevers, as early adopters already feast on free OTA in high def, binge on Netflix, fill their tablet often for “free” with access to countless apps all for a fraction of the cost of some cable bundles.

Obviously introducing more viewing options into the way service is provided is a logical way to retain consumers in the system.

But different models require different tradeoffs.

Satisfying consumer demand is critical to success but consumers also want a constant supply of original and diverse content.

And that requires money to develop, licence, distribute, exhibit and promote that content.

I won’t get into details on this any further because this will be the topic of discussion for our “Let’s Talk TV Super Panel” of industry executives and stakeholders in a little over an hour.

We will also talk about the future of screen-based content production as CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais grills independent producers on whether we are transitioning fast enough from regulation to outcomes and protection to promotion.

The CMF’s Valerie Creighton will also explore this key component of industry success—with an emphasis on promotion and access to Canadian-produced content in general.

This afternoon Jan Miller moderates a panel with practical tips on how to do it right at International sales markets like MIPCOM and Cannes.

So we have a big day ahead of us solving all of these issues. Let the conference begin.

Please note most of our Keynote speeches and Panels will be available on YouTube shortly.


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