I am a data sponge. I read between 50-100 articles a day and appreciate that a good conference is a great place to get a bunch of information from a lot of smart people all at once. It’s very efficient. I just got back from the WIFT International Women in Digital Media Summit in Stratford, Ontario where many thought leaders in the digital media sector, especially of the female persuasion, gathered to inspire and share knowledge. I sat on the “Evolving Business Model” panel and listened to as many of the other presentations as I could. Over my time there, a few recurrent themes and gems of advice resonated with me. This issue of From Search to Screen shares tips that could help you “future proof” your film or television company and career.
1. Take Risks & Innovate
In her opening keynote, Arianna Huffington noted that although traditional newspapers are doing a lot of the right things NOW, it might be too late for that industry. New players like the Huffington Post saw opportunity in the big newspapers inability to quickly deal with change and rushed in to fill the void. The music industry has also struggled and the old model for traditional screen media is starting to fail. In the big money, risk adverse world of film and TV this has resulted in safe remakes and recycled stories. But with so many other options out there now, how long will this kind of content be enough for audiences?
It’s scary to change, to take risks. Our society and culture does not reward failure. But taking risks often involves many “epic fails” on the path to ultimate success. And if film and television doesn’t innovate and change ahead of the times then others will sweep in and take over (and many are already poised to do so). So you need to take a deep breath and plunge in, take risks (even if they are only incremental and small), fail early and fail often, think ahead of the curve as much as possible. It’s not a comfortable way to live or work, but it’s necessary. These are exciting, scary times that are filled with huge opportunity for those who are willing to take risks.
2. Find & Use Data
My inspiration often comes from the numbers. As any who were in the audience of my panel know, or who read my post last week, I strongly believe that the salvation of this industry lies in the data. Apparently, I am not the only one: there is immeasurable value in the keyword research data I am so passionate about; indie case studies with real world numbers like the ones in How to Sell Your Film Without Selling Your Soul provide a richer understanding of what is working and what is not; and with the dawning of the social web, there is data on steroids on everyone online. This wealth of information can provide a very logical and scientific context for whatever risk you want to take, for whatever content you want to create, for the stories you want to tell. It can help you learn from the failures and successes of others. It can help you find your core audience and define their value to an investor. In this business, the data means nothing without a good story and engaging content, but the numbers can inform and provide a strategic context on which you can build a real business and make a living.
3. Define & Build Your Audience/Brand
You cannot be all things to all people. The Internet audience is just too global, huge and accessible and there is too much other content out there for your screen media project to make a wide and generalized splash. Based on the data, the indie success stories are those tied to a core niche audience. You can often grow from there, but you need to have a very clear idea of who you are trying to engage and who you are as a brand (whether you are a company or individual). The more clearly you can define these two things (which will likely be very closely related), the better your chance of success and of finding and attracting a loyal fanbase who will move with you from project to project. If you can become “known” for a certain kind of project about certain subjects in certain styles, you will be ahead of most other screen media folk out there. You will become a destination unto yourself and not necessarily need a gatekeeper (like a broadcaster or distributor) to direct a significant, engaged audience your way. Look at the data, research your potential markets, find your competition (they may actually end up as collaborators as there is strength in indie numbers), take some time to figure this out, and then make a branding plan.
4. Be Agile & Business Savvy
A wider extension of this brand thinking is the necessity for strong business skills when you plan for the future of your company. Susan Annis from the CHRC (sponsors of the workshop I helped teach last month in Toronto) mentioned financing and marketing as being two of the top skills that were wanted and needed in this sector. To be a successful business, to make a viable living, these kinds of business skills and corporate big picture thinking are critical. And equally important in this time of rapid change and technological evolution, is the ability for a company to be responsive and agile in those business skills; to listen to your audience/market; to test and adapt on the fly. This mindset is bred into successful tech companies, and is something more conventional media companies need to adopt in order to be able to compete and not be left in the dust.
In Conclusion: Why Canada Could Rock These Tips
I am very happy to be in Canada at this particular time in media history. Our country offers a unique combination of factors that could set us up for collective success as we transition from the traditional film and TV model to whatever comes next.
- Public funding. As Frank Boyd from Unexpected Media in the UK noted, Canadians still have public money available to them such as the Canadian Media Fund and the Independent Production Fund that gives them a bit of a buffer in terms of taking risks (as long as the funders are willing to take risks themselves);
- Short term stability. Norm Bolen from the CMPA also pointed out that this funding which comes from television broadcasters will be somewhat stable over the next couple of years when the rest of the world is facing a double dip recession and won’t be in a position to be that competitive;
- Professional development opportunities. There are multiple opportunities within our own borders to do professional development and get training – in just the space of two weeks alone there was the WIFT Digital Summit (Oct 23-25) and X-Summit (Oct 24-26) in Ontario and Merging + Media (Oct 27-28) in Vancouver – as well as the business skill training offered by the CHRC and other organizations.
- Forward thinking talent pool. I wasn’t able to meet everyone at the summit, but Canadian storytellers like Jill Golick, Veronica Ha and Ana Serrano definitely provided inspiration and hope for the future.
Were you at the WIFT Digital Summit? Do you have any other questions, resources, tips or insight from your time there? Please post below or send them via email to annelise(at)veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Next issue: Social TV Apps – Pt. 1: The Current Landscape
Or revisit the previous issue: The Numbers Game: Why Online Audience Data is the Future of Screen Media