Netflix and Vervegirl TV - Changing Canadian TV Watching Experiences

Youtube web series, TV shows created and released for Netflix consumers, Canadians with the power to choose their own personalized TV bundle kit ... this is the dawn of a new age.

Toronto is one of many leaders in quality media creation in Canada. It is important for industry reps. to stay on top of the changing media landscapes. We have to not only process the information but question what the future holds: what do the new CRTC laws do for consumers? How is my TV and movie watching experienced changed with Netflix and Shomi?

AND: what does this ultimately  mean for people working in Canadian TV?

The Globe and Mail says it very astutely:

The decision caters to consumers who have vented their frustrations to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), wondering why they had to pay for bundles of channels they don’t watch simply to get the ones they like. But greater choice could come with consequences: Some customers may pay more, a number of channels will likely die out and substantial revenue losses across the industry could mean job losses and less new content. - James Bradshaw, Media reporter

If you are unfamiliar with the current CRTC action, here is a good article that summarizes the new laws: clink here.

Not only will the industry suffer a loss of production, but TV networks are being forced to shift in a new direction: online video content production and distribution. This is, without a doubt, the most ideal distribution for consumers. They will eventually have all their favourite shows just a click away. For Netflix, the viewers will have access to the show in its entirety. No TV broadcast release date will precede a Netflix original series. OKAY. How does a network assess a shows popularity then? How do they keep their fans happy? You can binge watch an entire show and forget it after a week. How are producers going to address this concerning factor? 

Youtube web series still use a weekly release date model for each episode. Episodes are compressed to five minutes or less (give or take). They are generally, thus far, orchestrated for the millennial generation, what we may call the generation with an attention span of three seconds. Being used to watching 30 minute and hour long episodes, it was rather jolting to watch a show unhold in four minute segments. 

Let's take a look at two key examples that are fresh off the internet press: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix production and distributor) and Carmilla (a Smokebomb Entertainment production and Vervegirl TV, distributor, Youtube) to begin to answer these questions.

KIMMY SCHMIDT

Kimmy Schmidt follows a line of successful Netflix-original series: House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Both highly watched shows set the bar high for future productions. Kimmy Schmidt is a story about a woman who was trapped for 15 years in a bunker and resurfaces into modern day New York. From this perspective, she has to rehabilitate herself back into the world. The perspective taken is one of an outsider looking in on what we might consider "normal" behaviour. There is nothing normal about this show. It borders on slapstick humour and uses a referential system to see how well we consumers have been paying attention over the last fifteen years (HASHBROWN no filter).

The intro is a good example of this referential phenomenon. Five year s ago, a unique Youtube video went viral. Someone posted an edited news story and added a beat with auto tune. We also see this in Kimmy Schmidt: clink here for Kimmy Schmidt original news story.

Auto-tuned Kimmy Schmidt full intro

Antoine Youtube news story with remix song

The originals feature two similar outspoken characters whose concerns for their community become swallowed in a pop-culture-catchy beat. The strength and intelligence in Kimmy Schmidt is not only in its use of popular media tropes, but how it chooses to comment on them. The intro song, when understood in its full context, is complete gibberish. What is unbreakable? Bankston's sunglasses. The song, if written out, has sense, but the words are pulled out of context to create new contextual meaning. As such, we can begin to see how the show will recycle, subvert, and comment on 'normal' behaviour by reinventing itself through the eyes of the protagonist:

"Hey Titus. Apparently dancing is about butts now" - Kimmy

 CARMILLA

A channel on Youtube called Vervegirl TV released its highly anticipated webseries in August 2014 called Carmilla. Based off of Le Fanu's gothic-vampire novella, Smokebomb entertainment, Shift2, and Kotex paired together to create a thirty six episode story. Each episode was released on a weekly basis. The series depicted the struggle of a freshman who encounters weird and unexplainable events in her university. Her inner journalist takes over, and she leads a team of dedicated friends to defeat a vampire cult. Oh yea, did I mention that it also explores sexually diverse characters? Cool and refreshing!

Carmilla | Episode 1 | Disorientation | Laura Hollis is three weeks into her first semester at Sillas University, and things have gotten off to a weird start...

Carmilla | Episode 36 | Life Goes On | Laura turns the camera on one last time to share how she feels about the events that just unfolded at Silas...

There are two ways to experience this transmedia production: progressing through episode by episode each weekly release or spending two hours binge watching it. I was the latter...

The former uses transmedia as a way to tell the story, shifting our experience entirely. The genesis of this experiential form may have developed from consumer's desire to know more about what happens off screen.

Incorporating the U by Kotex® “Save the Undies” campaign, Carmilla also includes transmedia extensions engaging millennial audiences, including character Twitter and Tumblr feeds that extend the story world between episodes, and U by Kotex® integration vlogs featuring the two lead Carmilla characters debating such questions as whether vampires get their periods. - Carmilla article on Shaftesbury

Does this inevitably make us, as consumers, more invested in a show? Perhaps... Likely because we can see and hear and read about a character on multiple platforms.

ADVERTISING ONLINE

One source of revenue for TV stations is advertising. How will the advertising landscape change? Will brands that are incorporated into the videos appear more targeted based on the media being shown?

Smokebomb, Shift2, and U by Kotex came up with one solution: product placement. The characters in Carmilla appear in additional media videos discussing issues related to the show. The issues creatively include and endorse a product: Kotex female hygiene products. How does a teen show about vampires endorse tampons? WELL. One mini episode, actually rather humorous, asks, "do vampires get their periods?" Carmilla states, "yes, I have had 4,000 of them." I did a quick tally on their channel and noticed most ad videos were pushing 28K views. This form of advertising is watched at the discretion of the consumer. And more than 28K consumers chose to click those links.  Clearly an effective approach, as  Vervegirl TV continues this tradition with its recent series release MsLabelled. Clink here to read more.

SUMMARY

The landscape is changing. What can we expect in the future? More online content. An increase in internet costs. More commercials and brands appearing alongside our favourite shows. Shifts in the workforce for Canadian production... etc.

What we need to ask ourselves now, as the gears shift, is where we stand and how we will fit in.

- Jenn

A Night with Maureen Jennings

There are always going to be those nights when no matter how blustery the Canadian winter weather is, you are willing to brave it (wind, rain, or snow) to go out and visit an author whose work excites and inspires you.

This is how I felt last night travelling to a Toronto Public Library branch to hear / see Maureen Jennings speak about her career.

Before you say, "wow a person talking about themselves... great?" There is something different when an author stands behind a podium and weaves their life into a tale of adventure. I was awestruck listening for an hour - only it felt like a minute had gone by.

She opened her talk with a passage she had recently written for a new Murdoch TV companion book that is soon to be released in book stores:

"The darkness is real [...] the actors are soaked to the skin. The one take is successful (here alluding to Shipwrecked) [...] My own story dramatized in real life [...] who would have thought it?!"

Maureen Jennings, born and raised in England (and NOT in any way related to Christina Jennings, owner of Shaftesbury Films) is the author of the Murdoch mysteries series, Bomb Girls, Season of Darkness, and other Tom Tyler books to come. Maureen Jennings grew up in North York, where she started writing "poems and short stories." A friend of hers who was an actor invited her to write a mystery play for their theatre. Of course being a writer, one assumes that a writer is able to write ANY kind of work (plays - short stories - poems - novels - screenplays) ... However, this experience turned out to be a major turning point in her career because it helped her develop a keen interest in the mystery genre.

Being a passionate Victorian, she wanted to base her detective stories in the mid 1890s. Maureen held up an old image of the man she used as inspiration for Detective William Murdoch. He has "integrity and intelligence in his face" she said smiling, hoping to meet him one day. The moustached man in the photo of course does not look anything like our glorious Yannick Bisson, who plays Murdoch in the CBC series, but Maureen is thrilled to have been with Yannick these past eight years. 

An eagre person in the audience asked Maureen how it all began. "It was a funny story," one day my husband, who does things and only tells me when he knows something good will come of it, took one of my five books and brought it to Christina Jennings at Shaftesbury. We developed three movies out of my books. The blond-haired blue-eyed detective cast in the films was much closer to the personality I had written in my stories. TV, though, generally takes the characters and does away with the story. Although she did mention that she is grateful at how faithful "CBC was with the show and her original story." Then CTV picked up my show and it has been running on CBC now for eight consecutive seasons.

"One of the things you can do as a writer is you can steal everything," she said with mischief in her eyes. "There is extra fun with revenge crime, especially when you write someone in and have to decide how they live or die."

She had specifically written these books to take place in Toronto, and one of her earliest memories on the show was remembering how hilarious it was that, given the time for the show to be produced, the first few episodes were shot in WInnipeg. The irony...

Mauren co-wrote three episodes and recently released a solo episode, "Shipwrecked," which explores William Murdoch's childhood and how he came to have such particular habits.

Maureen is currently working on her Tom Tyler series, set in 1940 England during WWII. There are so many country secrets that need a good story telling. You could see glitter in her eyes as she recounted a few fond memories. Her first book, Season of Darkness, explores interned camps in the war.

In Ludlow, there were camps where men and women were interned in the war if they were suspected of being enemies. The camps were peaceful otherwise and many of the brightest minds lay wasting away until someone decided that they could give classes each day. Top scientists and musicians gave talks and lessons and worked with other camp members, mentoring them on their talents. Two such violinists went on to establish the Amadeus Quartet after they were released.

In Burmingham, Maureen developed her munitions factory stories that lead to Bomb Girls. She worked closely with someone she met on set whose great grandmother worked at a munitions factory during the war. Using real accounts from ladies in history, the two embarked on a short episodic series.

Book three in her Tom Tyler series takes place back in Ludlow in a small village where there is a hotel called St. Annes. "I saw this, and the hedges, and imagined it was a hospital. She later discovered the town secret during WWII. When Pilots returning from the war were greatly burned and disfigured, they were sent here for peace and tranquility. The townsfolk were to invite them in their homes and rehabilitate them into social life. A special rope was built that lead from the country to the town centre so the blind but independent pilots had a guide to hold onto.

I think the best thing I learned from this talk was that genre fiction is a great way to explore your passion for life during a specific era but it is also a way to slip in things that you wish to say. Not in any obtrusive manner though. It is the engine to discuss issues. Current issues, set in a different time period but also allowing the audience to connect in the present!

Thank you Maureen for sharing your wide spectrum of storytelling success. I am so inspired with how you turn quirky facts into something wonderful and great.

- Jenn

X Company - Canadian TV and Historical Dramas

I have been just bursting to write this blog since last Monday. I was invited to the premiere screening of X Company at TIFF. It was hosted by the Writers Guild of Canada and they asked us to hold off any media release until the show had featured on CBC February 18th, 2015 at 9:00pm (Toronto time).

Well now I can tell you about the two amazing people who are the brains behind this Canadian operation: Stephanie Morgenstern and Mark Ellis. Both were the creators of Flashpoint, the hit FBI series that ran for four successful seasons. Stephanie and Mark have figured out a way and continue to create top Canadian content without losing the quality of their vision due to budget restraints: a co-production with the US.

Stephanie told us at the premiere that it wasn't as if they presented an idea at its earliest formation - undeveloped and in need of a lot of work. They walked into CBS network with a finished script and Canadian support and said look at what we have, you should be a part of it!

X Company is a historical drama based loosely off of Camp X during WWII. Camp X is North America's first secret services base and is located in Whitby / Oshawa (my ole' stomping ground). Figures such as Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, and Hamish Pelham Burn entered through these training grounds. Even women served as lethal spies! Most perished at the hands of the Gestapo, but not before they did some serious damage to the Nazi moral.

I say based loosely because Mark Ellis made it quite clear that no real historical people are going to show up in the show. Only events as they happened historically are going to be retold through a group of 5 fictional characters: Aurora (Quebecois and fluent in German), Alfred (someone with perfect memory due to an intense case of synesthesia), Neil (whole family died in the Blitz in England), Harry (Engineer student who likes explosives), and Tom (Ad man, good at propaganda and deception). All with unique gifts and none formerly a part of any army / secret service. 

I think my favourite comment that Stephanie and Mark made that evening was that they were proud to be Canadian. Canada is not a "stepping stone to L.A. There is a pool of world class talent that exists at [our] fingertips" - said a passionate Stephanie. This made me so proud to be Canadian at that moment and witness a new CBC show that is sure to be a success.

The pilot is packed with action, adventure, heart pumping thriller moments, romance, and a unique look at different personalities who have to work together. There are twists at every corner and at times when we want to hate the antagonists (Nazis - DUH) Mark and Stephanie humanize them with little comments here and there, "I wanted to go to Med-school but I had to serve in the army first." 

Mark and Stephanie closed the evening off with some inspiring words. They said write what interests you. Don't follow market fads because by the time your show comes to fruition, that trend has long since passed. Their idea was an ongoing interest for ten years before it became a reality. This really put my own goals and aspirations into perspective.

To Mark and Stephanie and all the production / post production / distribution / broadcasters involved in X Company, I am "happy to learn to know you" over the next few months.

- Jenn

NEXT WEEK'S BLOG: Other Canadian Co-Productions

"... The hit Canada show, Vikings, is also a co-production: Canada - Take 5 Productions - and Ireland ... This also happened a few years back with another CBC show, Titanic: Blood and Steel. Take 5 Productions and Temple Street are leading the production world in Canadian ..."