Prime Time a good time in Ottawa

Gerry Dee (left) is in and at Prime Time

OTTAWA—This was my first time attending the annual industry confab Prime Time in Ottawa. Some observations from a rain-soaked TV critic:
Gerry Dee performed at the Thursday night post-sessions show and joked that he never knew about this convention until he was asked to participate–which made me feel a little less clueless. This is its 24th annual edition.

The folks in charge cram a lot into two days. The brisk pace is good (especially for travel budgets), except when it conflicts with the Men’s and Women’s Gold medal and semi-fnal Olympic hockey playoff games. Then you could be giving away must carry TV channels in the main auditorium—everybody is going to be out in the lobby crowded around the TV screens.
Which is kind ironic, dontcha think? People skipping the TV conference in order to watch TV.
Mind you there is a lot going on during the sessions you don’t want to skip. Thursday began with a keynote presentation from Wendy Bernfeld, founder and managing director of Amsterdam-based Right Stuff. Bernfeld holds the entire transmedia landscape in her head, an astounding feat. She charged through screen fulls of charts and graphs. Did you know there is a PizzaPizza movie channel? I did not. One of Bernfeld’s nuggets. Her message to producers of content in the room was basically go easy on exclusive rights unless the are backing up the Brinks truck; there are dozens of places to sell non-exclusive content, both domestiucally and internationally. Look beyond even Netflix, and add up all those nickels and dimes.
My thought: just hire Wendy Bernfeld, get her to consult with your sales team. You could see the logos flying in and out of her head.
Her other message was forget trying to get a TV channel (this means you, guys trying again for an all-Canadian movie deal). Just launch an app. The old linear broadcast and specialty spectrum is so 1995. Be the broadcaster, and direct folks to your content.
I did sit there, however, and wish there was an app that would make it easier for me to steal all the content I want to watch—the way the kids do. Not my kids specifically, officer.
PTiO CEO Michael Hennessy makes a delightful host at this event. He’s funny and fast on his feet in an easy, casual way. He makes you forget that the acronym for this organization is basically the sound you make when you spit out a watermelon seed.
The highlight of the conference for me was Thursday’s appearance of the Governor General, David Johnston. The man is a delight, just lifts a room, and he showed a good grasp of the media issues, suggesting there are parallels to the invention of the Guttenberg press and the printing of the bible back in the late 16th century.
What made our GG really cool, however, was that when a roar when up in the lobby signifying the Canadian women had won their gold medal game against the U.S., Johnston stopped everything and led us in singing O Canada.
“That’s content at its best, eh?” he cracked. This guy should have his own TV show.
Delegates gathered in the lobby to cheer on Women’s hockey
The Chairman of the CRTC, Jean-Pierre Blais, was in the house and, after another round of facts and statistics, had the good sense to say, “There’s no such thing as an average Canadian–they only live in surveys.”
Met him after in the lobby and told him I’m a fan. You have to salute and encourage his efforts to approach the industry from the perspective of consumers first.
He told me he reads TV Feeds My Family, so Mr. Chairman—no pressure, but can you get me a gig moderating a panel or two at Banff? You seem to have connections.
I was happy to be asked to moderate a panel here in Ottawa. Thursday’s session was an hour with some of the country’s top network executives, the people who can green light Canadian TV shows. Joining me on the panel were EVP Programming and Production for Blue Ant Media, Vanessa Case, Sally Catto, Executive Director, Commissioned & Scripted Programming at CBC, Corrie Coe is Senior Vice-President, Independent Production for Bell Media and Senior Director of Original Drama Content for Shaw Media, Tara Ellis. Missing at the last minute was Rogers Media Director of Programming Nataline Rodrigues, who was probably out acquiring more hockey.
To my left: Sally Catto, Vanessa Case, Corrie Coe and Tara Ellis
The executives were spirited and generous and seemed to take my “hilarious” sense of humour in stride. Nobody left after I introduced them as Canada’s Gold Medal winning Olympic curling team.
Some did flinch when I followed up on the fact that they are all women. I find it is still a delicate question, but all I was curious about, really, is whether gender matters when it comes to selling or ordering TV shows.
In the U.S. a few years ago, Stephen McPherson was the most macho S.O.B. this side of Vladmir Putin. When he was calling the shots at ABC, however, he made it the women’s network, ordering shows like The Bachelor, Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives. I was always curious how Mr. knock-this-battery-off-my-shoulder had such insight into what women might want to watch. His answer was that he watched some of those shows, too, and had many women advising him on his staff.
That’s kinda what I learned from the Canadian TV executives, too.
What, I hope was of more interest to folks attending the session was how much Canadian content is in production right now, all across Canada. Each exec had a show or two coming up in the next few weeks to promote, whether it was Spun Out, or Working the Engels or Sensitive Skin or The Book of Negros—or even further down the line, Schitts Creek.
You can still ask—as viewers and critics do–why no new Canadian shows in prime time in September, why not on the mother network, etc., but generally the need for original content in the TV anywhere age is driving Canadian executives to re-think this decades long addiction to renting American TV shows.
More on PTiO to come.

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