Banff TV producers eye ways to woo viewers

Group looking to draw audiences back from online

BANFF, ALBERTA -- Nathan Mayfield, founder of Australian cross-platform producer Hoodlum, recently took a phone call from a North American broadcaster asking him to locate and recapture lost TV audiences online.

"He said, 'Our TV show just went to air, we've lost half the audience, and I can't find them elsewhere in the ratings,' " he recalls.

Mayfield, who's made a name wooing online audiences for TV series like ITV's "Emmerdale," BBC's "Spooks" and ABC's "Lost" back to the living room couch, is this week at the Banff World Television Festival to tell delegates how he solves the case of lost TV audiences.

"It's all about driving audiences back to TV, and not ignoring them when they go online," Mayfield said.

Hoodlum's online TV tie-ins, most recently for ABC's "Flash Forward," go to the heart of the Banff World TV Festival, where new media producers over the next four days will dominate conference panels and keynote speeches, while traditional TV players make the case for continued relevance in an increasingly multiplatform world.

Mayfield insists Hoodlum has found success tapping into TV network story departments and marketing teams to develop character-driven video, interactive games, mobile content and social communities to help audiences engage with, and remain loyal to, a TV series on air.

"By mobilizing fans online, it makes more sense for them to tune in," Mayfield says of his online TV tie-ins.

But while Mayfield brings his message to Banff, Canadian producers gathering this week in the Canadian Rockies retreat are up in arms over a lack of support from domestic broadcasters for their own online TV
extensions and interactive applications.

Ira Levy, executive producer with Toronto-based Breakthrough Films and Television, insists local producers are hard-pressed to build and launch costly interactive and online entertainment divisions when domestic broadcasters hog mobile, Internet and other emerging digital revenues for themselves.

"The challenge is how do you finance them (online TV tie-ins), and do you have the underlying rights if they've been scooped away in a broadcast deal," he argued.

John Barrack, COO of the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn., representing Canuck producers, insists online TV tie-ins have become too expensive for Canadian TV producers to produce when Canadian
broadcasters lock up digital rights for themselves.

"It's hardly surprising that so many producers are giving away their digital rights essentially for free -- they are subject to enormous broadcaster pressure to hand over these rights and they don't have the
informational yardsticks they need to help them effectively negotiate equitable deals for their shows," Barrack argued.

The irony of major broadcasters paying for young TV producers, writers and directors to attend Banff to learn how to produce digital content for broadcasters at home and abroad, while underpaying for digital rights, when they pay at all, is not lost on aggrieved Canadian producers.

Canadian producers insists broadcasters pay a minimal flat fee license for digital rights where they tap public subsidies like the Canada Media Fund, or just grab all digital rights without compensating content producers.

Mark Bishop, a co-founder of Toronto-based marblemedia, insists indie producers are hamstrung by domestic broadcasters triggering government subsidies and tax credits for online TV tie-ins, and so being in a position to call the shots.

Bishop said Canadian producers need to move domestic broadcasters from initial negotiations where they insist on locking up digital rights to offering a compelling reason why they should allow producers to exploit and sell digital rights in Canada and abroad, while everyone splits the revenues.

But getting Canadian broadcasters to allow local producers to retain digital rights is no easy task.

Canuck broadcasters offer the usual mea culpas: It's difficult calculating the value of digital rights when you lose money on them, especially when you feel compelled to deliver digital content to Canadians everywhere.

As the Banff World Television Festival gets down to formal business  Monday, it doesn't bode well for the Canadian industry that a CFTPA study on digital rights released ahead of conference points to nearly half of Canuck producers reporting they don't create websites for TV series, or otherwise fully exploit digital rights, because broadcasters claim the digital rights for themselves, or the prices for those digital rights are not high enough.

Canadian content producers and distributors that are unlocking incremental digital revenues report they are doing so mostly on iTunes, where there's a 30/70 iTunes/rightsholder share, Amazon, mobile platforms, and Netflix and Hulu.com across the border.

Hoodlum's Mayfield insists producers need to make a compelling case for exploiting digital content and social media to help build audiences and loyalty for TV shows, much as he has for ABC and ITV, and a host of other international broadcasters.

"If you come with the TV elements, and you've not thought through how to use the iPad or gaming, then it's left up to the broadcaster to initiate that work," he said.

Instead, producers need to convince broadcasters to offer them incentives to work hard online for their TV shows.

"It's about building the brand and building the online community, and migrating them back to TV," Mayfield argued.

The Banff World Television Festival wraps Wednesday.
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