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Top writing, producing and directing is the inspiration behind ground-breaking and breakthrough projects. What does it take to surprise audiences? How are creative risk-takers working to push the envelope while also satisfying their network/channel partners? This session features a Canadian Emmy Award winning writer and director and the founder of a world-renowned and award-winning institute for interactive storytelling. They talk about their craft in children’s television production and audience-driven multiplatform entertainment.
A great success in Canadian children’s television, Sinking Ship Entertainment definitely belies its name. Creator of authentic entertainment – like the popular “Dino Dan” and “Annedroids” series – and Emmy-winner, the production company has achieved what every start-up dreams of in children’s TV production. From nothing, JJ Johnson took the leap of faith with two other people and the idea for “This is Daniel Cook.” In this video, JJ takes us step by step through the story of how they developed the company to production budgets of $5 million — on their own terms, without lowering their standards, or ignoring their principles, or losing control over their properties. He explains how they self-financed all their pilots, and how they pitched the pilots to the networks at home and internationally, presenting potential partners like Netflix with really compelling story-telling that was totally new to kids’ television.
Partner, Executive Producer, Director, Writer
Chief Digital Officer of the CFC and Founder of CFC Media Lab
“Our inexperience was our greatest asset.”
“We were going to capture all of that, [with] six executives from National Geographic standing [by] nervously. I called the moment, those kids turned, and the look on their faces is one of the best. It’s so amazing. They’re like, ‘Ah.’ Immediately after that, they’re like, ‘Lizard.’ They run out of the shot, following this lizard. I’m there being like, ‘Look at the natural children. This is amazing. I’m glad this is all part of the plan.’ ”
“Be different enough. Be compelling and original. They will find you.”
“When we hear networks ask or tell us what they’re looking for, we pitch the exact opposite because they will get bored of seeing what they think they were looking for, and then be surprised by, ‘Oh, maybe we should try this crazy thing. Look how cool we are.’ “
“We’re lucky at Sinking Ship, because we’re nothing if not petulant and angry. We’re like, ‘Well, we’ll find another way to make it.’ We took this pilot and we showed it around the world.”
“Everything is possible. This is TV. It can all be done. There are so many partners. There is so much new money out there. When you look at Netflix, and Amazon, and Hulu, and all these people, there is no excuse to not present them [with] really compelling things that they haven’t seen before. That’s the chief piece of it.”
“We don’t do any show that we’re not terrified to make. If we’re not terrified…we haven’t pushed it far enough. We haven’t tried new technology that we’ve never done before, haven’t tried a stunt sequence, or gone further afield. Every single season we try to challenge both the last season of the show that we did, and every single subsequent show, so that it’s the best thing. I believe you should only be as good as the last thing you made, not something that was notable 12 years ago.”
J.J. Johnson: Hi everyone. Hello. Greetings.
My name is J.J. Johnson. I am one of the founding partners of a kid’s TV company called Sinking Ship Entertainment. Rather than tell you what we’ve done, I’m going to show you a little bit. This is our corporate reel from last year. Hopefully, you can get a sense of who we are.
[inaudible 00:02:12] watching that. That’s Sinking Ship entertainment. We started in 2002, with just three people. There were three partners. A history of making history is what we called this. There was three of us, and basically we all graduated from Ryerson University. There were three partners, Matt Bishop, Blair Powers, and myself. We enjoyed our time at school, but I think were unprepared for what going to come after we graduated.
We all wanted to start a production company. We wanted to do dark dramas, comedies, then soon realized that we had no experience. No one was going to take a chance on us, so I ended up working at a talent agency. Which I would say is, unless there’s agents here, is one of the lowest rungs of the industry. In that, I was having to call in auditions for people where I was literally like, you are the before in a before and after photo. Try to look as disgusting as possible. They were like, “We can do it! We can do it!”
Blair, who is my best friend, he was working at a coast house where he would literally log video footage. They were doing industrial videos. He was working in this guy’s basement in Burlington. They would log industrial videos of medical videos. He logged every day, 10 hours of proctology videos. Cameras inside people, day to day, to the point where Blair could tell the difference in size. He’s like, “Oh that’s Isabelle. No problem. There’s a cyst right there.” It’s kind of gross.
But that’s the way we started our company. To give you a sense of how inexperienced we were. This is our first corporate profile shot. There’s the three of us. We thought, [inaudible 00:03:48] with that name Sinking Ship. There’s Blair in the yellow. Matt in the blue.
So while I was working at this talent agency, I think I was making $350 a week. I had $25,000 in student debt. I broke up with my girlfriend of five years. It was just the lowest, darkest time of my life.
One day this kid named Daniel Cook came into the building. The agent knew Daniel’s parents, and thought that he was amazing. He was five. They’re like this kid is spectacular. They left him down with me, while they went to talk about business. I can only imagine what he saw, because he was just hunched over, waiting to die.
He came over and was talking about Transformers. All that I remember is that he liked Decepticons more than Autobots, because they were more interesting characters. It was like this little, bright moment. I was just enjoying the conversation, like 20 minutes. The agent came down. He’s like, “Now this kid deserves his own show.” Which truthfully, the agent had said about anyone that moved through the office.
It was the first time that I thought about, “If I were to do a kid’s show, what would it be?” I jot down the idea for this Daniel Cook, which was just literally just following around this five year old, and seeing how he experienced the world. It was the simplest thing.
I called Blair at lunch. I was like, “Blair, I have this idea for this show. Do you think we should shoot a pilot for it?” Blair was like, “I’m looking inside someone right now. Yes we should.” This was the other shot that we sent out. That’s … Daniel Cook was started.
One of the things I think that differentiates Sinking Ship from some of the other companies out there, is that we do our own development in-house. We put our money up. We shoot pilots for everything. It’s a way for us to test a concept. It’s a way also, to respect the person you’re pitching to. Every one that you present, has to pitch it up to other committees. They’re going to show it off to their kids. To think that people are going to do that with a script, I think is a little bit crazy. We’re the TV industry. We should show it.
Also, I think about this show. If I had pitched, if I had gone there with no experience and said, “Oh my gosh. I’ve got this great idea for this show, about this really hilarious five year old. It going to touch your soul.” They would be like, “I have heard that from everyone.”
I’m going to show you a little bit. This is from the original pilot that we shot in 2002.
Speaker 1: Are you going to give it a shot? You want to eat that one?
Daniel Cook: This is Daniel Cook eating truffles. Oh, this is good.
Speaker 1: Good. Do you know what else is very good with chocolate? Is tea.
Daniel Cook: Oh.
Speaker 1: Yeah.
Daniel Cook: You know what?
Speaker 1: What?
Daniel Cook: It’s not just tea that’s good with chocolate. It’s also milk. When you’re making chocolate cookies, it’s good with milk.
Speaker 1: Milk and chocolate is very good together. Sometimes after you eat a nice chocolate truffle, it’s good to wash it down with a big glass of milk.
Daniel Cook: It was very nice working with you.
Speaker 1: Thank you so much for helping me out this morning.
Daniel Cook: You’re welcome.
J.J. Johnson: He went to Oprah, eventually. What was cool about that show, is that no one thought to do it. I think this is where I got the first lesson for Sinking Ship, which was partly our inexperience, was our greatest asset. That by not going to other companies and learning how they’ve done it, we tried things differently.
When I shot with him, there were things he liked, there were things he didn’t like. I left in the things he didn’t like, because I thought it was entertaining. Not knowing that in kid’s TV, at that point, they dare not touch that kids have negative emotions. They’ve just never seen it. Because it was done in this way, not as animated farm animals talking about why they’re upset about something, but an actual kid feeling … Not that those are bad shows. I’m sure they’re good, just not the kind of shows we make. Sorry, that’s gone… Alright.
It’s from a real kid, and a real kid’s perspective. I think seeing that made it acceptable. That goes into a lot of our shows. We learn in this one to be as honest as we possibly could with the audience. We’re lucky because we get a lot live action. We have real kids there, that will tell us if it’s wrong.
With this show, it aired in 2004. While we were waiting for it to go … I should say, when it was picked up, we sent that pilot out to everyone. TVO called the next day, and said they were interested. When we were at Arisan, the professors were like, “They may never call. You may never get an answer. It won’t happen.” Then we got this phone call. We had no idea what to do. We obviously all quit our jobs, expecting to be shooting the next day, not knowing that it takes a year to finance. We were wavering like there was another dark period of time.
What we also did then was shoot pilots for new ideas. As Daniel Cook, well [inaudible 00:08:34] was picked out by Disney in the US, which is, as we all know the light of God raining down on you when a US network sees you. As soon as Disney picked up the show, all of our other pilots that were in contention, got picked up by various networks.
That show was the first English preschool series to be dubbed in Germany ever. The first live action preschool show. It was just that they said they had never seen anything as honest as that. It sold to over 120 territories, which for a live action show, we got told all the time that live action kid shows don’t travel well. As you can see by the next couple slides, that’s just fake. Then it won lots of prizes, which brings us two years later, so 2006.
This is when we basically took everything that we learned from Daniel Cook, and started to incorporate into other shows. At the same time, we realized that we were still looked upon as people that were making live action, interstitial preschool programs. Those are five minute episodes. That’s all we had done.
To start reaching greater, we had to figure out ways to make ourselves look more impressive. Hence, one of them I wanted to do a kid’s travel show. Now obviously, a kid’s travel show had been pitched a thousand times. We obviously chose to shoot a pilot. None of us, those three people that you saw on the beach in ripped clothes, had ever left the country before. That was one hit.
It was about stepping back, and looking. What is the network going to ask? The first thing, if I was pitching a TV show, and I was the network, I would be like, “Why you?” In fact, I think that’s what they ask about everything. Why you? What possible reason do I have to trust you with children in foreign countries? All we have is Daniel Cook and Blair’s experience in proctology videos. Don’t tweet that.
We would like to shoot a pilot, so I was like, “Who would be the best name to get onboard for a travel series? Right?” And that would be National Geographic. Right? And why not reach out to them and say, “Listen, we’ve done this other show. What do you think about us taking that format and moving it internationally?” At the same time, I was worried that networks would be like, “Okay, well, if you’re going to third world nations, what makes you credible? You don’t have an international degree in development.”
So I was like, the next person that would be great, that would be UNICEF. We went to National Geographic and started to talk to them. I may have mentioned that UNICEF was more interested that they were at the time, and said the same to UNICEF. Whatever happened, they both came on the board relatively at the same time. Thank God those organizations do not talk to each other.
We ended up going in with a series that was kind of pilot shot in Mexico. National Geographic on board and UNICEF. That shoot was a nightmare. The pilot shoot, we actually had executives from National Geographic come down, which is the most stressful moment. We had arranged shooting in those pyramids in Chichen Itza.
We took two Canadian kids, one’s an eight, and one’s a six year old, set them up for this beautiful moment. The one thing I love shooting is kid’s first reaction to seeing something like that. There’s nothing more beautiful in the world. We had them kind of blind folded. They’re standing. We’ve got the pyramid behind them. We had set up these shots that all they have to do is open up their eyes, turn around, and see this pyramid. We were going to capture all of that, six executives from National Geographic standing nervously.
I called the moment, those kids turned, and the look on their faces is one of the best. It’s so amazing. They’re like, “Ah.” Immediately after that, they’re like, “Lizard.” They run out of the shot, following this lizard. I’m there being like, “Look at the natural children. This is amazing. I’m glad this is all part of the plan.” Thank God that lizard made its way back to the pyramid, and that there was lizard iconography all over that pyramid, so actually those stories dovetail.
Again, what we realized is let them kind of choose the path. That is what a kid would do. If I tried, and I was trying to make an episode of the pyramid because you think it’s going to be interesting. Truthfully, that lizard was cooler. They could hold it, and they could talk about it, they could go to the pyramid. It was about adapting to what our kids were telling us. Our focus research being literally right there, on set.
This is 2006. We’ve grown to 18 crew members. We added post production, just because realized that we spent a lot of time in post searching for those moments, and trying to work with editors that weren’t just racing through it, but actually trying to find where is the heart and soul of the show. This is the trailer for “Are We There Yet? World Adventure.”
Speaker 3: Woah. Here we go.
Speaker 4: Woah. Yeah, oh look. See what’s going up.
Speaker 3: This is way up in the air.
Speaker 4: They really like to play. [inaudible 00:14:15] Wow.
Speaker 3: I’ve never seen anything like this.
Speaker 5: [inaudible 00:14:57] We are inside the pyramid now.
J.J. Johnson: That’s a little bit of “Are We There Yet?” That was done in [inaudible 00:15:22] in regards to UNICEF. We filmed in more countries than any other kid series, that we can tell. I’m not exactly sure how to prove that, but from what we could find from other shows, we’re going to lay claim to that, and sold to over nine territories. This show does something that I particularly love. I’m clearly not the biggest fan of animation, especially when it comes to certain educational things. For me, it’s if you’re going to try to get kids excited about the real world, it is important that you show them the real world. Not necessarily from the perspective of some animal in animated world, although, I’m sure that could work as well.
The one thing that I should say, that in looking back at what we want it to be, in terms of this discoverability, that we were also pitching shows that we could do. Right? This is Daniel Cook. The total budget for that series was, I think, $600,000, which was for 13 half hours of content.
It wasn’t such a big as that people were going to give us the freedom to do that, and to be in the roles that we wanted to give. I directed every episode of that, because I directed the pilots. I could speak to the relationship that I had with that kid. We were not out there pitching a feature film, and expecting that to be our first pick up, though we did get there eventually.
Even for “Are We There Yet,” that was a $1.2 million series. We went to 10 countries in the beginning. We stayed in horrible places, but we were able to afford it, and got a lot of life stories out of it.
We had grown to 35 crew members at that point. We added interactive, and this was mostly to have more control. We found that when we were working with outside companies, sharing of assets took forever. To be able to consolidate everything into one place meant that the quality was better, our teams were more inspired, and more people were talking, trying to figure out more ways. This is an updated corporate shot that we took in 2008, six years later. We’re not in tattered clothes. [inaudible 00:17:26] We pitched “Dino Dan.”
“Dino Dan” was a series. It actually goes back to Daniel Cook’s. Daniel Cook did 135 episodes. Each one he tried a different career. When I met Daniel, he said he wanted to be a paleontologist at age five. He liked that in paleontology, grown-ups hadn’t discovered everything yet. I thought that was interesting, because it still left a place for him to figure things out.
After 130 episodes where he did every possible career, he still wanted to be a paleontologist. That same reasoning was that he could still discover things. He was like, “You know, your next show should be about dinosaurs.” The thing that I always try to do is mold that idea, and try to figure out how do you present something that no one has ever seen before. I do not understand, at the core of discoverability, is just have a reason to be discovered. Be different enough. Be compelling and original. They will find you.
If you go out, I’m going to go on animation one more time, with pitching a farm show with animals that talk about caring and sharing, there are a lot of those shows. Why do that? If you’re going to be innovative and push it to some frontier that no one’s ever seen, or animated and it’s the most beautiful thing. If not, you are treading in the same water as everyone else.
When we hear networks ask or tell us what they’re looking for, we pitch the exact opposite because they will get bored of seeing what they think they were looking for, and then be surprised by, “Oh, maybe we should try this crazy thing. Look how cool we are.” Not that they move like that, but I imagine in the corporate they’re like, “Oh, we’ve got to change our whole strategy.” You’ve got that pitch that didn’t follow what they want. If people knew how to make a hit show, there would be far more hit shows.
This series was about going back to what I think kids liked about dinosaurs. When we asked kids, they were like, “We like them, because they’re scary.” Right? Every single one. Now there was like 1% that was like, “I do not like them, because they are scary.” You cannot play with the 1%. I think that is actually true, and a good point, I’m just realizing now. If you try to make it for all audiences, it will just go into that middle view that doesn’t stand out because it’s just boring and plain.
This was about saying that no dinosaurs were big creatures, they would fight each other, they would try to kill each other. We do not show death on the show, though we get extremely close. Again, it was about showing what’s that going to be for kids. How are you going to show that? In pitching it, because we knew we were shooting a pilot, is stepping back and being like what were those questions going to be. Obviously, what’s the relationship between the lead character and the dinosaurs, and can you pull off the animation, because you’re competing with Jurassic Park.
This is just a bit of the demo that we shot in 2008.
Speaker 6: I knew it. Only 17 kilometers an hour. Definitely not as fast as a car. Aw, come on. That’s still pretty fast. Now let’s see if you’re a scavenger. Dino Dan!
J.J. Johnson: We had one network describe that as preschool horror, which is a genre that I’m happy that we live in. We had Nickelodeon pick that up. We did a minute of scene, and it was actually shown. There was another distributor there, and it was a [inaudible 00:21:43] pick. It was amazing. In the meeting, the distributor was showing off a bunch of stuff. They were like, “I’m not interested in this. I’ve seen this all before. Do you have anything new?” We had just casually said to the distributor, they sent me a text saying do we show this to Nickelodeon, I was like, “Yes, please do.” They showed it, and they picked it up within a week.
They had a reason to pick it up. It was something they hadn’t seen. It was different. It was compelling. They showed it around very quickly, got the sign off from everyone. We had proven it. That demo cost us $10,000. It seems like a lot of money, but I think when you’re asking someone for $5 million, maybe you should invest $10,000, and not complain about where that money came from. Just do it, because it’s going to jump you through. Instead of developing taking five years, and being bitter at the end, it’s six months and you’re up and running. Not that it ends better. It’s just a taste of having a good time.
10 minutes? This is a taste of what the actual show became.
Speaker 7: This is me. Dan Henderson. I’m a regular kid. I have a brother, a mom, a dog. I go to school where I have to [inaudible 00:22:49] with my friends, and some interesting teachers.
Speaker 8: Very prehistoric.
Speaker 9: There are no piggyback rides in gym class.
Speaker 7: I have a really cool hobby. Dino experiment 116. Dino experiment 105. Dino experiment 103.
A corythosaurus! [inaudible 00:23:09]
See, I love dinosaurs.
J.J. Johnson: We were pretty lucky to get some notable Canadians in there. There was Andrea Martin. We got a lot of The Kids in The Hall. I’m surprised those people don’t pop up in more shows. When I asked them why, they were like, “Nobody asked us, or thinks that we would be interested.” They all came out at reasonable rates. That show we produced. It took about a year to make. It debuted as the highest rated premier on Nick Jr. 2010. It sold to over 140 territories. It spun off two additional series, including the one that we’re shooting yesterday, which is “Dino Dana”, the first girl spin off.
We got to 75 crew members. We brought animation in house. People said that that would be ridiculously challenging. We knew that would be the only way that we could guarantee that the quality of that animation was going to be spectacular. I think being able to get control over your properties and how you make them, is one of the steps that you can make sure that those things are going to stand out. No one is going to push as hard for your series, or your idea, as you are.
That and Transatlantic Adventures was the series that to that. Hopefully, you can already see the animation is significantly better. We’ll skip it, because we’ve got to keep going.
That sold to over 160 territories. We actually bested our last one. We won the Emmy Award for outstanding preschool series. This is one of the best moments of my life. This happened last year. We were up against Sesame Street. Sesame Street and Sesame Workshop has never lost the preschool category since that award was created in 1986.
The looks on their faces were … They were shocked, and then we were equally shocked. We had pre-drinks, because we thought we were going to lose. Our speech is not the greatest thing ever, but it was still such a glorious moment. It shows that something that’s innovative and has a unique take, and is different, can take out a juggernaut like Sesame. We don’t get along obviously.
“Dino Dana” currently in production. We average 1.1 million views per week on YouTube, because it’s dinosaurs and obviously kids like that. There’s Dino Dana, the little girl we shot in the submarine. They fight a megalodon in the first episode, and almost died.
Growing up. Then we decided not to see we were pushing the preschool [inaudible 00:26:09] launches. We wanted to go a little bit older. We got to distribution. We added “Annedroids,” one of my favorite shows.
Annedroids, we had a conference with it. We were talking about how girls are underrepresented in kid’s TV. In live action shows, girls only represent one out of every three characters. In animation, they’re only one out of every four. I was like, “Oh, well that’s not a problem.” I was working out a show with a little boy, because I think you like to speak to your younger self maybe. I was like, “Oh, we can switch it to a girl. It won’t be a problem.”
We did that. We shot a pilot. We showed it to all of the US networks, and we were rejected by all of them. Some were very overt. They were like, “We would take this. We love the concept, but will only take it if you change her to a male lead. We believe that girls will watch boys and girls, and boys won’t watch a girl-like show,” or something crazy.
We’re lucky at Sinking Ship, because we’re nothing, if not petulant and angry. We’re like, “Well, we’ll find another way to make it.” We took this pilot and we showed it around the world. I have to say also, there’s a genderless android character that they make in the pilot episode, Pal, who’s going to discover what it is to be a kid. We took that all around the world and found the money elsewhere. It’s also like if you have something original and different, and you feel it’s ahead of its time, there will be people that say no. Those people are not right, and it’s your job to prove them wrong.
We went around the world. We got Journey on board, French Canada, and SVT in Sweden. They were my favorite, because when they saw Pal, they were like, “We love the gay android. Who is he going to end up with? Al or Nick?” It was amazing.
This is a little taste of some of the things that happen in “Annedroids.”
Speaker 10: I said, it’s impolite to spy on people.
Speaker 11: You’re a girl?
Speaker 10: You’re a boy?
Speaker 11: Obviously. Do you live here?
Speaker 10: This is my laboratory. It’s where I do my research and some of my experiments.
Speaker 11: What experiment is underneath this sheet?
Speaker 10: This is Pal.
Speaker 11: This is awesome. So where is he?
Speaker 10: Who?
Speaker 11: Pal. You said to be here at o 800, so we could all spend his first day together.
Speaker 10: What makes you think Pal’s a he? Do you see a socket wrench?
Speaker 11: I don’t know. Isn’t he a he?
Speaker 10: We’ll have to ask Pal after Pal wakes up. I didn’t program Pal to be a boy or a girl.
Speaker 11: Cool.
J.J. Johnson: In a little bit of the trailer from season three. Amazon came into existence around this time. I think it was 10 years, not the company, but going into TV. They specifically wanted things that were risky, that no one else wanted.
We were two weeks into pre-production, and they came on board, which was obviously a challenge, but awesome. It took the creation of an entire new network, for this show to find a home in the US. This is [inaudible 00:29:04]
Speaker 12: Barbed wire. Metal doors.
Speaker 13: What is she trying to say?
Speaker 14: Stay out.
Speaker 13: What’s going on? Anyone?
Speaker 13: You’re a robot?
Speaker 12: Yes I am.
Speaker 13: Annie?
Speaker 12: Just kidding.
Speaker 14: Welcome to the android engineering lab. We made them all ourselves.
Speaker 13: This place is …
Speaker 12: Cray cray? I know. Meet Fang. He uses echolocation to hear.
Speaker 13: That is tickling my facial tech sensors.
Speaker 12: Welcome to Magnus Tech’s AI laboratory.
Speaker 15: What exactly are you looking to steal?
Speaker 12: Power.
Speaker 13: Hello.
Speaker 12: We need to keep the junkyard safe from intruders.
Speaker 14: You think Paisley will let the intruders out of the junkyard?
Speaker 12: You ready to begin our experience? All righty. We had to work to bring Pal to life. Now, we have to work together to make sure Pal has a life.
Speaker 14: Stop. Don’t do anything cool without me.
Speaker 12: Annedroids.
J.J. Johnson: Second season got 10 Emmy nominations, tying Sesame Street for the most Emmy nominations for a series, which obviously further strained our relationship with Sesame Workshop. That show’s doing remarkably well. That show, which has a genderless android as a girl lead, it is our top selling series. It is sold to every country in the world, I think, but two. Iceland is coming, and France those are the only two.
This was my favorite, too. Described by the New York Times in the AV Club as what 21st century kid’s programming should look like, which was the best compliment. It was dealing with issues that kids are actually dealing with in their lives. Kids are interested in talking about themselves and figuring out gender. They hear all these things, but no one actually talks to them.
They only find that kids are watching up, it’s because we’re literally talking down to them. They’re watching older series, because those series are actually compelling to their real world. They are far more sophisticated than we give them credit for.
2014 we are growing. We added audio post production, and brought us to “Odd Squad,” which is probably our most successful series in the States. You guys have seen the show. I’m going to talk a little bit. This was a series that had two LA creators. It went to PBS.
PBS, though they passed on “Annedroids” because it had too much action, loved the animation we had done. They decided when that content came to them, they brought that series to us to say, “Would you be able to do this?” For us, it was taking a concept that was brilliant, the writing’s spectacular, but it was originally set in office environment. It was kind of described as like your mom’s office environment. It was meant to be pretty safe, pretty boring.
It’s a spy show, so what we did was work the writers to upgrade the visual. We built a 50,000 square foot set, that’s completely interconnected, so we could move from one zone to the other. We had tube systems, and gadgets, and just went 100 times bigger. It was because, from their perspective, everyone had told them no it would be impossible. Other production companies that they had met, who would obviously love to shoot in an office environment that they could rent cheaply. It is not easy to build a 50,000 square foot set, but if you want to stand out, you have to take those risks.
If you look at what your competition around the world, we’re not just competing in Canada, the benchmark for success cannot be just having a show. It has to be does that show carry? Does it go around the world? That takes time. That takes effort. That takes stepping back and be like, “I’m going to make sure that this looks and feels like nothing else that’s out there.” I hope you get a sense from looking at the stuff that we make, that it doesn’t look and feel like what’s out there, so it’s easy to pitch. If you go to MIPtv, if you go to kid’s screen, and you go up and down those aisles, you will see like, “Oh, look. It’s knights this year, or dragons, or something.” Everyone’s chasing one another versus having something that’s different.
I think about Degrassi as a prime example of a series. I love them for it, but Degrassi is just an honest show. It’s one of the number one Canadian exports for content, because it’s honest. Why there aren’t more people chasing Degrassi blows my mind. We’re going to try to do that soon. Yes, a very successful Degrassi stuff. Averages 50 million monthly video views. That series airs on Amazon, Netflix, and PBS. 50 million, that’s just a ridiculous amount when you think that sometimes we take Canadian successes of series that it gets 260,000. Odd Squad. 50 million.
To that, I’m just going to show “Scaling Up.” I’m just going to show you a little teaser of the movie, which technically I’m not supposed to talk about. You did not see this here. I’ll put it on the screen and show it to you.
Is it going to play?
Speaker 15: I’m sorry. This squad is over.
Speaker 16: I am so taking on odd squad.
J.J. Johnson: Beautiful. I mean… This summer as well as Dino Dana
I hope this speech was helpful in some ways. To sum it up for me, is that you hear a lot of things are impossible. Everything is possible. This is TV. It can all be done. There are so many partners. There is so much new money out there. When you look at Netflix, and Amazon, and Hulu, and all these people, there is no excuse to not present them really compelling things that they haven’t seen before. That’s the chief piece of it.
The others are obviously are you, the one to execute it. If you are not, find those people that are. If you’re going to go to an animation company, go to Pixar or find some Oscar winner from the 1970’s. Think them out, have them animated, have some story that makes it more compelling. Not take them out, but find them. I’ve read stories, they exist somewhere. There are people that want to be back in it. They want to feel the passion, not someone who’s down and like, “We don’t have enough money to do it.” Who cares? Find the money. Get the money internationally, and prove them wrong.
Questions? No? Is there anything? No. Great. Yes?
Speaker 17: I’m just wondering. What percentage of your pilots are self-financed? Are they completely self-financed?
J.J. Johnson: All of them. We are one for one, for every pilot we have shot, has been picked up. We did shoot one pilot a couple years ago that was like a Ghostbusters theme. Just when we were about to present it, I saw that two other Ghostbuster type shows came out, or were being pitched. We pulled that back, because I just don’t want to be known as the copycat or chasing someone else. That means that we spend a great deal of time making sure, internally is far harder audience to impress inside Sinking Ship than in anywhere else. By having those teams, like BFS and Interactive, they are all excited too. They’re pitching ideas and concepts in technology that influences it. It’s just making sure that you don’t hit the market with something that looks familiar.
Speaker 17: Can I ask one more? For that pilot you showed us, with that partnership between UNICEF and National Geographic, that was after you guys produced that demo in-house?
J.J. Johnson: Yes. We brought them on board, based on our working on This Is Daniel Cook, and them both believing they were both interested. We helped finance the money with them to go and shoot. They put up some of that money. We did not charge fees. We did not charge anything. Our time was free. They have to know that we’re working our way up. We’re clawing our way up this ladder. We finally have features, but we will still do our own development. It gives us the utmost control. As soon as you accepts a development deal from a network, they have complete control of it. If they wake up and they’re like, “This would be really great if there was a raccoon in it.” You have to be like, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” [inaudible 00:37:39] versus holding that back, showing it to everyone, having them say find a network that actually believes in it , and then working with them to make something incredible.
Speaker 17: Great. Thank you.
J.J. Johnson: Hello.
Speaker 18: This might not be a question, but I would like to hear you talk a little bit about gender parity in the director’s chair. I think it’s as ground-breaking as anything else we’ve seen here. I think …
J.J. Johnson: Sure. One of the things, as soon as we did “Annedroids,” we took a look it corporately. We weren’t as gender balanced within our own corporation. I kind of love how the creative that we work on influences us, as well as the audience. One hopes. One of the first things we did was we balanced out our post teams. They were all men. That was easy. It was just seeking out women. The two that we hired were nominated for an Emmy Award for their editing work on Odd Squad.
Then in the directing chair, it’s something horrific. The DGC, I think it’s 16 percent of the members are women. It’s a sad little number. Honestly, there’s no real excuse for it, other than companies are nervous about putting money on fresh talent. The strategy that we did and we worked with, with Women in View which is an organization that’s trying to change those numbers.
We created a mentorship program, that actually ends up with a job. Versus mentorship programs that currently exist where you do a mentorship and you never get hired. We had so many female directors where the directors approach us and been like, “I’ve shadowed on eight different shows.” That’s not helpful. What we did, and I understand from a production point of view you want to be careful with your budget. If your budget for a TV show is $300,000, you don’t want to put that in any one’s new hands.
We partnered them with an established director, one of ours that we had worked with for a while. They would shadow that director, as they typically do three or four episodes in a block. They would shadow for three, and then they would get a chance to do their episode. That director, the mentor director, would be there in the background to assist them if they hit something that was a challenge or they needed some advice. They weren’t meant to speak, they were just there to be like, “Okay, here’s a way to work out your way out of a problem.”
We did three new directors on “Odd Squad.” They were phenomenal. They netted out some of our best episodes. Those three are now continuing to work on “Dino Dana.” We’re going to do that program again. Those three women directors are going to become the new mentors, for the new mentees. They were spectacular, so it’s just giving people a shot truthfully, and looking to see what they can do. They did shots that were something. They did, it was spectacular. I think to some people …
It was all good, but you do get … There’s this massive group coming up that just needs a chance to break through. I worry a little bit about our system, because it’s exec producer heavy. All of this creative goes into these companies, and they manage it the same way they would manage any show. It really stifles creativity. For me, the danger of Canada right now is where are the new production companies? Why do we still have the same group? If Sinking Ship is one of the newest ones, and we’re 12 years old, that’s sad. Every writer should have their own production company and be foraging their way. Then you have that control. Then you’re speaking with the network, so that when you pitch your next show, the network’s like, “Oh, I know who you are,” not, “Oh, I think I saw you in a meeting once, and you weren’t allowed to speak.”
Speaker 19: You’ve touched on a couple things that I’m curious about. One is, who’s out doing the pitching? Who has the context to get you in to see these broadcasters?
The second part is, where’s the money coming from? Are you relying on tax credits? Are you into the traditional forms of financing associated with Canadian film, Canadian television
J.J. Johnson: Sure. I don’t pitch. It’s a great question. I think gaining access to broadcasters is hard. I don’t pitch. We email those off, and it’s for them to watch it. Like I said, our fasted pick up is 24 hours. Let it speak for itself. If I wrote a script, I would have to go pitch it, and be like, “Trust me to do this.” This is, see it, know our track record now, and off you go. We were submitting those things well before.
If you like it, I can come in and wax poetic about why I think the show’s going to be great. If you’re on the fence, it’s not worth me time. I don’t want people to invest in us, as people. I want them to invest in the concepts and what we can achieve. I think to some degree, we have this problem where it’s dynamic personalities. Do they deliver?, should be the big question. It should be the question for any new creative that’s going to any production company. What have they done? What have they done that shows why you would want to be there. Just having a production company say this, is just like having a network say we’ll develop it. It doesn’t mean anything if they’re not the ones that can actually achieve that vision and go further. Be a little bit more discerning. Just having someone say yes to your idea, though great, is not the beginning of the battle. It’s just the start of it.
On the tax credit comment, we’re certainly supported. If you look at Sinking Ship’s model, we chiefly work with TVO, which is a small provincial network, who offers some of the lowest licence fees. They just don’t have the money. What they balance that with, is ridiculous creative freedom. What a company like mine thrives on is that freedom. We take that freedom, we go to the US, and the US is like, “Oh my God. We’ve never seen anything like this come out of Canada,” because we’re allowed to.
I would much rather go with companies that have a little less money. Take that and get enough money from the US to bring into it, and now suddenly every single one of our shows is airing in the US, and Canada, and 100 countries. You need a supportive partner that’s going to let you do the things that you want to do, and let you push the barrier and risk. If the risk is a little for TVO, they’re going to say, “Yeah, go for it. This is Daniel Cook. Give it a shot.” For them it’s $40,000, what does it matter? You have to find those people that are willing to go down that rabbit hole with you, because otherwise, you’re just going to slowly pull down your idea until it’s bland and won’t stand out.
You do have to fight that. The way to fight that, is to show it. Go show it to your kid. I say it all the time, please take it home. Show it to your kids, see what they say. More often than not, they want to come to the set when they see the dinosaur. It just keeps going, because you’ve given them something to respond to. Then hopefully, pats their little heart, or gets them a little nervous. We don’t do any show that we’re not terrified to make it. If we’re not terrified, other than we haven’t pushed it far enough. We haven’t tried new technology that we’ve never done before, haven’t tried a stunt sequence, or gone further field. Every single season we try to challenge both the last season of the show that we did, and every single subsequent show, so that it’s the best thing. I believe you should only be as good as the last thing you made, not something that was notable 12 years ago.
All right. Good. Thank you.
Anna: Oh my God. How awesome was that? Can we please say thank you once more?
It is one of our Canadian success stories that I think should be lauded way more often than not, here in Canada. I’m very pleased to be following him, and Sinking Ship in particular, because really what I want to talk about are three things which J.J. essentially spoke of.
In the exemplification that he used in terms of the work that he’s done. I don’t even know if that’s a word. Where he exemplified my points using his work. That’s what I meant.
The three things I really want to talk about is accountability, authenticity, and differentiated value. Keep those words in mind as I go through this presentation. Really, what we’re being asked of today, as the creative trailblazers section, is how do independent thinkers, or trailblazers, or creative people, think about notions of discoverability. What are our secret sauce, et cetera, and how can we then parlay these insights into a broader base of issues, which may be public policy, et cetera, associated with discoverability as well.
I’d like to preface this talk, sorry so many prefaces, but I have this hand talk that I typically do around this notion. I’m actually going to try something new, also inspired previously to my talk.
One is to really frame what I’ve put together in the context of what’s been happening in the past month. The context being that we have this incredible woman, Catherine – I’m afraid I forgot her last name. If someone can shout it out from the audience, that’s great. – who came up and talked about her experience at the CBC, with the Ghomeshi issue. We have this terrible president in the Philippines, Duterte, who just got elected. We have an American political election activity going on that’s totally ridiculous.
There’s all this stuff that’s going on right now, that actually has material context to what we’re talking about today. I want to bring in some of those thoughts that I’ve had, in terms of what’s going on in this digital network environment and society that we created… match right up with amazing stuff that’s going on with really accountable, authentic, creative people who understand differentiated value, and then frame it in terms of this broader idea of discoverability.
Sinking Ship is like Cirque Du Soleil. This is what this picture is all about. When you think of Cirque Du Soleil, you can call them all sorts of different things; innovative, service, a new product and service. Two guys called Kim and Mauborgne, in their Blue Ocean Strategy book, used them as their best practice example to talk about a whole new way of thinking about business.
The business that they’re talking about is the blue ocean strategy approach, where you take essentially a core business model, and you look at what could be eliminated from that particular corporation; reduced, raised, or created. In the case of Cirque Du Soleil, what they did in terms of what makes a circus a circus. Some of the things they eliminated from circusness are notions of star performers, aisle concessions, animal shows. What they did, is they brought up things that were totally new, like a theme, or unique venue, or artistic music and dance.
This became part of this model that these guys talked about – which is the blue ocean strategy – which is how to create value in a highly competitive market space. What you’re supposed to do when you’re trying to think of how do I create products and services, in this case creative content, in this attention economy that we’re in. One of the things that they’re looking at, is to look at these two sets of issues. Instead of competing in this existing market, you want to try to create something new. We heard that loud and clear with Sinking Ship.
Instead of beating the competition, you make it irrelevant. You don’t exploit existing demand. You capture it. You make the value, cost trade off, instead you break it. You really want to align your whole firm around the pursuit of your differentiated value proposition, which if can be done also at low cost – which we also heard from the previous example – would really position you well.
What this talks about today, is this notion of how do we create this whole new market space through differentiation and low cost. According to the Blue Ocean Strategy folks, that’s what they call value innovation. I think the whole purpose of the CRTC discoverability summit, is really to try to figure out how do we pursue value innovation in the content industry. Especially in light of the fact that we’re now sitting in an attention economy.
I want to pause there for a second, because this book was written quite a long time ago. It was also written in an economic context. That’s quite a bit different from where we’re in today. Some of the things that I’m thinking about right now, and haven’t quite parsed yet so fully, but I’d like to share with you, and I’d like you to think about, are notions that the economic context that we’re in, where we have a digital society, has changed dramatically. People have started to really question whether or not we are trying to solve the right types of problems.
What I’m talking about is really this notion that, when you have a digital society, where you move from industrial kind of economy to one that’s knowledge based economy… Perhaps the way we’re trying to extract value from our digital products and services, aren’t really the right ways we should be extracting value.
The book that I’m currently reading, and whose author I’m working with, is Douglas Rushkoff’s “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus.” Here he really talks about the fact that most companies are so fixed on extractive growth, that they’re just kind of like creating value for the sake of growing. In fact, may be growing at the expense of everything; employee satisfaction, at the expense of their own success even.
Twitter talks about Douglas Rushkoff is a good example of that, where you’ve got this billion dollar company that is perceived to be worth nothing, because they’re not growing as fast as what the venture capital investment into the wants them to be worth. There’s this kind of race to the bottom, if you will, when your only impetus is to grow infinitely. The Blue Ocean Strategy that I’m looking at, was really predicated on seeing the economy slightly differently from what it is today. I think we need to take this idea of value innovation in the content industry, and apply it to what we’re in now, which is this very uneasy space where we might have an economic infrastructure, or economic tools, as Douglas Rushkoff calls them – frameworks that don’t fit well into now, in this digital economy we find ourselves.
In light of that kind of context, how do we pursue value innovation? How do we do this? My very specific point today, is it’s actually not about discoverability. If we keep talking about discoverability, we’re going to lose the point. At the end of the day, and this is just one of them – I’ve talked about two other things – it’s actually about accountability.
It’s about accountability to ourselves, creators, to our audience, that we’re trying to serve, to investors that we might be beholden to, to the public to whom we are extracting tax dollars from, to a government who supports us, to our stakeholders who support us. There’s a whole slew of things that we ought to be accountable for. Perhaps that’s really the primary focus of how we might innovate value.
With that in mind, that the notion that we should be focused on is account… I think you heard that from J.J. That’s what he talked about. He was completely accountable to the creative vision that they had. He was also accountable to the types of content they wanted to create, especially in light of the fact that it was kid’s content that they were creating, and they wanted to be authentic to that particular experience.
There’s a number of ways that creative trailblazers instinctively know this. What I’m trying to do is unpack that instinctive impetus, and try to put a framework around it.
If it’s about accountability, how do we innovate value? What does value innovation mean today? One thing that I want to share is this notion that value innovation today, is about finding all the dogs, and telling them you’re a dog. We’ve heard this talked about basically in the last two days ad nauseam; niche markets, know your audience, really focus, et cetera.
This is an old New Yorker kind of cartoon that came out in the early 90’s. If you can’t read what it says, it says, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” How fantastic it was, for the first time we had this medium that seemed to level set all the differences between people. While today, in fact, what we want is that – I kind of scratch that out – is on the Internet, I want all the dogs to know that I’m the dog, so that find the right audience. We don’t even have to belabor this, but all the YouTubers understand this, that it’s really important that you find your audience, and you target them, et cetera.
What’s happened, this is a presentation that I’ve done before, so I’ve kind of stopped there. Fast forward to today, and my insight is that there’s actually another corroboree to this. On the Internet everyone knows if you used to be a cat. This is a very important distinction today. One of the things that I think we can really look at, that will help us in the cultural industries today, is how the American elections have played out. In fact, to me that is probably the biggest success story as it relates to content production, content engagement, and some sort of cult action.
This is a guy by the name of Myles Dyer. He has a Facebook page. He has a YouTube page. I don’t know if you can read it. He’s a Bernie Sanders supporter. This particular video is not really about Bernie Sanders. It’s a way for him to unpack why millennials are moving to support Bernie Sanders in droves. I highly urge you guys to watch this video if you haven’t seen it yet. It’s called Five Reasons Why There is a Path to Victory for Bernie Sanders.
One of the things he talks a lot about is authenticity. Millennials, most of them live and breathe the Internet, are especially good at detecting authenticity, which is a trait associated with integrity. Now everyone talks about this authenticity thing, and certainly I’ve sat in enough YouTube sessions where that’s one of the key comment ten commandments that they give the creators. You must be authentic.
At first, admittedly I thought, this is such hogwash. How can you be authentic if you’re mediated. There’s no such thing. The reality is that I think, whether it’s true authenticity or perceived authenticity, there is something very powerful about creating that kind of intimate bond between yourself and your audience. That was never part of what creative content was about before, that it is somehow very, very important now. Perhaps it’s the way the platforms have evolved. Perhaps it’s the context of our life right now is that much more complex, so people need that immediate engagement with the content they consume, and their mobile and desktop platforms.
Whatever it is, it’s not something that I can no longer shove aside and not pay attention to. That’s something that really does resonate. We’re seeing this in droves. Not just the content that’s being created in the cultural sector, but in American politics.
The other part of this authenticity, which I find is an interesting part, is not only is Myles Dyer saying that authenticity is important, but he says here, “We now have the ability to create digital footprints for each candidate, which means we don’t have to just listen to what they say, but we can look at what they’ve done.” That’s another things that’s very, very new. If [inaudible 01:00:38] now you can find the right audience, because now you can find all the dogs -you’re a dog, and you want to tell them you’re a dog- it is absolutely clear too, that if you were ever a cat, someone will find out.
How do we deal with that notion of integrity over time, or authenticity over time? If it’s something constructive, which for the most part, it probably is, then we need to think of that construction in terms of the long tale. That’s a very difficult thing for content creators to potentially understand, especially if you think about the work that you’re doing as from being from project to project. Again, which is why serendipitously, it was a genius move to put Sinking Ship before my talk. He even talked about that, which is this notion that they took that initial idea of This Is Daniel Cook. They grew that over time, so that people could see that they were committed to that vision of the growth of this boy throughout the different works that they’ve done.
This is something super new. When you’re thinking about this value innovation, around this notion of authenticity and digital footprints, what are some of the tools that you might want to use to really figure out where to find your audiences? I think one of the pieces in our tool kit that we need to start really focusing on are audience finders. I’m just going to whip through these, because most of you probably know what they are already.
Sara Diamond, who was here yesterday actually alerted us to Alert TV. This is a company in Vancouver, run by Moyra Rodger, Magnify Digital. She’s got a very powerful platform that helps people determine exactly where the audiences live, on which platforms and how to target them.
We have companies like … Oh, gosh, I’m going to forget what this company is called. Can someone read that down by the … NewsWhip, which is essentially a social listening tool that sort of reads all of the data from all the social feeds, then parses it off into set of dashboard analytics. You can also plug it into an API on your system, so that you can really, kind of separate the wheat from the chaff.
Audience finders, there are a ton of them. These are just a couple of examples. These are tools now we to have in our toolkit.
Point-of-view generators are also very important. When we’re trying to create, sort of this niche message, or this authentic message, and we want to ensure that we the have type of longevity of digital footprint that we’re trying to create. Then part of what is required is for us to really understand how to generate points of view.
This example that I have is kind of interesting. It’s not a tool necessarily, but it’s something that is being used often by a variety of brands. Using the cultural context, we see it as using influence from marketing to letting that halo effect point of view to whatever it is you’re creating.
Using the Filipino elections, this is [inaudible 01:04:07], which is this dance troop that essentially became the voice on Facebook for President Duterte. This was one of the key tools that he used to gain popularity amongst the large masses, who ended up voting for him. 38% of which ended up voting for him. This is an interesting turn of events. If a guy, a mayor of Davao in the Philippines is using an influencer on Facebook to push his agenda and social message, and have that halo effect affect the outcome of one country’s election, this notion of discoverability has jumped the shark.
People know how to use this stuff. This should not be something that’s a surprise to us. Hence, this is why I’m saying discoverability is so old-school. It’s about accountability. How can we make sure if anyone can use these tools in this manner… How do we, as creators, as public policy makers, as governments, start to reframe this new digital economy, or the kind of digital networks that are being created, and the type of society we now find ourselves in, in such a way that there’s a sense of accountability in everything that we do?
The next thing that can kind of help, in terms of how we do value innovation, is what I call by closing the conversion loop. For so long, we’ve thought of traditional, cultural content as being immersive; books, films, et cetera. It’s absolutely clear that immersion now includes participation. Again, it’s not even … We’ve had big brother for a long time. We have Bell running branded entertainment advertisement on their shows with Rogue Shark.
How do we start thinking differently about this notion of participatory design of cultural products? I think the next stage that’s happening is what I’m calling engagement engines. Now it’s no longer about the question of do we do this. Do we make interactive participatory content. How do we do it faster, cheaper, better?
Again, there’s a bunch of tools out there. This a Apester, which is used by a whole bunch of brands, which essentially just creates these embeddable interactive widgets that allows people to do polling, and surveys, and any kind of interactive content on your site. This is an interesting start up that we support in our idea boost digital entertainment accelerator, which is called Video-gammy. Video-gammy essentially takes the E-Sports market, which is a totally different market already. These are people who play video games, stream them live online, and then thousands, and thousands, and thousands of people watch them.
50% of male millennials will be watching Twitch this month. That’s how big the numbers are. What Video-gammy does is they have an algorithm that clips the highlights of these hours of streams, and they elect your average Joe consumer to essentially take those clips, annotate it, and post it.
There’s all these new engagement engines that are being created, because we don’t even have to talk about whether or not participation is of value. Now, it’s how do we get participation faster, cheaper, and absorbed in the workflows of our companies.
Value innovation by going direct. I think this is a massive piece of the cultural economic engine that is largely undiscussed. This is where essentially people are just going to go straight to consumers to pay for the stuff that they’re creating. It’s still fairly new. It’s just starting, but I think there’s going to be a lot of creators who are just going to bypass intermediaries directly.
This particular website, is the Young Turks Network. They’re one of the fastest growing news networks on YouTube. It’s run by a very aggressive Turk by the name of Cenk Uyger. The way they finance their entire news network is through subscription. You join and you’re a member. Obviously, they have merchandise.
Of course, everyone has heard of Patreon. This is essentially recurring revenues for artists that you can then sign up on. If you’re a YouTuber, you may decide not to go and sign up with an MCN, but instead get a Patreon account or license, so that you can generate revenues from your fan base.
Value innovation through material means. This is, again, the shift where digital has become so pervasive. It’s become so a part of our lives, that in fact, the value is being created outside of the digital spaces. I’m going to just pass this through.
We’ve done a bunch of work in this area, by developing projects that generate physical products. This is an award-winning, interactive narrative project that we did starring David Cronenberg, that resulted in a physical object called a pod being printed. There’s that kind of artistic expression of what I’m talking about.
The other part of what I’m talking about is just the pure, kind of commercial mechanics of how people are making more money in terms of the physical experiences rather than the digital experiences. The escape game rooms are an example of this.
This is a whole new breed of participatory theater experiences that are cropping up all over the place, across North America. The ones in Toronto, you can’t buy a ticket. The moment an escape room goes up, it’s sold out. Brands are starting to look at how do they extend their experiences into these physical games that people play. It’s participatory, but it’s also live, and it’s ticketed. That will allow them to monetize their properties further.
Today we have CBC announcing that Live Nation and NextVR are streaming the first ever VR concerts. Again, what VR is accommodating for us, is the whole new other product, which is a new point of view within live environments that they can then start to ticket. Right? In a theater, you’re limited by the number of seats you can sell. With live VR, what you can do is, you can actually put a camera where the basketball net is, for example. Then all of the sudden, that net view becomes the most valuable property, and can also command the highest price. That’s essentially replicable across whomever is interested in doing that, increasing the value of that experience exponentially.
Then we’ve heard of people talk about VR, but I really see as more than just VR. It’s about innovating by colonizing space. Digital needs to come out of the screen, because it’s this need to find more ways to monetize itself, I suppose. You’ve got AR engines, you’ve got headsets that are being created. This is part of what we did with the Google glass, and of course you’ve got VR coming out in commercial mainstream this year.
What’s really needed are accessible platforms. Although, you’ve got Google cardboard, which arguably zero dollars, or at least two dollars. You’ve got the higher end systems like the HDC5. There aren’t really that many authoring to a platforms that are being created to make it accessible for any content creator to create VR. We’re helping one of these accessible platform companies through our idea boost accelerator. They’re called Pinch VR. They’re developing a whole new way to create and publish VR content, and also allow for interactivity to happen in mobile VR.
Last, but not least, it’s really about being able to fail faster than the incumbents. Again, J.J. kind of spoke about this, where he talked about the need to do their own development. The need to finance themselves, so that they can then have control over it, and can move on if they can’t find the right market for that.
I’m sort of rushing through this whole thing. We do a lot of experiments. This is our Google labs that we did in San Francisco. We do a whole bunch of not just prototyping of products, but also prototyping of business models. This is the business model canvas that we use often, or value innovation canvas that we use. Really what you need is a toolkit for that, in terms of that value of failing faster that incumbents. What you need are meaningful media creators. I think that’s what we want to promote as policy makers, and as the government. How do we create a culture or building more J.J.’s?
I’ll end there. Maybe I’ll ask you to come and step up and stand with me, in case there might be any questions. I kind of rushed through this, because I know we didn’t have time. My whole thing is really around… The three points that I want to make are the following.
One is, forget about discoverability. We’ve moved beyond that. Sorry. Jean-Pierre. The second thing that I think we need to really be mindful of is that it is about accountability. It is about our need to connect authentically with our audiences. It is about the need to have a differentiated value proposition, because we live in this attention economy, that is increasingly becoming difficult to navigate. Unless you have all of those three things, I think it’s going to be very hard to compete. Not to mention the fact that we’re also trying to compete in a space where we’re really trying to figure out where to go. In terms of this extractive growth model, versus really trying to finally find a more appropriate economic model than the current one we have now.
So thank you. Are there any questions?
Speaker 20: Thank, Anna. That was great.
A lot of what you talked about sounds like you’re kind of looking the next phase of being media creation. I mean, I’m not just on some wide thinking, I like thinking about [inaudible 01:16:44] and disruption, and looking at how the actual product changes when you’re changing the technology. How do some of these toolkit items that you talked about apply to people who are still thinking in terms of creating your next best series that’s going to be as good as, or better than Game of Thrones? Or, some of the Netflix originals, which are really still just old-world thinking. There seems to be a sense of your drawing a boundary, a boundary between old product and new product. Where does that old product fit in this?
Anna: That’s a great question. I probably should have predicated this talk by saying, there will always be a space for blockbuster, let’s call it high-premium blockbuster items. I think we can’t really escape the fact that money will talk in many, many instances. If you’ve got the star power, if you’ve got a boatload of money for marketing and promoting a product, and you’ve got a boatload for production, then there is always going to be a place for that.
The reality, though, is that in Canada, we don’t have those same dollars. We need to figure out how to compete with the limited resources that we do have. Within those limited resources, I think it’s important for us to then figure out what that differentiated proposition might be. I think it’s about always thinking a little bit ahead of everyone else, in terms of what might be coming down the road. Having not just the ability to be an early adopter in that space, but to have the staying power to stay there until such point that the market catches up with you.
I think there’s a number of different government mechanisms and NGO mechanisms that help support either that ability to move into that space, or that ability to stay in that space until the market catches up with you. Which makes Canada a very, very compelling environment to be in.
Speaker 21: Hi, Anna. Really a brilliant talk, and lots of fun. I want to go back to the question of authenticity, because I’m somewhat uncomfortable with it. I get the, if you ever wear a cat, you may be discovered. If you look at the construction of a Donald Trump, I think there’s a way where history does not follow. Trump’s been able to, in a sense, construct a whole other identity that is not rooted in history. In a sort of Baudrillardian sense, it’s the performance of authenticity that we’re talking about. I think we have to be really very cautious about that. It’s the ability to produce that sort of sentiment, rather than to be able to have veracity of authenticity.
Anna: I totally agree with you.
Speaker 21: It’s an ethical challenge behind it
Anna: That’s why I started with the notion of accountability. I do think we are now in this space where, whether that’s the performance of authenticity, or a true authenticity is privileged by the technologies that we’ve created, and then the user behaviors that have come out of those technologies. Now, that’s done. It’s vaped. It’s done. We know it’s done because of the results of the things that I spoke about. In a weird way that’s why I’m saying, in light of this, where does accountability play a role, and what does that actually mean?
It’s not about discovering those people any longer. It’s about how do we make ourselves accountable for that kind of potential exploitation of both the technologies and the user behaviors who have grown up with those technologies.
Speaker 21: I think this is a really interesting and important conversation in the Canadian context, where there are public broadcasters. There is a public broadcaster. There is a public space. There is a film board. That dialogue about sustaining a space of authenticity and public discourse. What kind of investment and projects go into that space that are meaningful, is very different in the US and other jurisdictions where there isn’t a public space that requires some level of protection.
As we continue the conversation, it’s going to be very important for us to be clear about what is purely subject to the market. With the various supports that we can put in place, what kinds of fences we put around other kinds of discourses and spaces around accountability.
Anna: I guess that’s why I’m also saying. By sort of reframing the conversation away from discoverability, which flattens everything out, to the notion of accountability. Which then allows for the nuances of, well there are different types of accountability if you’re talking about the public, versus the market, versus your audience, versus your investors. That becomes a much more nuanced conversation.
Thank you very much.
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