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Created in 2010, ICI Tou.tv was the first French-language online platform entirely devoted to TV viewing. Since its launch, ICI Tou.tv has stood out for the depth and variety of its content, as well as its wide accessibility. Its free offering remains the only French-language streaming video service on the market open to all audiences. Christiane Asselin shares the ingredients that make ICI Tou.tv a leader on the French-language mediascape at home and across the Francophonie. Speaking of his path that led to the web, Jonathan Roberge gives an overview of his career as a comedian. Launching a web-series to increase visibility for his fans, Jonathan Roberge discusses his view of the web industry and his creative process over time. Now, with nearly 100,000 followers on Facebook and more than 30M clicks on all his work, this pioneer of successful web series (Contrat de gars, Vie de vrai gars, Fiston and Papa) continues to expand his universe and produce advertising and series to show the whole impact the web can have on a business.
This video presents two case studies on the business model for subscription-based video-on-demand in the French language market. The first discusses TOU.TV: Radio-Canada’s video-on-demand service. Good example of discoverability, TOU.TV was known by 76% of Internet users one year after it launched, mostly owing to productions like Série Noire. In the second case study, comedian Jonathan Roberge shares how seven years ago, he was able to get on the Web and gain over 100,000 Facebook friends and 30 million clicks on his work.
“TOU.TV’s ingredients for success were: good timing, good partners, good content and a good broadcasting strategy.”
“Netflix was the first to launch subscription-based video-on-demand in Canada. This is how we knew that people were ready to pay, and it is especially then that companies woke up because we could not let Netflix take control of the entire market in Canada. So, Club Illico was launched in 2013, and we launched TOU.TV Extra in 2014.”
“But, launching this type of service is not easy. This is not a loyal clientele. This is a clientele that requires more all the time, that will change services every month. So, it is not easy, and it requires a good business model.”
“When one gets into subscription-based video-on-demand, content is not the only thing that matters.”
“Web series, that’s what lets us explore new talent, new actors, new directors, so, we are definitely going to continue making them.”
“As a comedian, the goal isn’t just to make people laugh, it’s to get people into the entertainment venue. So, you have to be popular. Yes, we had millions of views, but we did not yet have a loyal audience. We had to find a way to turn those clicks into a profit.”
“This is certainly the case today: if it lasts more than two minutes, we don’t watch it.”
“There are millions of videos on the Internet, so, quality is now as important as in movies or on television.””
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: This session will be in French, so if you need translation, you can take a pair of headphones.
I want to thank our panelists for this session, but because I know them personally, I really love it. First, we’ll hear from Christiane Asselin, who has been director of multiscreen, web TV and ICI TOU.TV programming for all Radio-Canada’s French-language services since March 2015. And then the second case study will be presented by Jonathan Roberge, who is an author, producer, comedian and actor. And so let’s start with Ms. Asselin.
Christiane directs the site ICI TOU.TV. which is an on-demand video platform, as you know, we use it all the time. It was a forerunner when it launched in 2010. A platform…
Christiane Asselin: Don’t say my speech now.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Well, wait a second. I’m just presenting you real quick. Otherwise, I’ll have nothing to do. It was a forerunner because it was the first time such an offer of Francophone material was available on-demand on the web. So, the choice of older series to catch up on, acquired shows, original Canadian series, lots of things like that and… well, do you really want me to stop right now? Yes? No?
Christiane Asselin: No, feel at ease.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Perfect, because I have nothing but praise.
Christiane Asselin: Ha, ok.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Ever since the launch, you’ve stood out for the richness and diversity of the content. That’s true. And for its wide accessibility… a little less since it costs $8.99 a month.
Christiane Asselin: $6.99. Yes, we’re the least expensive.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: $6.99? But I have $8 on my credit card.
Christiane Asselin: Hum…
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Anyways…
Christiane Asselin: Maybe the tax.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Yeah, yeah… because I wanted to watch…
Christiane Asselin: Série Noire.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Exactly. Anyways, with its free tier, it still remains the only Francophone platform open to all markets and so today, Christiane, you are going to reveal the ingredients… because I’m always speaking of ingredients… which make ICI TOU.TV a benchmark in the Francophone media landscape and la Francophonie. And so, please join me in welcoming Christiane Asselin.
Christiane Asselin: Thank you.
So, as Anne-Marie said, I will be talking about TOU.TV and TOU.TV Extra. Is there anyone in the room that doesn’t know what TOU.TV is? Oh, there’s one. Okay, so I’ll be explaining it for you, miss. As Anne-Marie was saying, ICI TOU.TV is Radio-Canada’s on-demand video service. There’s a free tier and a tier for which you must subscribe called TOU.TV Extra. Why am I talking to you about this today during the Discoverability Summit? Because TOU.TV is a beautiful example of discoverability. Right in the first year… After one year, 76% of Internet users knew about TOU.TV. So it had a phenomenal growth considering we didn’t adopt Radio-Canada’s name. We took a gamble by building on another brand. So to have the awareness level of 76% is huge. And certainly, we were able to build a content hub. TOU.TV is a place where thousands of people circulate every month, and it’s our way to have niche and brand content discovered. As Anne-Marie was saying, there are ingredients. And so the ingredients for ICI TOU.TV’s success were good timing, good partners, good content and good broadcast strategy.
Good timing. We’re looking at what happened in Canada. In 2005, YouTube arrived. In 2007, iTunes arrived. And in 2010, 40% of Internet users watched television on the Internet… Francophone Internet users. And so you can understand that it was the perfect moment to launch TOU.TV And so we’re proud to say we were a forerunner. Next, we had a big American friend called Netflix arrive in Canada in September. It was the first to launch a subscription on-demand video service in Canada. This indicated to us that people were starting to be willing to pay [for content] and certainly, the companies got a wake-up call because… we can’t allow Netflix to take over all of the Canadian market. The Illico Club was launched in 2013, and we launched TOU.TV Extra in 2014. I think it was important to offer Francophones a club, a subscription on-demand video service to create competition and to have another option other than Netflix. Also, we know, Netflix doesn’t offer much French-language content. Sorry… there are not a lot of people and I’m very nervous. I’m going to calm myself. Good. Okay, so we also wanted an option that reflected Canadians more. Club Illico arrived and so did TOU.TV and I think we know Canada’s population better and so we can cater more to their needs. There’s SHOMI which arrived after. Crave and we know too that other subscription on-demand services are coming. Amazon, we hear about it, but we don’t know when it’ll arrive, but it’s certain to hurt, so it’s really important that we rally in Canada and offer a subscription on-demand video option.
Next, we talk about it a lot and a lot of people want to say, “well, but I’m going to launch my video-on-demand service too. I’ll charge $4.99 a month and I’ll make money.” But to launch that kind of service isn’t easy. It’s a clientele that isn’t loyal, a clientele that continuously asks for more and that will change services from month to month and so it’s not easy and it requires a good business model. A good business model for us was to have good partners. I don’t know if you can see really well in the graphic, there are black bars, but we can see that TOU.TV has a free section. We then have the membership subscribers who pay directly. This represents a great many of our subscribers. But we also have subscribers who come from Rogers and Telus, and those are excellent partners for us. They garner a 35% share of the Francophone market and it’s a lever for us because they promote Extra and our content.
Okay, so good timing, good partners and good content. Certainly, content could have been the first subject touched upon today because without good content, we can’t develop any kind of platform or option. But at the same time, when you launch a subscription on-demand video service, content isn’t the only thing. All of the other elements that I’m talking to you about today are very important for a business model and an option to work and succeed. At TOU.TV we have a lot of content, we have catch-up TV, we have series that are millionaires like Unité 9 and we offer the majority of Radio-Canada’s television shows. We have some acquired shows. We have acquired shows from Quebec, the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, and we also have our web series like Switch & Bitch and Quart de Vie. The web series are offered in the free section of TOU.TV and are very important. Why? Because in Switch & Bitch, we reached mainly youth between the ages of 18 and 25. With Quart de Vie, we had a million of people watching. The web series permits us to employ new talent, new actors, new producers, and so it’s certain that we will continue to make more. In the content, there’s also the concept of the content of the channel within the network. That is to say that within the Radio-Canada group, we have specialty channels like Explora and so last February, we launched 50 titles within the Extra section that came from the Explora channel. We also announced that next year we are going to launch the channel Véro.tv. If you don’t know Veronique Cloutier, it means you’re the 1% of Internet users who do not know her because 99% of Internet users know Veronique Cloutier and she’s part of… She is in the top five favourite artists in Quebec. So, we launched this recently and we saw last week that Ellen Degeneres was copying us because last week, she announced that she was launching her web channel.
Let me continue with my ingredients. So far we have good timing, good partners, good content, and then there’s the right strategy for the broadcast window. Try to follow. What is a broadcast window strategy? It’ means broadcasting content on the various platforms in the sequence that is most profitable for each of the platforms and for the content. We often say that we need to develop the right content for the right platform, but there is also such a thing as creating a sequence that makes the platform and the content profitable. I’ll give you some examples. We created a program called Le Nouveau Show. We sought out young actors who are liked by youth and, I repeat, youth like watching on the Internet. And so first we made an original TV series with them for TOU.TV Extra. Then we put it on ARTV, and then on Radio-Canada. It’s important to know that Le Nouveau Show is a program, a comedy skit. So we didn’t offer the episodes all at once. It’s easy to watch drama series on the Internet all at once—we call it binge viewing—but for comedy skits this isn’t the best recipe. For us, it was six episodes from the start, and then we made a series of monthly releases online and for us it was a great success. Another example is Nouvelle Adresse and this was a drama series which was quite popular. What we did was that at Christmas when people have time, they’re at home, they’re in slippers, we gave them three episodes on Extra, three episodes of Season Two of Nouvelle Adresse. Season 1 had just finished. We offered three episodes on Extra to give people the appetite to re-watch the show, and then Season Two of Nouvelle Adresse was aired on Radio-Canada. Season 2 of Nouvelle Adresse had a greater viewing share than Season One. We don’ have all the scientific results, but for the moment, it’s functioning well. I could give you more strategies that we’ve developed, but it will be for another conference, on another panel.
I’m going to end with the extreme case of discoverability, Série Noire. I’m sure there are some fans in the room… Jonathan. Everyone in Quebec is a fan of Série Noire. With this show, what you need to know, is that there was a first season on television. The people who watched the show became obsessed fans and one day, they learnt there wasn’t going to be a Season Two. And so they all cried at home. They rallied together on the Internet and exerted pressure for a second season. We said to ourselves, we’re going to serve this clientele and we’re going to produce another season. I’ll give you a little excerpt.
With Série Noire, Radio-Canada succeeded in reinventing itself, meaning we did promotion both online and on TV and the radio. All the departments of Radio-Canada participated in the promotion of Série Noire. On Facebook, we put a lot of original content, interviews with the actors, behind-the-scenes footage. Before we revealed there would be a Season Two, we leaked some snippets of the show online to let people think that maybe there would be one. We made a web series called Obsession in which Sebastien Diaz interviewed guest actors. We did trivia quizzes online. We did a big media launch. Let me focus on this aspect a little. Our media launch was a mega garage party. Imagine, Radio-Canada, in Montréal, in the garage where we usually put trucks. We transformed this garage into a hipster bar. 3,300 fans participated in a contest to partake in the garage party. And when they arrived there, the actors were there. There were tattoo bars. There were places where people could buy Série Noire merchandise. There was a silent auction. To promote Extra, we even put kiosks where people could subscribe to Extra for those who weren’t subscribed already. This made the splash for the launch of Season Two of Série Noire which debuted on Extra and all at once. It was a big push for Extra and a big push for Série Noire.
#PartySérieNoire was the highest trending hashtag on Twitter in Montréal the day of the launch, 4 November, and the ninth trending hashtag in Canada on the very day Trudeau was sworn into office. Hence, Série Noire, Trudeau… the same battle. Next… the number of monthly members doubled during the online launch of the second season. Again, profitable for Extra, profitable for Série Noire. My conclusion, as I was saying, is that discoverability involves several elements, not just one thing. It’s also to tell you that in Canada when we start providing services, whether it’s subscription on-demand video or something else, the world is our competition. As we were saying earlier about good partners, I think it’s important if you’re thinking about it that you tell yourself… I don’t know… “I’m such and such company, such and such a distributor and I’d like to provide a service in Canada,” certainly to rally together, to face the competition, that’s a good idea. That’s that. Thank you.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Thank you very much, Christiane. Let’s move on to the second case study, which will be presented by Jonathan Roberge. Jonathan, you’re going to be speak about the path that brought you to the web and at the same time you’ll do a snapshot of your career as a humorist.
Jonathan Roberge: Yes. That’s exactly it.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: You threw yourself into a web series to achieve greater visibility for your fans. We already knew you because of Contrat de Gars, and then you turned emo.
That’s what happened. You became a little softer. And then you… Jonathan is going to talk about his way of seeing the web industry and his creative process over time. You now have more than 100,000 followers on Facebook. Thirty million clicks for the body of work of Jonathan Roberge. So tell us how you did that and we’ll try to copy you.
Jonathan Roberge: Excellent. Perfect. Just to… Are there people here who have already seen what I do? Ok, ok, that’s not bad. That’s about half. That’s good. I started with doing stand-up in bars and I realized after a year that doing jokes in front of fifty half-drunk people, my career wasn’t going anywhere. Not that I wasn’t funny but the humor market is saturated in Quebec. There are lots of comedians. So, the same year that I noticed my career was stagnating and that to make $50 on the other side of Quebec to say a couple of jokes, I was sick of it. After a show, I was with my partner, Alexandre Champagne, from Trois Fois par Jour. He’s the one who does the pictures of the muffins. Not the one with the big lips, the other one. We were sitting there and we were trying to come up with a career strategy. He brought up the idea of Facebook. Facebook had just launched at the time and it wasn’t all that popular at first, the first year. We told ourselves, okay, we can write jokes on there. They can be read at Sept-Îles and we don’t have to go there and we would be only ones doing this. And then a few jokes later, we realized, jokes aren’t shareable. So we had the idea to make a series called Contrat de Gars. It was a really absurd series. I’ll show you an excerpt. I apologize for those who aren’t fans of this kind of humour. And so, excerpt number one, please. You, Anne-Marie, you like that, eh?
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: It was really good Contrat de Gars.
Jonathan Roberge: Anne-Marie was a fan of Contrat de Gars. Thank you, Anne-Marie.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: I was featured in Contrat de Gars.
Jonathan Roberge: Yes, Anne-Marie with Chainsaw is what we called her.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: And it was Christiane who paid for it…
Jonathan Roberge: And it was Christiane who paid us to write those jokes. So, basically, Contrat de Gars was an idea from Alex and I, and we had approached Just for Laughs because we knew that Just for Laughs wanted to develop a content platform. We proposed it and they financed a few installments with $2,000 to $3,000 so… You can see that we became very rich with that series. We did a few episodes, but there was no interest, it did not catch on at all. It was difficult on the site. It was buffering all the time, slow. It was ill-conceived, the site, and Just for Laughs said, “Ok, it’s not catching on, we’re pulling the plug.” So we went back to our episodes. We had a good idea, we knew that. It’s a real stupid kind of humor, but we knew it could appeal to a certain group of guys. And so, we kind of self-funded ourselves. We’ll make two more, and we’ll have five total, we’ll put them on YouTube and whatever happens happens. And then, in a few months, we had 10 million views, and we drew in guys aged 18 to 25, not only from the four corners of Quebec, but also France. There were people in France who were dressing up as us for Halloween parties. That’s when we realized we had succeeded in branding a series with strong characters, stronger than anything else on TV for guys at the time. And so, V Télé approached us and offered to finance a series. And so we told ourselves, okay, so it was a hit on the Internet. That’s fun but we’d have to upgrade. We had little in the way of a budget. We’d have to provide something because now the web had exploded. The content… every hour there’s 192 million videos that are loaded on YouTube. I’m sorry but a squirrel that’s peeing in its mouth gets more likes and views than me. So I had to come up with something spectacular. And that’s where the series Une Vie de Vrai Gars, which was a spin-off of the other series, came in. We asked ourselves, how can attract the people… and the answer was with the spectacular. I’ll show you guys the second excerpt. Please.
As you were able to see, we had a bit of an upgrade. But we did it with $12,000 and with lots, lots, lots of passion. And we gave ourselves body and soul; every episode involved from 60 to 100 hours of editing. And it was us who were doing it with Pierre-Luc, an excellent producer who also believed that if we came up with not only spectacular content but also a spectacular package, we could attract more people. But at the end of the line, after only a year and a half of existence, we had reached another 10 million views. But, the broadcaster pulled the plug, and I’m not bitter, I completely understand, because he was having difficulty making a profit. Because it’s not thanks to the $2 per click that he could make a profit with our series. And that’s still the major problem with the Internet. It’s to make it profitable. Yes, there are some who may get subsidies, but there really aren’t many. There may be a tax credit. You can make it so you get a bit of money, but at the time, it wasn’t common; the association of brands with big business, big companies… that arrived later. We had to develop it. We had to convince them with the numbers that we were more watched than TV shows. And then, I had enormous success. I had won several prizes, but I still wasn’t satisfied. My goal as a humorist was not just to make people laugh but also to have people come to the shows. So you have to be popular. Yes, we had millions of views, but it still wasn’t a loyal public and we had to find a way to profit from that number of clicks. So I came up with the idea to make a book. I told myself that I have a hundred million people who love what I do online. I’ll write a book. I did the rounds with publishers with my little book, and no one was interested. Everyone was saying, “You’re not known.” And I would reply, “You may not know me, but I’ve got a fan base with numbers.” Because that’s what is fun about the Internet: you can have the numbers right away. You can say that you have 100,000 people that watch you regularly. And still, nobody wanted my book. So I took what was written in that book and I made episodes, called “Fiston.”Anybody here watch “Fiston”? It was probably the most popular thing I did. Yes, okay, perfect. It was MSN who approached me after the success of Contrat de Gars and who said, “Listen, you reach a lot of youth and what we want to do is to rejuvenate the platform, so here is a check,” which was bigger than anything that anyone had given to me before. So I was very happy. I was filming myself in my kitchen and I was getting pretty respectable checks. And I’m going to show you an excerpt about how I was able to make it even more profitable. I gained credibility in the realm of TV because in TV and on the Internet, I spoke about it a lot today, there’s this competition of being looked down upon because, oh, that’s just a little series, there’s no budget. But at the same time, we have more views than certain TV series. So I was approached, and I was surprised, by the government, who told me: “We aren’t able to reach youth. We need subscriptions on our sites. Your episodes work. Is it possible to find common ground? Can you write an episode for us and try to bring subscriptions to our site?” And so I made an ad for RAMQ and we’ll watch a little excerpt. It was a recycling of the “Fiston” concept and I’ll tell you the numbers after.
Okay… so the government paid for that. Today, I do advertising, I still wonder how I was able to convince an advertising company that that was going to work, and it did more than just work. They had hoped to get from 1,000 to 2,000 subscriptions on the site so that youth could see whether RAMQ covered them with their work, if they left their work, and to tell them, hey this is important. We realized that after only a few hours there were over 10,000 subscriptions for their site. I told myself, okay, now I’ve got numbers, I’m going to try to sell my book because we have to make the Internet profitable at some point. And I made the rounds, and once again, it was nothing but refusals. There were still people who just didn’t believe. So I had to make money. I went to write for TV. So… I’m in TV and I’m writing on a show called Testé sur des humains. Anybody watch it? Yes, yes, okay, perfect. We took on a TV show, and they put their trusts in me and Alex, two young writers and for them, their show was so-so. Their audience numbers were between 6,000 and 8,000, and for them, that wasn’t enough. They were aiming for 10 million viewers. They told themselves, okay, for you guys, it’s working great on the web, we’re going to try to reach out to your viewers, your popularity, and bring that over to our show. I told them, we need to break the barriers to reach the people from the web and tell them your TV show exists since they are two completely different entities. They had confidence in us and so we created an ad, and we weren’t expecting this, but we did a flash mob. Nowadays, a flash mob isn’t really all that impressive, but a few years ago, it was. So we tried using a flash mob as a type of publicity because we knew it would probably go viral. It’s always a guess, but we hoped it would. I think it’s the next, or the one after that. Yeah. The flash mob, yes, please. No, that’s not the right one. Well, otherwise, this is a superb series that I am working on at the moment.
Jonathan Roberge: After seeing the Internet help the government, now we see the Internet helping a TV show. This surpassed the expectations of TVA because they expected it to go viral on the Internet in Quebec. The thing is that it went around the world and the boss would come into our office and would say: “You’ve got a call with Russia. There’s a news channel that wants to talk to you.” And then in Spain, in Portugal. Our video really did the rounds. We went from a show that had 600,000 in viewership to 1.2 million the week after this video launched. Thank you. Thank you. You’re good at starting applause. I like that. After that, I swam a little bit in the TV universe for two years. I had a bit of fun. I won’t deny it. To write for others, to write within guidelines, within a small box where I wasn’t allowed to indulge in my antics even if I had succeeded with that, I was very proud of that, but I couldn’t go any further. So I threw myself into advertising with my manager. We approached clients with the fact that I was able to make good videos like this one and to help an enterprise, a foundation, whatever. The first client we approached was the Jean Lapointe Foundation which we knew was looking for people to do a campaign. Their budget was a TV ad budget, which is still pretty huge, and I told them, give me $60,000 and we’ll see what happens on the Internet. We’ll do a market study to see how much we saved in the end. So I’ll show you what we were able to do with $60,000 and I’ll tell you the impact it had afterwards.
Jonathan Roberge: Thank you. So the client, the Jean Lapointe Foundation, had put up $60,000. The day after the Internet launch, the episode had already been viewed several million times and it was also shared several times. We were invited to all the talk shows. They spoke about it in the newspapers and magazines, the radio. We had ten or so interviews per day, I and Noémie. We hired a firm that evaluated the impact of the ad, and they estimated that in terms of advertising placements, we’d just made $2.2 million worth of placements with the $60,000 that had been invested. The Internet has evolved in the last few years. I don’t know if you remember, but there was a time when we would open a window and the first thing you would see was the wait time for it to load. When it was more than two minutes, we didn’t even take the time to look at it. At one point, we let ourselves get influenced by titles. People would share something, and wow, that’s funny. The container was more interesting than the content. We just wanted to see what had gone viral today, what was spectacular. I did it with Contrat Gars and then I did it with Vie de Vrai Gars and then we reached a point where people were consuming the Internet like they consumed TV. Programs started lasting longer and longer. Ads like this one or awareness campaigns began to grow, and people don’t consume like they used to. It’s no longer true that if it lasts longer than two minutes, we don’t watch it. I did a series that’s called Papa. Season 1 just finished and the challenge was that I had written seven-minute texts. The broadcaster was really nervous because he was saying that people were going to close the window after two to three minutes, and we kept telling ourselves, no, if the content is interesting and if we offered something to them like what they could see on TV, if the quality was what people were used to seeing on TV and we could bring them to consume on their site something that was created professionally, the investment was worth it. I’ll show you the trailer that we just launched for the series Papa. We decided to give it a cinematic feel, and we gave ourselves body and soul to lend it this quality. Yeah, from the beginning now.
Well, this series was the proof that offering quality seven-minute episodes worked because in the first two months we reached 5 million views. And not only 5 million who opened the window, started watching and then closed the window. It was 5 million complete views. I won’t hide the fact that after I had accomplished all this publishing houses said yes to my book. They all called me back. And what’s fun is that I went with one that I hadn’t gone to see in the beginning. And for the first time, I got to see the impact that the fan base could have because for me the idea was always to create a large following. Because it’s no secret that all humorists want to sell tickets. We are like that and I’ve done it. I’ve just finished a tour. I sold 40,000 tickets without much promo. The media was interested in us, yes, but we were successful in filling our halls. I also was able to sell 8,000 books in two months. So, in the end, we were able to make these so-called clicks profitable. And I’ll finish with that. Thank you.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: It takes a long time to monetize clicks but…
Jonathan Roberge: It took seven years. All in all, it was seven years before it became profitable, before I no longer had to go and create ads and I no longer had to go write for TV. To make a living with just the Internet took seven years. And I’ve seen a lot of young people try to start web series lately and they don’t care about the content. They think that filming themselves in their kitchen will make them popular… but actually, people have… come to think of it, I have a statistic that impressed me, where those aged 18 to 34 have more YouTube accounts than American TV channels have viewership.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Wow.
Jonathan Roberge: So this audience has choice. As I was saying, there are a million choices on the Internet and so quality has become as important as in TV or cinema.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: That’s for sure. Do you have any questions for Christiane or Jonathan? Come on.
Jonathan Roberge: My room is 224. No, that’s not true. Just in case, I’m plugging myself.
Speaker #1: Is it available on Smart TV?
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Yes, I have it as an app.
Christiane Asselin: I’m going to repeat the question. Is it available on Smart TV? We’re starting, so this means you can have it on Chromecast. We’re going to launch it soon on Apple TV. And we’re developing for others, too. We did launch a first version on Samsung and LG. These are companies that present challenges because we constantly have to start over because Samsung and LG change how things are programmed and it demands a lot of energy, but it’s really important to be on Smart TVs. Yes.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: There you have it. Maybe I can ask you a question then if… You don’t have any questions for Jonathan? Okay, otherwise, I will ask one.
Question from Jean-Pierre Blais: Yes. In both cases, to learn and to better ourselves the second, third and fourth times, and it’s the same thing for Tou.tv, you need data on viewership. I was wondering if there were barriers, was it difficult, were you blocked? Where was it a battle to get data?
Jonathan Roberge: In my case, it happened twice where it was difficult to get my numbers because I was young and I had signed contracts without reading them where the broadcaster just didn’t want to tell me how many views had been reached because he was selling ads and I had a percentage on the advertising. So, for a while, it was easy to just not put the number of views and say, “Oh yeah, things are moving along. Things are going well. Everything is good.” But today, it’s a lot easier, you take Google Analytics and you have all the numbers you want… Everywhere… And with MSN, they’ve done the same thing. The first three seasons they never thought the series would be a big future hit and so they hadn’t collected all the statistics. We did the market study afterwards to get funding.
Christiane Asselin: But in the case of TOU.TV, it’s our numbers and so we don’t have to fight to get them. But at the same time, because we are the younger, poorer brother who lives in the older, bigger brother’s shadow and so on, we have data but it requires a lot of energy to analyze it. Certainly, in terms of the elements I was talking about earlier, the next one is in-depth knowledge of our audiences and so it’s important to analyze the behaviour of our audiences. We know that Netflix spends millions each year to better know their audiences. So, for sure, in our case, we have the data for TOU.TV, but we need to take the time to carefully analyze it all to better know what people want. But it’s accessible.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Christiane, we know that for Netflix, for example, their programming decisions are really based on the data, and not on the content, the really qualitative side. Meaning they’ll say: “Jonathan Roberge gets so many clicks—of course we’ll give him a show. Kevin Spacey, people watch his films—we’ll build House of Cards around him.” Does TOU.TV make decisions from the data or according to some more traditional content analysis?
Christiane Asselin: Obviously, when people have many fans… Of course we also wanted Jonathan at TOU.TV, but we didn’t get him. It’s our good friends at Quebecor that got him. It’s okay, it’s a good war. It had started on the “.tvs.” To state the obvious, we can’t win all the battles. Jonathan, lots of fans, desired by all Quebec’s TV broadcasters. In short, I would have liked to remember an article I read where they were saying Netflix based themselves on the data, but in the end, it’s still the gut feeling that decides. Because, yes, of course, Kevin Spacey is liked by lots of people and has lots of followers, and of course having lots of followers helps, but in the end, there’s still a gut feeling. You take all the data, but in the end, it’s a human. There was another article on Netflix about this, too. I could also say at the same time that Netflix is a good friend because for starters, it pushes people to watch and consume more on the Internet. So for us, even if it’s a competitor, it helps. When Club Illico came, there too, Club Illico and Quebecor have a really significant striking force. So they get people used to saying, wait a second, there isn’t just Netflix, you can come watch on the Internet, we have an option for you. TOU.TV Extra, we’re here for you, too. Netflix, recently, was also giving us really interesting data. They were giving us information on what kind of pictures we needed to put out there for people to click. For example, in a show where there’s five people, five stars, and you have a picture with the five stars, it’s not good. No more than one or two people on the…
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: The little poster.
Christiane Asselin: The little poster, the tab you have to click. And if the person is showing emotion, it’s even better. And sometimes, to even put the villains. It’s good to put the hero, but if you have a war between Daredevil and the bad guy, put the bad guy too. Netflix doesn’t share everything with us, but this kind of information, we don’t have the millions to get it, and I find it interesting that they are sharing it with us. And we have to take advantage of that, too.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Do you also see limits? Go ahead.
Jonathan Roberge: I just wanted to return to your point about data. I find this very interesting as a question because we see that there are many TV broadcaster that have tried to bring Internet celebrities to do TV. The best example is Musique Plus. For a while, they started to pick up all the YouTubers from Quebec who had lots of viewership and they said: “We’ll put them around a table. They’ll make episodes and the episodes will also be seen on the Internet. That’ll bring us more viewership.” And it didn’t work at all. Their videos worked great on the Internet, but once at Musique Plus, it wasn’t the same kind of celebrities. People who tuned into the channel didn’t know these eight guys and girls, while online they’re celebrities. It didn’t bring their following from the Internet to the TV. It’s two kinds of…
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: But that’s interesting because all of that isn’t in contradiction but is in quasi-opposition to… I moderated the same conference this morning but in English, and, for instance, there are many broadcasters who tell us to imitate a web series for TV—that is, there’s a company that created a series for gamers and instead of making it in a magazine format, they created it in a confessional YouTube format as if it was a real YouTube episode broadcast on TV. Instant success, and it brought the following from that show to the TV but among younger viewers. I was also wondering, do you see a limit to what people are willing to pay? As more platforms online keep multiplying. Myself, if I want to watch all the shows that I want to watch, I have to give $20 to TMN HBO, $8.99 to Netflix, $6 apparently… $6.99 to Extra and ICI TOU.TV., Illico, all of these. I have Crave in my package, but I’ve calculated and at the end of the month, I have an extra $60 added to my bill. I don’t mind, it’s my work. I put it in my receipts. But do you see a limit to what people are willing to pay?
Christiane Asselin: People don’t subscribe to everything at the same time. As I was saying earlier, the customers aren’t loyal. There are a lot of people who will subscribe to Illico, they’ll watch everything during six months and then they cancel their subscription. Then they’ll go to TOU.TV, they’ll watch want they want and…
Jonathan Roberge: That’s what I do. I’m a customer and that’s what I do.
Christiane Asselin: That’s it. Right now in Canada, people are subscribed to one, maybe two, services. Maybe in the future, over time, they’ll subscribe to two services because they have different content. I think the future will tell us, but at the same time, this customer base doesn’t have to call to say they want to cancel, they don’t want a certain network. I go online, I cancel, and it’s incognito. So for sure there’s a lot of customer churn. There’s a difficult retention rate, but that’s why every month we put new content and there’s a turnover. And at the same time I know a lot of people whose kids will subscribe to a specific channel, a manga service for example, because their kid is 15 and it’s popular. So you change channels, and you just have to be present. Of course, if tomorrow there’s an abundance of channels, as I was saying, there’s SHOMI, Crave, Amazon that’s maybe coming. Amazon, there’s a chance…. The thing with Amazon is it’s easy to subscribe. Most people have an Amazon Prime account and so when you come to subscribe, you don’t have to put in your credit card number. It’s done automatically. You may not have noticed, and you’re already a subscriber.
Jonathan Roberge: That’s my point. Maybe the easier it gets, the more we subscribe.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: And the more it’s innovative, I mean… an Amazon Prime account in Canada, it starts because if you’re a parent, you want 25% off your diapers. That’s what an Amazon Prime account gives you. It’s the one-day delivery and 25% off diapers. And for me, as a bonus, in addition to getting 25% off, I wanted to watch Transparent. But as a broadcaster, we need to make the connection: “Hey, I’m going to go get money where people buy diapers.” That’s a pretty creative way of thinking.
Christiane Asselin: But as we said, we still have an asset in Canada. We still have a star system. I’m talking about Quebec in particular. We have a star system and we have to use it. And in the end, that’s why Netflix arrives, Amazon arrives, we continue to work with our star system and with the Jonathans of the world. Not we, but… I like to bug him about it.
Jonathan Roberge: Haha, it weighs heavy on her.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: I have one last question for you, because, having done this panel twice, once in English, on the English-language side, there’s an ease in getting funding, not at the public level but at the level of branded content. In Quebec, I have a feeling we’re a little less hot…
Jonathan Roberge: We’re behind. It’s difficult. I’m currently doing it, but it’s difficult.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Could you, for example, approach a brand and say, “Look, I’m not going to talk about your brand until the 17th episode but could you give me $2 million?” Because I met a guy this morning who did exactly that. He financed a complete drama series on lesbian vampires with Kotex tampons. And he mentioned Kotex once in the 17th episode.
Jonathan Roberge: We have that with the series Papa. For me, I’ve been trying to approach brands since Fiston. We arrived with the numbers, with the target audience. It’s boys aged 18 to 26, it’s the girls aged 26 to 34 who watch my series. We really had all the numbers, and it interested no one up until this year. I find this really recent in Quebec. Yes, we’re a little behind on this. It’s like us with Papa, it’s Boris, it’s the beer Boris, that went, “Hey, we really see the potential. Let’s go, we’re doing this, here’s x amount.” It was far from being $2 million, but I’m working on it… $2 million would be a lot of fun for my series.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Do you feel that the people… either your broadcaster or Boris, see positive returns?
Jonathan Roberge: Yes.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: For example, I’ll take the example of the tampons. Once it was known that it was the Kotex company that financed the series and that it was only supposed to be one season, well people started to mass tweet and Instagram Kotex to get it to finance the second season because they were so hooked. Kotex started seeing 10 million likes per tweet simply because the fans were so avid. Are you…
Jonathan Roberge: We felt that, not on my series, but on an ad I am doing. You know the ads “Mise-o-Jeu” with Dominic Paquet, Jean-Thomas Aubin and Adib Alkhalidey? I’m producing one part, Ricardo Trogi is doing one part and I’m doing the other. I’m in charge of anything that’s Internet. They left it in my hands, and for them, the clients, just to show you how they still don’t know how the Internet works even today, I was in an office and they were asking me: “How long will we be on air, Jonathan?” It will be forever. They were saying, “Do you think we can get 100,000 views?” Yes, of course. And in the following month and a half, I think it was something like $2 million for Paris Sportif that was made through the app.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Wow.
Jonathan Roberge: You know, let’s say while you were watching the series you could click on the picture and then it would bring you to the contests, the pools, the bets, the whole thing. They had made over $2 million on that and it had cost nothing to finance that. The virality will pay off. It’s just that while everyone is recommending a blockbuster, there’s no recipe, as we were saying earlier. There are periodic themes. I spoke a lot about this topic today because I followed that wave by instinct, but also because I was among the people doing the creating. To do a Flashmob, we were the first in Quebec to do it. It hadn’t been done, and then UQAM did some. Everyone does them. It went viral. But you feel it. You feel these things. Another example, GoPro videos, you’ll remember, not even a year ago, you’d see someone on a motorcycle going down and flying off a mountain, hanging onto an eagle pretty much, all filmed with the GoPro. Everyone would freak. Now, it’s another GoPro video or another drone image. A certain amount of time goes by and you just have to… and now, I can feel that ads are going to jump on [the trend] soon. I can feel the advertising world… in part like Brad when he joined us for the RAMQ, they saw the benefits right away. We had 10,000 subscriptions in a day. They were freaking out.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Excellent. Anything to add?
Jonathan Roberge: She was looking at my butt again.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Christiane, and Jonathan, thank you so much.
Jonathan Roberge: My pleasure.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Excellent. I feel a little association coming. A future romance, you never know.
Christiane Asselin: It’s not because we didn’t try.
Anne-Marie Withenshaw: Thank you very much to everyone. It’s the end of the last day! It’s the end of the last day! So we’ll see each other in close to two hours for the social and it’s happening at the Burroughes, which isn’t too far from here, and if not, we’ll see each other tomorrow. Thanks so much to everyone.
Jonathan Roberge: Thank you for your attention. It was fun.