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Appetite for distraction: Canadians hungry for content across more platforms, says Telefilm study

Attention moviemakers, TV producers and web video creators: Canadians are watching and are hungry for more. 

But just how and where we are consuming films, TV shows or online content — whether it’s a Xavier Dolan flick, the latest ep of Orphan Black or a comic bit from Lilly Singh — continues to change. 

That’s according to a new Telefilm Canada study diving into audience behaviour and viewing habits. Based on a survey of more than 3,000 Canadians conducted in late spring, as well as subsequent focus groups held earlier this fall, its research is meant to inform the country’s content creators. 

“We need to understand where Canadians are consuming, understand that preference, and we need to adapt,” Carolyn Pennell, a member of Telefilm’s strategy and research team, told CBC News.

The study found that Canadians love their screen time, with most participants reporting they watch movies, documentaries, TV shows and “non-traditional videos” (such as YouTube videos, web shows or shorts) regularly.

Viewing habits study

Viewing habits study

But rather than venture out, increasingly it seems we’d rather stay in to watch. 

  • 92 per cent or participants said they primarily watch movies and other content at home, an increase of 11 per cent over the previous year.
  • Almost 90 per cent of respondents said TV remains their preferred medium for watching movies, docs and shows (with TV including standard channels as well as other options such as Netflix).
  • Canadians are increasingly using other options (such as tablets or smartphones) to watch content, driven by increased quality and accessibility.
  • Mobile devices continue to gain momentum as far as viewing “non-traditional video content” (e.g. YouTube videos, webisodes) is concerned.

It’s no surprise, since in this new age of must-see TV, there is amazing content being created, according to Richard Lachman, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s School of Media

“It’s the golden age of Netflix, but it’s also the golden age of content we’re getting through HBO [and] online. There’s great content and we’re watching it in different ways than we would have [before],” he said.​

The emergence and growing use of newer platforms is one of the reasons Telefilm began commissioning these audience studies in 2012, in an effort to pinpoint trends and changing consumer habits.

With so many avenues for consumers to watch programming, for instance, one of the study’s suggestions is a change in mindset for the creators: target niche audiences rather than try to appeal to everyone.

“You can’t go after 100 per cent of the market,” Pennell said. “You need to look at segments and target your approach.”

hi-wolfcop

Focusing on niche audiences is the business model of J. Joly, founder of film incubator CineCoup. His group helped vault WolfCop, a hoot of a horror-comedy, to indie success. (YouTube)

‘Content is king, but the audience is God’

Focusing on niche audiences is the exactly the business model of self-described industry agitator J. Joly, founder of film incubator CineCoup. His group helped vault WolfCop, a hoot of a horror-comedy, to indie success

To be successful, creators have to totally understand their audience (who they are and how they access your work) and engage with them, according to Joly.

“Fans that love you and your work will not only help get the word out, but provide a lifetime of value. I believe content is king, but the audience is God.” 

The Vancouver-based movie distribution expert believes today’s film, TV and digital video creators need to be brave, nimble and able to embrace failure faster, while also involving audiences in the creative process and taking advantage of social media.

“We seem to spend too much time pondering how to help traditional models survive, rather than investing in new models that will define us as world leaders” he observed. 

Cancon in trouble?

The Telefilm study indicated mixed feelings about Canadian productions: two-thirds of respondents reported interest in Canadian movies, but only half were able to actually name one. Meanwhile, 52 per cent of participants said they haven’t watched a homegrown film in the past year.

Its authors suggested Canadian creators should look at new ways to market domestic work. For instance, “a platform like YouTube is a great way to promote Canadian content or a Canadian film,” Pennell said.

However, Lachman said we actually need to go further and expand what we consider Canadian content because the country doesn’t look like it did 20 years ago. 

“It’s time to update that definition,” he said. 

‘I am convinced the next Peter Jackson is out there, we just don’t know who she is.’
– J. Joly, CineCoup

“If we’re watching a video a friend posted, it may be made by someone in [Toronto’s west end] and we’d never notice that…. How it got to us — friend to friend to friend — that’s a more modern version of what Canadian content can be.”

For his part, Joly described some of the study findings as “discouraging” — namely, the way participants responded when asked to describe Canadian movies in one word.

“The three most-used words were ‘good,’ ‘boring’ and ‘cheap.’ While the least-used were words like ‘excellent,’ ‘creative’ and ‘inspiring,'” he lamented.

“I am convinced the next Peter Jackson is out there, we just don’t know who she is.

“Finding her and supporting her,” he said, “should be a focus.”