The Rise and Evolution of Digital Content

By Cory Angeletti-Szasz ● January 22, 2018 09:00

Four individuals sit on a stage as part of a panel.

Panellists Karen Tsang (Development Executive, CBC), Geoff Morrison (creator, Brand Canada), Hannah Cheesman (creator, Whatever, Linda) and CFC alumnus Jay Bennett (SVP Creative/Innovation, Shaftesbury) at Canada's Top Ten Film Festival Industry Forum.

On Friday, January 12, we spent the day at the Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival Industry Forum at TIFF. The Forum explored a series of themes and topics relevant to today’s entertainment industry through five panels comprised of various screen industry professionals, including CFC alumni.

The day’s second panel, ‘Developing Talent and Digital Content,’ focused on the digital era and the increase in and evolution of digital content. At the centre of the conversation were speakers Karen Tsang (Development Executive, CBC), CFC alumnus Jay Bennett (SVP Creative/Innovation, Shaftesbury), Hannah Cheesman (creator, Whatever, Linda) and Geoff Morrison (creator, Brand Canada), who provided insights and tips from their experience as executives and/or creators.

As digital content continues to evolve and increase in popularity, broadcasters and production studios are seeking more and more original content for digital platforms. Tsang spoke of how CBC, for example, is always seeking digital content that is centred on ideas that are unique, compelling and entertaining, “It has to be original – we’re always looking for something we haven’t seen before.” When crafting your pitch on your digital content, Tsang reminds creators to do their research – know whom you’re pitching to and cater your pitch to the people and the network you’re pitching to. Familiarize yourself with their content and who their audience is.

A couple walks on the sidewalk in front of moms with strollers.

'How to Buy a Baby'

Do all of this and you might just be the next How to Buy a Baby – a CBC webseries that takes risks with its content by exploring difficult themes – like infertility – that are not often addressed or discussed in entertainment, especially not with humour and candour. The result has been a very successful digital series that not only has great viewership but has also really resonated with audiences. (How to Buy a Baby is line produced by CFC alumnus Matt Code, executive produced by alumna Lauren Corber, edited by alumnus Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux, with music by alumna Aimee Bessada).

Logo for the webseries Brand Canada

Creative risk-taking has become one of the cornerstones of digital content, which is widely considered to be a format that allows creators the freedom to experiment and be adventurous (often with less risk or cost involved). The panel provided additional examples of successful creative risk-taking in the digital sphere: Morrison, with his unique 10-part anthology doc project, Brand Canada, for CBC, which explores different ideas related to Canada’s brand and how it’s perceived by Canadians and people abroad (one of the pieces, Design is a Process, was directed by CFC alumnus Randall Okita); and Cheesman, with her multiple-award-winning digital series Whatever, Linda, which she tailored to fit digital because of funding opportunities for digital content through the Independent Production Fund (the series is now being adapted for TV).

Another evolution of digital content that was explored in the panel is the increase in branded entertainment. Bennett (an alumnus of CFC Media Lab) spoke about his role at Shaftesbury (founded by CFC alumna Christina Jennings) and their brand-funded content that drives profitable engagement with millennials using scripted series. Shaftesbury has experienced a significant amount of success with their branded entertainment, including the global phenomenon Carmilla for U by Kotex® and scripted comedy Upstairs Amy for Walmart and Interac®. Bennett explained that when it comes to branded content, “it is always the job of content to fit into the brand attribute, and that is not to sell the product, that is to do your best to communicate a tone and a message and a voice of what the brand stands for.” Successful brand entertainment strikes a balance between communicating the message of the brand and creating content that an audience wants to see.

The panel closed with some advice from each of the panellists for creators looking to make digital content:

  • Morrison: Push the boundary. Take risks. Create original content that is going to fulfill your creative needs.
  • Cheesman: Start small if you have to – just start making stuff. Build relationships.
  • Bennett: Find your audience first – know whom you are making content for before you begin creating it.
  • Tsang: Make content that you’re passionate about – that’s how original voices come out.

Happy creating! 

PANEL # 1: Read our post (Ethical Programming and the Duty of Audiences) from the first panel HERE.

PANEL # 3: Read our post (The Art of the Edit) from the third panel HERE.

PANEL # 4: Read our post ('Unarmed Verses': A Masterclass in Documenting a Community) from the fourth panel HERE.

PANEL # 5: Read our post (“It gets easier” and other advice from breakout Canadian directors) from the fifth panel HERE.

Cory Angeletti-Szasz

Manager, Communications (Mat Leave)