Use

Marie Pinsonneault (Radio-Canada)

We are here to discuss a topic that has very few answers but which is capable of raising many questions: Internet usage in Canada. From here we should go on to the wider subject of how the various platforms are bringing new opportunities for the content industries, and the television industry in general, from a user standpoint. We will look at how the usage of the Internet is directly connected with the consumer's behaviour, and how consequently the whole audiovisual industry has been forced to change.

The notion of content user, as opposed to viewer or audience, is for us a new perspective. This is what I would like to touch on today: who content users are, and what it is that they expect from the new medium. With the massive shift we have undergone in the past decade alone, consumer behaviours have also changed, and all of us have developed a very different set of expectations. The content industry has no choice but to evolve with the rest of society.

Traditional television was a one-way communication means: viewers received the data, the content actually chosen for them. And obviously, 50 years ago when television was first introduced, there were very few choices of channels; there were equally few choices of programs. Television programmers were deciding content, and viewers were to consume based on television programmers' choices. Television programmers had the power to decide timing as well: when we could watch news, watch dramas, watch cultural or variety shows. The viewers' role was to receive, to consume within a very passive relationship with the broadcaster. As a result, viewers were extremely loyal to their broadcasters, not that they really had much choice. And television - for a while at least - was extremely influential in society, exerting a kind of subliminal control over social norms and mores.

This, largely because of media awareness and the preponderance of choice, is no longer completely true. The advent of specialty channels has totally changed the conception of a television offering, and this is becoming even truer as the digital world becomes more and more significant.

In everyday life we face more choices than ever before, and in just about everything we do - not only with respect to communications and entertainment, but in every aspect of our lives. Whereas people used to have only one job in a lifetime, nowadays the job offering is much more flexible, much more open, and it is increasingly common to have a number of totally different careers during one's working life. Family relationships are increasingly various, mutable - extremely different from what they were 50 years ago. Women represent a significant portion of the workforce, and this has also changed family lifestyles significantly. School as we once knew it is unrecognizable: children can now work on a project-by-project basis right from kindergarten, and they are choosing their topics of interest even at a very young age. This is not something any of us could have done when we were five or six years old. Young people have unlimited choices with respect to just about everything. Children can practice virtually any sport, participate in any social activity, study any instrument, attend any class, and have access to any number of electronic media. They expect to find what they want, when they want it. The Internet is easy for them; everything is just a click away. They are quite used to accessing information and services from just about anywhere. The response from the Internet is immediate, even more so with high-speed connections. And the Internet penetration is much faster than that of any other key invention of the twentieth century - the telephone, radio, television.

Beyond the Internet are a number of other changes, powerful ones, and we cannot link this vast societal change solely to the Internet. Although the electronic technologies are largely responsible or at least intimately linked to it, there is much more behind our social revolution, and the Internet is but one factor in it - a big factor though.

Since the earliest communications technologies, from the telegraph to the telephone, inventions in the world of communication have succeeded one another at a dizzying pace. To this incessant rhythm the world is still changing, and the Internet provides us with a fantastic tool for its exploration, a powerful tool for which Canada has the second highest penetration rate in the world after Sweden. High-speed connection in Canada is already beyond anybody's expectations. The greatest percentage of the world's Internet subscribers use it for e-mail; two-thirds of users in North America have already purchased something on-line; and virtually everyone consults its entertainment sites, its information sites for everything from film reviews to on-line chat rooms to the more purposeful exchange of photographs, maps, and documents. The trend to exploit the Internet as a dynamic rather than a passive tool is very obvious. According to the most recent figures1, some 200 million Internet users are active on a regular basis, 75 million users on a daily basis. Canada has the fifth most significant Internet audience share in the world after the U.S., Japan, the U.K., and Germany. We are third with regard to our share of total Internet minutes. Based on the same study, Canada's average usage days per visitor, per month is the highest in the world, at 12.8%. Within Canada, Ontario and Quebec usage is respectively first and second, followed by the Prairies, B.C., and then Atlantic Canada, so it generally follows the demographics.

Internet use and penetration has grown significantly but is not the only societal change factor. It is very important to position the Internet, in my view, within the overall revolution or evolution in the world of communications. We often hear that the Internet is the key factor in the world's rapid evolution toward a higher degree of democracy and communication. We should not rush to give all the credit to the Internet alone; in fact I rather believe that it's the other way around - that the Internet became so quickly popular, and has been endorsed so rapidly, because the world was ready for such a tool. It might have accelerated the evolution of our society, but the Internet is not the sole and unique factor that has changed the communication world. And this does not at all diminish the importance or relevance of the Internet, because even without a proper business case, the Internet was very rapidly endorsed by just about everybody: by the business world, by schools, universities, within governments, everywhere - because it gave us the flexibility, the control, and the scope we were seeking. We were no longer being told what to listen to, what to see, what to watch, what to like or dislike, what to believe or consume. Younger generations are accustomed to multiple choices, but we for the first time had unlimited choice, unlimited freedom.

Everything happened within a very short time span, yet obviously all media have been affected or influenced; the television world will never be the same and the content industry has no choice but to adapt its programs, to adapt its offering to the new consumers' reality. The Internet has seriously reinforced the general conviction that viewers can and should control what they consume. The Internet provided us with an additional tool to control our usage of content.

Control is just one aspect of what viewers are looking for, but it's a very important one. Obviously navigating the Net, clicking through cyberspace gives users a sense of control. We decide how long to stay in one place, and where we go from there. But then we also expect a little more than just manual control; we expect to participate and to interact. So for the first time, audiences were given a clear voice, something that never existed with television, although the desire to participate and to interact has always been an element of hotline shows on both radio and television. Interactivity gives audiences an additional level of control. Many players in the TV industry are addressing this by exploring different ways to favour interactivity, yet however many avenues open up for it, we have reached a point where interactivity is no longer enough.

We have acknowledged the need for control, the need for interactivity, and now we need to go one step further. People, viewers, users are looking for much more, they're now expecting to be involved: to become a key player, to have their own relationship with the content. And that's very subtle, it's not easy to explain, and it's not easy to understand. At the CBC everybody's talking about it, but very few people are really, really at a point where they understand that it involves renewing the relationship with content. So the notion of involvement changes, I believe, everything. It must definitely change our way of thinking. The concept of broadcasting, which is a one-way distribution, must evolve and TV producers must learn new ways to deal with their audiences. Broadcasters around the world must also try to redefine their relationship with their audiences.

Those who endorse the notion of involvement, who have accepted the fact that viewers are now expecting to play a key role and that TV programmers can no longer do everything by themselves, and that TV programming can no longer be done without the input of the public, are already moving forward. And again this is not totally a new phenomenon. Over the last few decades as specialty channels and American channels started to aggressively penetrate the Canadian market, and the other markets as well, broadcasters and program producers have finally begun to ask, or at least felt the need to ask, people about their tastes, their choices, their preferences. So at least we've seen more industry and customer research conducted prior to introducing new programs. And people have demonstrated their clear willingness to express themselves, to tell us what they want to see, what they want to consume.

But obviously asking people what they want to see on television is not enough - this is not involvement. And no one in the television industry, up until very recently, had really anticipated that the public's expectation would take us even further, that we would eventually think of involving people in the process of producing content and even of lining up programs. So we're now moving toward an entirely new approach where the public expects to be involved, where the public expects to take part in the program to influence the content. The role of producers is likely to change, and this is not so surprising when we consider how successful live shows and quizzes, involving the public in a basic way, have traditionally been.

We just have to look at consumers' past behaviours to understand what's going on right now. The desire to be involved clearly demonstrates why live shows have always been so popular, and why they continue to be hits. I think that live shows are a good example, because the advent of television was very threatening at first. With the advent of videotape we thought live shows would eventually disappear, but television has never really scared its live audiences away. Live audiences have not totally been replaced by those strewn on couches in our living rooms, and people like to be there, people like to be part of the show, they like to participate, to be involved, to scream, to applaud. And the Internet is definitely one of very many tools that allows a greater level of interactivity, and of involvement. Everyone expects from now on a level or higher level of involvement, which brings us to the phenomenon of reality shows.

Why is the "reality" genre so popular? Is it just a trend or is it going to stay? We've heard so many comments about it. We've heard from so many experts claiming that Big Brother, Survivor, Temptation Island, that all of these were not good television shows in a traditional sense. But people want them, and people watch them. So why is it that reality shows have enjoyed such a tremendous success? Is it really just a trend? Although their format might represent a trend, in my view, and that of many experts, what it tells us is that people are desperately looking for real stuff - or for something which at least they think is real. They're trying to find themselves through television. They're asking broadcasters and producers to provide them with content that is somehow closer to them, and they are looking for an opportunity to be personally involved and to identify themselves with what they watch. Such shows as Survivor convey the impression, or the illusion, that those people are just like you and me. I wouldn't go there, and neither would most of us, but some of us wish to identify with the relative danger, confrontation, and adventure they confront. The reality-show phenomenon only confirms the urgency for broadcasters to get closer to their audience. Proximity to audiences, or with audiences, is no longer an option.

Let's take this even one step further and jump into the topic of multiplatform and convergence, something still new, still misunderstood. Multiplatform and convergence are very popular terms, but most people don't really know what they mean, what they are. Obviously we're still experimenting with this phenomenon, so it's very normal that we might not be all that familiar with this concept. And the difference between the two of them is not obvious, because multiplatform does not necessarily mean convergence, and convergence does not necessarily mean multiplatform. The advent of multiple communication and distribution platforms now allows the use of more than one window to reach an audience. The need for interactivity and involvement brings us to the concept of multiplatform. What it means is that several windows are used to promote or to distribute content segments that are related, one to another, within a given television program or within any other content distribution channel.

Here we begin to see a growing number of virtual worlds, universes that exist on more than one platform. Television programs are now often supported by other means, or assisted by other means, such as the Internet, of course; we also see wireless application attempts, and soon much more. Multiplatform means that you can also use traditional platforms such as live shows. It doesn't necessarily mean that it has to be the Internet or wireless applications. What multiplatform essentially does is to multiply the windows of distribution; it increases the visibility of the programs, it reinforces the branding, it widens the reach, and it may help reach non-traditional audiences for a specific content project. So multiplatform projects are usually providing content which is related, or which is parallel to a given program. As we see it right now, it's mostly driven by television, and multiplatform applications are parallel to the television program.

Although multiplatform models are still in the process of being built, they appear to be an opportunity for content producers to provide a more thorough and complete environment and to provide users with a greater opportunity to control the content which they consume. As we're starting to witness several multiplatform projects in the marketplace, one of my responsibilities at the CBC is to actually develop innovative content format and innovative approaches for French television. So far we've managed to develop several projects which we hope will strongly contribute to the development of the television of the future and which will help redefine the relationship between our audiences and us the broadcaster. We strongly believe that new ways of doing television are necessary - that there is a need to explore new ways of doing things and that new viewers will guide these developments.

So as we speak, every television program of French television has at least one Web arm: all of them. It varies from program to program: some programs only have a mere promotional site while others will have a more comprehensive Web environment incorporating original Web content. Over time what we're moving toward is an approach that favours the development of innovative and exclusive content intimately linking the Web to the program. But we're also going at least one step further and developing specialized universes, or special universes, I should say, using the Web as the main platform - a new concept, especially for a television broadcaster. In these projects the core product is on the Web and a multiplatform approach allows the production to live outside the Web and more specifically on television, of course. So why would we use the Web as the main platform while we all know that television remains the driving force both from a viewership and economic standpoint? It allows us to do things that could not be accomplished on TV, in part because it forces us to really develop a multiplatform approach rather than simply put on a TV show with a parallel Web site. We're trying to move much further than that.

It's a very comprehensive universe. The Web, television, radio, festivals, and many other platforms play a crucial role in branding our new projects. So it is obviously a very experimental approach, but it's also proven so far to be very successful in allowing Radio-Canada to further fulfill its mandate and mission. Indeed, through projects such as Silence, on court! we get another opportunity to further support the Canadian film industry and to encourage and to develop a multitude of creative talents. So this is where multiplatform leads us. In our case it certainly leaves us with new ways to experiment, new ways to deal with our audiences, new ways to feed them with more democratic content, and to provide them with control, with freedom, with the power to select their preferred content.

Note

  1. Statistics compiled by the agency Jupiter Medium Metrics.



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