Playback Spring 2019: Revolutionary or Reactionary?

Playback's spring issue examines the direction in which the TV business is trending, and the Canadian players on the front lines of the shifting landscape.

Letter from the editor 

Over the years, our digital-focused issue has taken on many guises. The first time we did one was 2011, which we loudly declared on the cover was “The Year That Was Digital.” We were very excited about “transmedia.”

That same issue featured a leisurely stroll down memory lane in recognition of CBC’s 75th anniversary, which we promoted with the cover line “CBC’s All-Platform Future.” That gave me pause for a moment – was someone at CBC that prescient about Gem? It was, in fact, referring to digital transmitters and the endless possibilities that presented as TV started migrating to the web in a more significant way.

The 2012 digital issue, on the other hand, was hot to trot about the new world of webseries and both the third and the fourth were about VR.

This year, we again chose a cool new techy thing to talk about – smart speakers – but we kept it to one story this time. Because the rest of the “digital” feature, in 2019, is simply about how companies are sussing out the space and strategizing their next moves.

Because I think that’s what most people whose livelihoods intersect with digital media do these days: they pick a thing, try it and keep on doing it if it works, and (hopefully) stop doing it if it doesn’t. Some companies muss around in the sandbox with great glee – 2011 cover stars marblemedia come to mind there – while others like to sit on the edge and see how the other sandcastles are stacking up.

After a decade of chasing nifty new tech stuff, I find myself getting a bit weary of the “cool new thing” game. I know that 99.9% of the time, the thing will either disappear or become irrelevant (QR codes, Foursquare), evolve into something else (in-home VR to “experiential” VR) or simply be outdated (the super-specific definition of transmedia we all argued about for like three years).

I respect and am delighted by cool ideas, things and strategies but dedicating too much print real estate to them is risky. It’s better to be able to look back at that issue and see which strategies have panned out or not, rather than which tech toy went the way of the dodo.

I would like to point out one thing that hasn’t gone away: the water-cooler. Its predicted disappearance was something that really vexed people a few years ago. How could we make small talk at work if everyone was watching different shows?!?

But you know what? It hasn’t happened! Everyone still watches tons of the same stuff – have you talked to ANYONE who didn’t watch that crazy Fyre documentary? And look at all the people who tuned into Coroner on CBC, a classic procedural with doctors and cops and their problems. You can bet that the lovely Serinda Swan was mentioned at more than a few dinner tables this winter. Private Eyes, ditto (with “that guy from 90210” I once heard a guy of my water-cooler vintage say to his friend as we passed a billboard on the sidewalk).

I know that the industry is facing crazy challenges: we are definitely not operating on a level playing field (a topic fiercely debated at BANFF in 2011, that year’s digital issue noted), viewers increasingly can’t tolerate the ads that help pay for shows and revenue models across all media are broken or ridiculously unsustainable. But I take heart that I have seen zero drop in people’s interest in TV… no matter what the tech trend, it’s the stories that people care about most, not the thing they arrive on.

Katie Bailey, editor & content director, Playback and Banff World Media Festival


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