Stream of consciousness

THOUGHT LEADERS: Gave Lindo, exec director of OTT programming at the CBC, reveals how the pandemic has impacted the pubcaster’s streaming service Gem and what he’s looking to acquire to take it forward.

Gave Lindo

How has the pandemic impacted your business?While this has been a time of disruption and challenge for the entire media industry, on the positive side we have seen record audiences turning to our free streaming service, CBC Gem, as a result of the pandemic.

Comparing January to May 2020 over the same period in 2019, video views on CBC Gem increased by 57%, with consumption of our kids’ content increasing by nearly 100% in May year-over-year. In March 2020, unique visitors/viewers to CBC Gem increased by 43% compared with the previous month, resulting in the highest number of unique visitors/viewers to the streaming service over the past year. CBC Gem also delivered its highest ever number of video views in March since the launch of the service.

How are you capitalizing on the Covid-19 increase in viewership?

We want to build on this increased awareness and momentum by reinforcing CBC Gem’s unique offer: original Canadian content celebrating diverse creators, voices, perspectives and communities; extensive ad-free programming for kids and tweens; and exclusive acclaimed international series Canadians can’t find anywhere else. BBC and Hulu’s acclaimed series Normal People, which we launched on CBC Gem in May 2020, was our most streamed premiere on CBC Gem since the service launched, and is a great example of the type of point-of-difference programming we offer.

What type of acquisitions are you interested in for CBC Gem?
We are always looking for top-tier international series and more content for kids and tweens. We look for acquisitions for a range of audiences, aligned with our general entertainment mandate and schedule. We are looking for a diverse range of entertaining and acclaimed content that will help audiences explore new stories, expand their perspectives and feel inspired, as well as offering an escape.

Which CBC Gem projects have been affected by the pandemic and in what way?
All broadcasters and streamers have been impacted by the pandemic. The bulk of our productions shoot in the summer or fall, and writing and pre-production continues virtually for now. Post-production on series shot before the production shutdown also continues safely, following all Covid-19 guidelines. We have a number of original series that completed production before the shutdown and will be ready to launch in the fall on both linear and CBC Gem, including Trickster, Baroness von Sketch Show, Enslaved and Still Standing.

What advantages do streaming services like CBC Gem have during this crisis?

With CBC Gem, we can be flexible in order to offer timely and relevant content that is of the moment, targeted at audiences’ needs and interests, such as recent collections focused on Pride and Indigenous History. We are also able to be responsive to what is happening in the world, by bringing stories to Canadians that offer context and understanding. In recent weeks, for example, we launched a new Black Stories Collection, featuring a range of Black voices and perspectives from Canada and around the world.

Another advantage CBC Gem has had during this period is new original streaming titles that were ready to premiere throughout the pandemic, because we develop, produce and program original content outside of the traditional fall and winter broadcast seasons. As a result, we’ve benefitted from the launch of a number of new CBC Gem original series over the past few months, including mockumentary Decoys, drag queen comedy-mystery Queens, satire Late Night in the Studio and The New Wave of Standup, showcasing young emerging comics, as well as high-profile new international series like Normal People and Trigonometry.

What new programming initiatives have you introduced during the pandemic?
With kids and families spending more time at home, we have continued to look at ways to offer more new content to those audiences including acquiring new kids and tween content for CBC Gem, with more than 400 hours now available. Examples of this programming include The Next Step, The Strange Chores and Anaana’s Tent. Additionally, our in-house CBC Kids TV team (Studio K for preschoolers) created age-appropriate Staying Home, Staying Healthy original content remotely, tackling the situation in an age-appropriate, compassionate and fun manner. The CBC Kids News team (for ages 9-13) has also covered the evolving situation remotely, answering kids’ questions and interviewing experts on the topic.

In April, we launched Hot Docs At Home on CBC, offering exclusive, first-run documentary premieres from the postponed 2020 Hot Docs Festival to Canadian audiences on CBC Gem, as well as on CBC TV and Documentary Channel.

We also launched the CBC Creative Relief Fund in April to offer urgent support to Canadian creators. Out of this fund, we are providing C$2.2m in development or production funding for 119 new projects from Canadian creators, including 51 projects from self-identified Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) creators. These projects include a number of new projects for CBC Gem that have been greenlit for production, including three series for youth and young adults and 15 short documentaries exploring perspectives across Canada during Covid-19.

What have you learned through these initiatives as a result?

While the pandemic has been a challenging time, it has also been a time of tremendous innovation and creativity. We hope that new initiatives like the CBC Creative Relief Fund will open up new thinking and create more opportunities beyond this crisis to bring even more forms of storytelling to a wider range of audiences across Canada.
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