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Canadian Content – why a national audience data strategy is needed now

As we lounge in our living rooms and peer through our screens at stories from every corner of the globe, important debate is taking place about if, how, and where Canadian content fits in the media universe. Industry stakeholders, media regulators, and audiences all have opinions about the value and meaning of Canadian stories.

Valerie Creighton, President and CEO of the Canada Media Fund, frames the issue and its importance in this article:

Let’s zoom in on part of the story that is too often overlooked.

Ms. Creighton argues that we “can influence a larger discussion on how authentic stories driven by Canada’s storytellers define our country at home and on the world stage.” Hear, hear. But we can only do so if we develop more sophisticated means and measures to understand how audiences, Canadian and foreign, engage with those stories.

Currently, audience data is gathered ad hoc by industry organizations. There is no national audience data strategy and no standardized metrics or means of collection. Broadcast ratings and box office revenue have long been the currency of success. While these measurements remain vitally important, worthy arguments about the accuracy and completeness of this data have been voiced for decades.

Not only do today’s audiences watch shows and series on multiple platforms. Fans engage with complementary content (text, images, video shorts, podcasts, etc.) that extend the primary (TV show, film) offering. The trouble is data indicating how audiences interact with both primary and complementary material are isolated on, and native to, each platform where the content lives.

Then there’s qualitative data that describes how a show succeeds in non-numeric terms. Ms. Creighton leans on qualitative indicators such as awards and career advancement in her article as evidence of success.

Gathering and making meaning of these broader data sets is time-consuming and fraught. Yet that is precisely the messy work that needs doing if we are to truly understand the reach and impact of Canadian stories and how they reflect, shape, and define our country at home and on the world stage.

My team at Magnify Digital and I have been pushing this agenda for years. Progress has been painfully slow. A sector can deal with only so much change at once.

Perhaps the moment has arrived. As industry grapples with modernizing the framework for the screen sector, let’s ensure we also consider how to better leverage audience data to expand the reach and impact of Canadian content. The time for a national data strategy is now.


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