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Media & The Art of Storytelling



John Canning has been at the forefront of the changing media landscape for the past 15 years, both as an executive with NBC and at Producer’s Guild of America where he leads the New Media Council.

As we all know, today content creation and distribution is in the hands of anyone with a mobile phone. Social media and the constructs of the sharing economy have changed the storytelling game. Big brands now employ in house and agency teams of content creators to “authentically” share their brand essence – from snapchat stories and boomerang videos on instagram to Facebook live posts. At Harvest Summit we’ll discuss brand engagement in the digital age, the changing media landscape and essence of storytelling.

Has the art of storytelling changed, or just the tools?

The core of storytelling is still there, experimentation is there.  Technology, methods have changed.  But interest in non-linear storytelling has remained. There are new techniques for crafting and telling the story – fundamentals still hold true.  

Given the sea change in media content and distribution, what’s next?

Content is king. Through all changes that is consistently clear and still true. Distribution has democratized who can create content, that distribution has vastly opened up opportunities to address niches and new audiences. There are more people creating content – some just for fun, some for business that would have never been viable before. It has broadened the definition of what we used to think of as content.  

That being said, people need to stop and think, look at what’s really happening, not what you think is happening. Sometimes it is just in perception – an old guard vs new guard mentality.  People say TV is dead – the reality is TV stronger than ever before – more content is being distributed in more ways. The old perception was you had content, distribution and the device you played it on all tied together in for example a 30 minute TV show distributed by a broadcaster on your TV.  Over the years those media aspects have been pulled apart and become independent. If we take Youtube for example, a disruptor, but now looking more and more like a broadcaster – they are creating brands and channels. Netflix which has become a content producer and distributor similar to the old network model – but on a different device and through a different distribution system. They are using the same studios in LA that the networks do to make similar content, is it they feel they know their audience best?

Smart producers are constantly thinking about how to tell a story and connect it to an audience who will watch it.  What’s next?  I don’t know, but I would bet that dynamic will not fundamentally shift – just the how, why, where and when.

Has easy access to media tools given a voice to those marginalized in society?  And if so how has it also contributed to drowning out those voices?

Easier access to media tools like Facebook’s live stream, Youtube, Periscope etc give you the opportunity to tell the story, some marginalized groups never had that ability before.  It does not necessarily solve the problem of people finding that content and caring about it.

Democratization has at least enabled someone to shout out something and someone to hear it.  Still requires that connective tissue.  Opportunity has risen as challenge has risen.  Is there balance?   It’s more about informing and and educating – that is a huge change.

It’s harder to hide something that somebody does that is bad now due to possible exposure,  but people have to want to know, people have to care.  We are creating so much content – discovery is the challenge.  

How do entities like Producer’s Guild which was founded in 1950 innovate while staying true to their heritage?

Producer’s Guild was traditionally film and TV, today there is a New Media Council which I serve on to represent and incorporate the new guard of media.  This is a challenge for everyone.  Both new and old brands.  It’s less about staying true to their heritage, more about shifting business models.  How do you create a brand, and get people to remember that brand?  That is always the relevant question.  Making great content people want to watch and then connecting people to that content.  

For a company like NBC it is critical for them to innovate or die, they have embraced digital distribution but maintained their brand presence.  When you go to Hulu or Netflix you are still thinking of the brands that give you the content you want to watch aka NBC.  How else do you find what you want to watch on Roku or Apple TV?  You see a brand you know and there is a path through all the content.

How does mentoring help drive the next generation of innovators?

I have been mentoring through various programs for many years, the key is having a mentor who can give you perspective.  Mentees benefit most when they understand it’s a process, have an open mind and are flexible.  I have had people ask, “What’s your secret?  What’s the special sauce?” The reality is, there is no magic answer, there is no one way, it’s about sharing wisdom, perspective and experiences.  For me it is a rewarding experience both personally and professionally, I view it as paying it forward.  I have been involved in Idea Boost a 4-month program at Canadian Film Centre for a number of years,  it has been gratifying to see several companies and individuals I worked with grow and expand either by changing careers or opening their eyes to new opportunities.    

Join John at Harvest Summit where he will lead our TELL Session along with Chip Bowers, CMO, Golden State Warriors and Best-selling Author, Nancy Duarte.  

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