Tag Archives: youtube

Some theories on why Canadians are the #1 user of YouTube (it's not all good)

In theory I’m on break – trying to recharge my batteries, summit mount inbox zero and finish off a couple of papers I owe various good people – but a few people have sent me links to this story (same content here at the CBC), about how Canadians are embrace the web like few others citizens of the world.

Naturally I’m thrilled and unsurprised. Canadians live in a large country and connectivity has always been something that has driven us. Indeed the country as we know it only exists because of a deal on connectivity – my own province of British Columbia agreed to enter the Dominion only if a transcontinental railway was built to connect it with the rest of the emerging country. Connectivity is in our blood.

There is, however, I suspect another reason why Canadians have taken to the web and it has to do with our monopolies and content regulation.

The article notes that Canada is the number one viewer of YouTube videos:

“In Canada, YouTube per capita consumption of video is No. 1 in the world, it’s just absolutely crazy in terms of how passionate Canadians are about YouTube,” said Chris O’Neill, Canada’s country director for Google.

I wonder, however, if this is because of Canada’s proximity to and familiarity with American created content, but our limited access to seeing said content. The CRTC restricts Canadians access to US channels (and as a result, TV shows). Consequently, much like I argued that the continued success of Blockbuster in Canada is not a sign of effective corporate management but poor innovation strategy and telecommunication regulation Canadians may be flooding to YouTube because they can’t access the content they want through more traditional channels.

If true (and I concede I don’t know what Canadians are watching on YouTube) then on the brightside, this is good news for Canadian consumers are able to get what they want access to, regardless of how the government tries to shape their tastes. Indeed, I suspect that American content isn’t the only thing driving YouTube traffic, as a country of immigrants I’m sure that new (and longstanding) Canadians of a range of backgrounds use YouTube to stay on top of culture, shows and other content from their countries of origin. If all this is helping Canadians become more web savvy and appreciative of the benefits of an open web – then all the better!

On the flip side, this could be a sign that a whole series of Canadian companies (and the jobs they create) are imperiled because they refuse to innovate as quickly as Canadians would like. This isn’t a reason to preserve them, but it is a reason for us to start demanding more from the executives of these companies.

Your friday funny: This blogger is at the wrong blog

For those who haven’t seen it yet, I strongly, strongly, strongly encourage you to watch the “This Drummer is at the Wrong Gig” video embedded below. I discovered the clip a few weeks and have been sharing it with all my friends. It’s awe inspiring, hilarious, amazing and, just keeps getting better and better as you get deeper into the clip.

Watch the drummer. Pure genius.

What’s better, the drummer – Steve Moore – is just flat out nice. Check out this interview with him about his youtube fame. He’s everything you’d want in a bandmate: loyal, talented and doing it for the right reason.

Indeed, the best part of the interview is him talking about how he couldn’t care less about money but how getting the respect from drummers he looks up to is what has been the biggest pay off.

Anyone whose felt passionate about something likely feels the same way. Personally, I hope I blog half as well as this guy drums. And nothing feels better than getting an email or tweet about a blog post from someone I really respect. Those really are the best moments.

Nice work Steve Moore. You’re an inspiration. And just plain awesome.

The Future of Media in Canada – Thoughts for the Canadian Parliamentary Committee

Yesterday, Google presented to a House of Commons Heritage Committee which has launched a study of “new media.” Already some disturbing squawks have been heard from some of the MPs. For those who believe in an open internet, and in an individuals right to choose, there is no need to be alarmed just yet, but this is definitely worth keeping an eye on. It is however, a good thing that the parliamentary committee is looking at this (finally) since the landscape has radically changed and the Canadian government needs to adjust.

In his SXSWi talk Clay Shirky talked about how abundance changes things. One an item ceases to be scarce – when it is freely available – the dynamics of what we do with it and how we use it radically change.

It is something government’s have a hard time wrestling with. One basic assumption that often (but hardly always) underlies public policy is that one is dealing with how to manage scarce resources like natural resources. But what happens when something that was previously scarce suddenly becomes abundant? The system breaks. This is the central challenge the Heritage Committee MPs need to wrap their heads around.


Because this is precisely what is happening with the broadcast industry generally and Canadian content rules specifically. And it explains why Canadian content rules are so deeply, deeply broken.

In the old era the Government policy on Canadian content rested on two pillars:

First, the CRTC was able to create scarcity. It controlled the spectrum and could regulate the number of channels. This meant that broadcasters had to do what it said if they wanted to maintain the right to broadcast. This allowed the CRTC to mandate that a certain percentage of content be Canadian (CanCon).

The second pillar was funding. The Government could fund projects that would foster Canadian content. Hence the CBC, the National Film Board of Canada and various other granting bodies.

The problem is, in the digital era, creating scarcity gets a lot more complicated. There are no channels to regulate on the internet. There is just the abundant infinity of internet content. Moreover you can’t force websites to produce or create Canadian content nor can you force Canadians to go to websites that do (at least god hopes that isn’t a crazy idea the committee gets into its head). The scarcity is gone. The Government can no longer compel Canadians to watch Canadian content.

So what does that mean? There are three implications in my mind.

First. Stop telling Canadians what culture is. The most offensive quote from yesterday’s Globe article was, to quote the piece Bloc Québécois MP Carole Lavallée quote:

Bloc Québécois MP Carole Lavallée highlighted the often low-brow, low-budget fare on YouTube. She accused Google of confusing leisure with culture.

“Leisure is people who play Star Wars in their basement and film one another and put that on YouTube,” she said. “ But culture is something else.”

Effectively, she is telling me – the blog and new media writer – and the 100,000s if not millions of other Canadians who have created something that they do not create Canadian culture. Really? I thought the whole point of the Heritage Ministry, and tools like the CBC was to give voice to Canadians. The internet, a tools like YouTube have done more on that front than any Government program of the last 5 decades. Lavallée may not like what she sees, but today, more Canadian content is created and watched around the world, than ever before.

Second. Be prepared to phase out the CRTC. The CRTC’s regulatory capacity depends on being able to create scarcity. If there is no more scarcity, then it seizes to have a lever. Yes, the TV industry is still with us. But for how long? Canadians, like people everywhere, want to watch what they want, when they want. Thanks to the internet, increasingly they can. The CRTC no longer serves the interests of Canadians, it serves to perpetuate both the broadcast industry and the cable industry (yes, even when they fight) by creating a legal scaffolding that props up their business models. Michael Geist understands this – the committee should definitely be talking to him as well.

Third, if the first pillar is dead, the second pillar is going to have to take on a heavier load and in new and creative ways. The recent National Film Board iPhone app is fantastic example of how new media can be used to promote Canadian content. If the Commons committee is really worried about YouTube, why not have Heritage Canada create a “Canadian channel” on YouTube where it can post the best videos by Canadians and about Canada? Maybe it can even offer grants to the video creaters that get the most views on the channel – clearly they’ve demonstrated an ability to attract an audience. Thinking about more micro-grants that will allow communities to create their own content is another possibility. Ultimately, the Government can’t shape demand, or control the vehicle by which supply is delivered. But it can help encourage more supply – or better still reward Canadians who do well online and enable them to create more ambitious content.

The world of new media is significantly democratizing who can create content and what people can watch. Whatever the heritage committee does I hope they don’t try to put the cork back on that bottle. It will, in effect, be muzzling all the new emerging Canadian voices.

Update: Just saw that Sara Bannerman has a very good post about how Canadian content could be regulated online. Like much of what is in her post, but don’t think “regulation” is the right word. Indeed, most of what she asks for makes business sense – people will likely want Canadian filters for searching (be it for books, content, etc…) as long as those filters are optional.

YouTube Interviews: Strengths and Weaknesses

I’m pretty much expecting to wake up today and read a number of stories about how the YouTube interview of the Prime Minister didn’t work, about how we should leave interviews to journalists, and that all this internet, audience driven stuff is a big waste of time.

I’m not sure I agree.

Was the interview good? It wasn’t amazing. But was it terrible? Definitely not. And not nearly as bad as some interviews with the Prime Minister that I’ve seen… So what worked and what didn’t work and what lessons can we draw from all this whether you live in Canada, the United States or wherever else in the world. What makes for a good crowdsourced interview?


Be careful of refocusing questions: Many of the Prime Minister’s responses were great. However, during some of the questions the Prime Minister reverted to some very well trodden talking points – or didn’t even answer the specific question asked. For example the question on mandatory minimum sentences he spoke of the Canadians say they want, not what, as the question stipulated, the research shows and the question of Marijuana become about drugs writ large – not about cannabis specifically. This is, of course, standard practice among politicians when answering reporters questions. The challenge is, that if these types of forums become popular and are watched by a number of people, it is unclear how favourable people will view a politician who avoids – however delicately or lightly – a question posed by a citizen. Maybe this medium changes nothing – but I again agree with Ivor Tossell and many others have to say:

Succeeding with social media comes down to being honest, having a frank, unfiltered voice and letting personality go along with policy.

Re-directing questions does not qualify. The public recognizes that journalists are not politicians friends and so give politicians more license when dealing with them – not so when dealing with a smart clear question from a fellow citizen.

Follow Up Questions: This of course raises the formats main weakness. There are no follow up questions allowed. So when someone evades or redirects a question there is no way to hold them to account. This doesn’t mean accountability and credibility disappear. Again, as I noted on Monday, its simply shifts onto the shoulders of the interviewee. You must now genuinely engage the question as the question asker intended. If not, I suspect you come out looking worse.

Pick your interviewer carefully. Here in Canada, Google elected to use their CFO Patrick Pichette (and ex-expatriate Canadian). I’ve only met him once at a small lunch in Montreal but I have a lot of time for him. He immediately struck meas insightful, quick and deeply intelligent. I’m also not sure he was the right choice for interviewer. Throughout the interview he is heard making sounds of agreement with the Prime Minister (such as saying “that’s terrific” after an answer) as though affirming the answer. This felt outside his role and prevented the questions from being as pointed as I believe the authors wished they would have been. All in all, the feel was less of an interview than of a friendly conversation.


Ask the most voted questions: Sadly, the couldn’t find a way to see the questions or how many votes they had received (#fail on google’s part there – accountability denied), but I did recognize many of the questions asked and am doubly impressed that a question on marijuana. In short, if you make a contract with the audience – eg you are going to ask the questions with the most votes… you’d better do it. I also thought many of the questions asked were quite good. Focus on the budget, Afghanistan, Foreign Aid (two foreign policy questions! two more than the last election debate in this country!), pensions, the carbon emissions policy… a good mix. Wish I knew if they were actually the questions with the most votes though…

Broadly people ask good question/but could do with some advice: Many of the questions were reasonable tough and well put. Some were a little long, and others had too many caveats that allow the interviewee to latch on to and avoid the main thrust of the inquiry. Might be good to model a good question to viewers in terms of focus and length as well as provide some written advice. I actually enjoyed seeing people ask questions and think the process could be stronger still.

Video Questions are better than read questions: Lesson for the audience. Submit your question via video. Better still, if you live in a bilingual country, try to subtitle it (Wouldn’t that be a cool thing to be able to do). The video questions really allowed the medium to show itself off, far more interesting to see a young women asking a question from her kitchen than to have an interview read it…

(Advice) Share each answer as a small video: If you really want citizens talking about issues, Google should share the entire interview, but also each individual question and answer. That way there can be questions specific comments on the YouTube site, people can blog about a specific question that concerned them and show only that question in the post, or people can simply zero in on the issue they care about most. The whole point of the internet is that information can be moved around easily – so if you are doing an interview… make it easy for your audience to share the part they cared about by making it digestable.

Be Real: The Prime Minister shone best when he was at his most conversational and relaxed. Indeed, this in part came through during the Marijuana question – his response was emotionally fantastic, he seemed genuinely concerned and possibly even off his speaking points a bit (or maybe just smooth enough to fool me, but I suspect not). Even though I found he answer infuriating – he seemed to completely forget all the lessons of prohibition (and, in effect, label every beer brewer in the country a scumbag) – he was at least human. And that’s when social media works best, when we get to see people being human. Otherwise, you just look wooden and, frankly, uninteresting.

The Prime Minister, The Press and The Fear Disintermediation

Last week the Prime Minister announced that he would use YouTube to answer citizen submitted questions. Over the past seven days thousands of Canadians have submitted and voted on questions that they would like to Prime Minister to answer.

Is this novel or new? Not really – on a smaller scale politicians have been doing Town Hall meetings for decades and, in the US, President Obama has answered questions posed over YouTube and indeed, some YouTube questions were even inserted into the Presidential debates in the 2008 presidential election.

Is it, however, good? Absolutely. Giving Canadians the opportunity to submit questions to the Prime Minister – and to vote on questions that they think are important – is a fantastic way to let the government (and media) know about the priorities and concerns of citizens. Some will laugh at the fact that the top questions revolve around the decriminalization of cannabis. But then, there is a significant and vocal minority who both feel strongly about this subject and unrepresented by the political parties and the media. I think it is fantastic that they get to ask the Prime Minister their question.

Then there are those who wonder if this YouTube press conference is another death knell for traditional media. Some journalists have scoffed at the idea of citizens asking questions. Citizens don’t know the issues well enough or aren’t articulate enough to ask questions. Maybe, but journalists should remember that they are talking about their audience. Can one really write for an audience you hold in contempt? Maybe it would be worth listening to them… Underling it all is a concern that the press will be cut out of the picture. If the Prime Minister can connect directly with citizens… what role is left for the press? The fact is there will always be a role of intelligent, informed people to comment on what is going on in Ottawa. Indeed, smart traditional media outlets should welcome this developing. By drawing people into the political process YouTube is growing the audience of people who care about politics and who will want to read about it.

But will the Q&A help the Prime Minister attract voters and even engage citizens? That is a completely different question. Where the journalists have a point is that they – sometimes deservedly, sometimes not – have brought credibility to the process of holding the Prime Minister and government to account. Their job (performed with a mixed degree of success) is to ask hard questions. They bring credibility to the process. What I’m not sure the PMO (or politicians generally) realize is that removing journalists doesn’t make the process easier – it makes it harder. Now the credibility of the process lies completely in their hands. If the Prime Minister does not address questions that received a lot of votes – the whole experiment will be labeled a communications gimmick and could end up costing him. Moreover, if he only answers softball questions or doesn’t actually engage the tough components of some of the questions posed, he will lose credibility. No longer can the PMO blame the media for spinning him badly, Canadians will now see if, left completely to his own devices, will the Prime Minister actually talk about issues or just issue talking points, reach out to Canadians or firm up his base.

And actually engaging votes will require a big shift for the PMO (or most politicians). As most online experts will tell you, and as Ivor Tossell aptly discussed yesterday, online interactions work best when you actually interact with the audience. Issuing press releases and spouting sound bites over a blog, or a YouTube video, won’t cause the online world to take interest, in fact, it will positively turn them against you. But then, maybe this is a constituency most politicians simply don’t care about and so simply being online will be sufficient, as it gives the Prime Minister and other politicians the appearance of being online to the offline world…

Some questions I hope the PM answers:

“A majority of Canadians when polled say they believe marijuana should be legal for adults and taxes like alcohol. Why don’t you end the war on drugs and focus on violent criminals.” (Cause it is the most voted for)

“Sir, the US Government much larger yet they disclose much more information about contracts, grants and lobbyists. When will the Government of Canada disclosure more information to the taxpayers of Canada” (cause I care about open government)

Since research has shown that mandatory minimum sentencing does not deter future crime, what makes you believe this is still an effective way of prosecuting criminals? (cause evidence based public policy matters)

Why is the government not more open about the Afghan detainee issue? Every time a legitimate question is asked, the response is that we should “support our troops” and look the other way (because every Canadian wants this questions answered)

Mid-last year, the CBC stated that the GST cuts introduced by your government have hiked the deficit by as much as $10 BILLION. Since most everyday purchases only end up saving Canadians pennies, why not raise the GST back to previous levels? (a great accountability question)

“Canadians seemed happy about your decision to match donations to Haiti after the devastating Earthquake; however, it has recently been discovered that the money has not gone out. Why was there a delay and when can we expect to see the money spent?” (great accountability question)

“As a gay Canadian, why should I support your government?” (was told about this question but couldn’t find it – google, filter failure! – I think this is precisely the type of question the media will never ask…)

Comedic interlude: Lindsay Lohan Brand Lessons

So I don’t usually delve into the world of celebrities but had to comment on the epic lack of foresight recently displayed by Lindsay Lohan and her lawyers.

Yesterday my friend John M. pointed me to hilarious this story, which describes how Lindsay Lohan is suing E*Trade for $100M (yes you read that right) because, her lawyers claim, the advertisement posted below:

violated Lohan’s rights under New York state civil-rights law and used her “name and characterization” in business without paying her or getting her approval.

So first, yes the add is hilarious.

Second, I’m not really sure it has anything to do with Lohan.

But lastly and most oddly: why is it that Lindsay thinks the ad is modeled after her? Because of the term milkaholic (as in a baby version of “alcoholic”…)

I’m not sure that Lindsay and her lawyers want to make the case that every time someone uses her name in conjunction with a reference to a substance abuse problem this should be construed as a clear “characterization” of Lindsay Lohan. This is functionally conceding (in a case I can’t imagine you’ll win) that your personal brand is tied up with substance abuse.

It is a curious brand to want to stake out. And if she wins, a court will be acceding that Lindsay has joined the ranks of Madonna (associated with sex) or Oprah (associated with thoughtfulness) as Lindsay (associated with excessive alcohol consumption). Is that a brand battle you want to win?

But then maybe any publicity is better than no publicity…

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programing tomorrow.

The end of TV and the end of CanCon?

A few weeks ago I blogged about how the arrival of Joost could eventually require the rethinking of Canadian content rules (CanCon).

For those unfamiliar with CanCon, it is a policy, managed (I believe) by Heritage Canada and enforced by Canada’s broadcasting regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), that establishes a system of quotas to ensure a certain amount of Canadian programming (e.g. music, TV) is broadcast within Canada.

In laymen terms: CanCon ensures that Canadian radio and TV stations broadcast at least some Canadian content. This can be good – making stars out of artists that might not have have received airplay – think The Bare Naked Ladies. And it can be bad, making (usually temporarily) stars out of artists that should never have received airplay – think Snow.

Well I’ve been allowed to serve as a Joost beta tester. After getting my email invitation last week I downloaded a copy.

In essence Joost is like You-Tube, but bigger, faster,  and sleeker. It’s as though Apple’s design team revamped You-Tube from the ground up and, while they were at it, grabbed themselves some partners to provide some more professional content.

But what makes Joost so interesting is how it’s organized. Joost feels like on-demand TV, with content divided into “categories” – such as “documentaries films” – and subdivided into “channels” – such as the “Indieflix channel” and the “Witness channel.” There is already a fair amount of content already available including a number of hour long (or longer) documentaries that are worth watching. (I can’t WAIT until Frontline has a channel up and running. I’d love to be able to watch any Frontline episode, anywhere, anytime, on a full screen.)

So what happens to Canadian content rules when anyone, anywhere can create and distribute content directly to my computer, and eventually, my TV? At this point, the only options left appear to be a) give up, or b) regulate content on the internet. Problematically, regulating internet content and access may be both impossible (even China struggles with this policy objective) and unpopular (I hope you’re as deeply uncomfortable as I am with the government regulating internet content).

The internet has (so far) enabled users to vastly expand the number of media sources available to them, and even create their own media. This has been a nightmare for “traditional media” such as newspapers and television stations, whose younger market demographic has significantly eroded. As a result, these same forces are eroding the government’s capacity to control what Canadians watch.

Which brings us back to option (a). At worst, CanCon is going the way of the Dodo – it will be too difficult to implement and maintain. Indeed a crisis in cultural policy may be looming. On the bright side however, the internet enables ordinary Canadians to create their own media (blogs, podcasts and now even videos) and distribute it over the internet, across the country and around the world. This is a better outcome than CanCon – which essential supports large, established media conglomerates who do Canadian content out of necessity, not passion – could ever have hoped for. Ordinary canadians may now be in the driver seat in creating content. That is a good outcome. Let’s hope any policy that replaces CanCon bears this in mind.