Full Stream Ahead
In conversation with Karine Moses, Senior Vide President, Content Development & News Media, Bell Media.
Yes, it’s been a turbulent year, but Karine Moses sees bright skies ahead. In early 2021, an organizational transformation at Bell Media saw the exit of several higher-ups and the shuffling of others — including Moses, who took on the role of Senior VP of Content Development & News. It’s a pretty hefty portfolio, with Moses overseeing content delivery and distribution across all platforms (from radio to conventional channels to Crave) and across all provinces, in English and French. The Montreal-based executive spoke to us about the restructure, her company’s content-first strategy, and the power of on-screen optimism in tough times.
There were a lot of changes at Bell Media this past year, including a restructuring of the leadership team and a push to streamline operations. Has the dust settled? What’s your vision for Bell’s direction moving forward?
These types of restructuring decisions are never easy, but if you look at everything that’s happening in our sector, they were necessary for us to be part of the game and to be where we wanted to be in a very dynamic industry. We did it in order to make it a bit easier to do business, to be more focused, and to be more efficient.
Now our strategy is simple. With all that restructuring, we have created a strategy for Bell Media that will allow us to achieve our vision of delivering the most compelling content to Canadians. Canadian production is a key part of our strategy. In the upcoming season, Bell Media will produce more than 70 original productions, and many of these will be delivered nationally, in English and French. This is one of our strengths: delivering content from coast to coast to coast in both languages.
We’re also ramping up our profile in Quebec. We bought a conventional channel a year or so ago, and are really building up our profile there. Since we launched Crave in French as part of our strategy in Quebec, our viewership has increased significantly, and our conventional channel is gaining significant market share and audience share. So we have a pretty robust strategy on content: that’s what we do. It’s all about content.
What is your commissioning strategy for new programs moving forward? Are there specific audiences that you’re hoping to target, or other program criteria that you’re hoping to meet?
We have a clear strategy to increase our Canadian content offering on all platforms. I’m talking about Crave, CTV, SVOD, AVOD, French, English. The content pipeline is flowing; it’s pretty healthy. We’re working with many production companies, and yes: we want to make sure that we’re connecting with all Canadians in all communities. The local flavour of the content we build is critical, and we will continue to invest in ongoing TV projects and films that Canadians want to see, which are very high quality and reflect our own experience. Our slate is more diverse than ever. We have a lot of things on the go.
Crave seems to have landed on a winning formula by balancing its impressive collection of must-watch US series with its own original Canadian content. Will this continue to be your streaming strategy? Are you planning to bolster your slate of original programs on Crave?
Yes, we’re looking at bolstering a bit more, to offer some more diverse content. We know that the competition is steep. The US studios own their own streamers, which is changing the dynamic and our buying power. But our strategy is to offer a diverse range of content and build on the success of our Crave Originals, such as Canada’s Drag Race and Letterkenny. We have a slate that is diverse, and we also want to tell a good story. A show is good because the story is good, because the storytelling is good, and it reflects what we live. That’s our strategy. We see Crave as a one-stop shop for the best international and Canadian content, and it’s the only bilingual Canadian streamer in the country. I think it’s very important to remember that. Canada is not a very big market, and in my perspective, it’s too small to host as many streaming services as the US or other large markets. We believe we are uniquely positioned to serve the Canadian consumer.
Over the past year, we watched Bill C-10 gain momentum, only to stall in the Senate. Were you disappointed by the course the proposed legislation took?
It’s been quite a battle, I would say. Quite a journey. But honestly, we’re happy that the government and the CRTC are tackling this issue. All the streaming service providers, like Netflix and Disney+, have more subscribers than all Canada’s BDUs combined, with no regulatory framework. C-10 is not perfect, but we are supportive of its objectives and bringing those streamers into the Canadian broadcasting system, and requiring them to contribute to Canadian programming, like traditional broadcasters do. We need to level the playing field and ensure a fair and equitable framework. Passing this bill, or some form of it, will also create a better and more sustainable environment for independent production. It’s critical for the future of the industry.
Thanks to the pandemic, the majority of the country was confined to their homes for months — and watching a lot more TV. Has the past year and a half provided any fresh insights on audience habits that you believe will remain relevant even as restrictions loosen up and we leave our living rooms?
For sure. It changed our personal routines and our habits of consuming content. There was a huge spike in the news audience. Crave has also had a large increase of new subscribers and views per sub. We saw a shift that we think will help us build our slate into the future. We saw that people were more engaged, they were watching more hours of content — and they were watching shows that were positive. Take the reality series Canada’s Drag Race: it was successful before the pandemic, but we saw a huge increase in views — people were craving positive storytelling. We learned a couple of things during the pandemic: we were more agile, we were more efficient at adapting. And the last year reinforced how crucial it is for Crave to offer a wide-ranging and diverse slate of content that is culturally relevant. Local content is so important — now more than ever.
What’s your current favourite show (that’s not a Bell property)?
With the pandemic, I think I watched everything that exists in the world! I really like The Crown, to be honest. I know it’s a Netflix show! But I think it’s fascinating and well done. There are also some great French shows on CBC — they do a lot of great drama, like Les mecs. It’s super fun. I like Quebec shows, and I like international and US shows, and I love all the shows that we’re doing, obviously — they’re great.