The "third screen" – in all its permutations – was high on the agenda at this year’s Prime Time, the annual conference of the Canadian Film and Television Production Association (CFTPA).   Computer displays are often referred to as the third screen after television and movie theatres. However, there is no homogeneity within that category, with formats ranging from the largest plasma and LCD monitors to the smallest of displays on portable devices. "While the size of the viewing platform is shrinking…the range of markets, audience expectations and possibilities is growing," said CRTC chair Charles Dalfen. "The change is largely for the good…but of course there’s always something unsettling about change." Change means today’s producers have to contend with market fragmentation, the need to create numerous versions of their product to suit the myriad platforms available, a challenging rights environment, and audiences that grow ever more fickle, he said. In his breakfast speech, Dalfen hinted that this year the commission will release a long-awaited ruling on the matter of mobile video, namely whether it should be governed by the Broadcasting Act or fall under the New Media Exemption Order of 1999, which is up for review. However, he defended the commission’s decision to not rule on the matter sooner. "The art of regulation is as much about knowing when not to interfere as it is about seizing the right moment to act," he said. However, the production of content for mobile phones, video iPods and similar devices is an endeavour that’s likely to undergo more growing pains before effective strategies for monetization start to emerge. "The fact is, the winning formula for the two-inch screen is still at the drawing board," Dalfen said. Nevertheless, demand is mounting for content on these alternative platforms: Dalfen pointed to Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes online content store, where sales of downloadable video clips topped the one million mark just three weeks after making their debut. "There’s no arguing with the preferences of viewers," he said. "They want content they can share and interact with, an interesting proposition for producers." After Dalfen’s remarks and an overview of the CFTPA’s Profile 2006 annual report, the first of the day’s panels got underway, this one assembling producers and broadcasters for a look at the coming year. Moderator Ken Rockburn, host and producer at the Cable Public Affairs Channel, noted that broadcast rights and rights for supplemental content such as interactive or online media are usually separately negotiated, with many producers wanting to retain the latter set of rights for future use. With many broadcasters today owning multiple channels that span conventional, specialty and pay-per-view formats, "there’s a fundamental question about what is a broadcast right," Paul Robertson, president of Corus Entertainment Inc.’s television division, said. Robertson noted that convergent online and interactive media properties associated with a broadcast show are often seen as competition, when they actually serve to drive traffic to the core broadcast product. "If you look at it in a broad context, we’re seeing a sort of television renaissance," he said, in part thanks to new media’s role in furthering the reach of broadcast content. Television’s audience, Robertson said, grew approximately 2% last year, and similar increases are projected for the near future, but ultimately broadcasters must get their product out there in whatever fashion is dictated by technology and the audience’s use of it. Later that morning, CHUM Television senior VP of content Roma Khanna moderated another panel discussion, this one dealing with content delivery options for the latest handheld platforms. Robert Reaume, VP of policy and research at the Association of Canadian Advertisers said his client base is increasingly turning to new media. "They’re always looking to get their products in front of consumers, and always looking for new ways to do so," he said, adding that "there’s a kind of crisis of confidence in television these days." According to Reaume, the hardware formats and technology employed by a medium matter less to advertisers than its reach. "Here’s the bottom line: attention equals dollars," he said. The Association of Canadian Advertisers’ membership numbers more than 200 Canadian companies and divisions, including Kraft Canada Inc. and the Campbell Company of Canada. Jeff Macpherson, a Vancouver-based film director, writer and producer, said his year-old Tikibar TV video podcast has proved more successful than his independent films. "I was hoping no one would see it, because it’s quite silly," he said. When Apple chief executive Steve Jobs used a clip from Tikibar TV to demonstrate his firm’s new video iPod last October, however, the subscriber base for his podcast soon soared to more than 250,000. The video podcast is available through iTunes and other channels. CBC executive VP of English-language television Richard Stursberg noted that the public broadcaster’s video content downloads through iTunes hit the one million mark recently. "We’re deeply committed to this," he said, adding that the CBC has spent a lot of time developing and implementing strategies for distribution on broadband home connections, mobile phones, podcasting, and video-on-demand. However, he hastened to add that much of the process is an ongoing experiment, and that the rights and revenue agreements surrounding convergent projects are "very far from understood – even the costs of getting these up and rolling are far from understood." Broadening its focus to include such platforms has entailed thinking about new media from the very beginning of the production planning stage, Stursberg said. "We’re going to think of it less and less as traditional television and more and more from the beginning as content for these multiple platforms," he said. That was a message echoed by Michael Hennessy, president of the soon-to-be-defunct Canadian Cable Telecommunications Association, who warned broadcasters against thinking that their traditional media properties are a distinct creature from emerging interactive media. "None of us are in the business we think we’re in," he said. "We’re in the business of putting content in boxes and protecting the rights around it." Like Corus’ Robertson in the previous panel discussion, Telus Corp. director of television content Andy Ebbern claimed that his firm’s new mobile TV offering will drive users to traditional broadcast television by acting as a preview channel. For instance, he said, commuters on public transit could view short clips of a show airing later on that night. "I think it’s going to be an adjunct to living-room TV," he said. Telus and other telcos are getting into the television game both through mobile TV offerings but also the delivery of television content over their IP networks.