Canada’s two summertime interactive media events have launched new content competitions in a bid to find and promote the best short-form and mobile content.   Both the NextPITCH competition at Achilles Media’s NextMEDIA event and the New Media BC-organized Vancouver International Digital Festival (Vidfest)’s Content a Go-Go challenge have a claim to uniqueness: NextPITCH entails coming up with a concept for a 30-second video clip and pitching it to a panel of judges, while Content a Go-Go is a curated art exhibit of sorts, with the content being displayed on iPods rather than in picture frames. Content a Go-Go’s deadline is May 19, while NextPITCH is open to submissions until May 23. NextPITCH is sponsored by Toronto-based Sun TV, which is providing prizes of $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000 for the top three finishers. "There are no restrictions on the type of genre or content, other than good taste and the laws of the land," Kim Gertler, NextMEDIA’s executive producer, says. "There’s no restriction on what types of platforms have to be used," he says, nor on the genre of the content. "It’s not necessarily a film in itself, it could be a teaser campaign, it could be a piece of music, it could be a silent film, or it could be something educational or inspiring, that inspires people to do things with their lives." While creating art for art’s sake is often seen to be the purest form of expression – and often the most experimental, thanks to a lack of commercial appeal – Gertler says that advertising has come into its own as a format for innovative and cutting-edge storytelling. "You’d be surprised at how much work goes into your average commercial, and how much information about, for example, two characters and a plot can be conveyed in a still image that your eye can absorb in half a second," he says. "Often the ads say more about our culture than the stuff between the ads….Many ads are small stories in themselves." Despite the involvement of Sun TV as a sponsor and source of prizes, "there’s nothing saying it even has to be television-oriented," he says. "Television is just one of a multiple quantity of different options, from podcasting to mobile to broadband streaming – I think most of the street-level producers these days have to think in those terms." And although 30 seconds will seem excruciatingly brief to some content creators, Gertler says he’s talked with like-minded new media producers with successful mobile and broadband content deals in foreign markets. Their feedback indicated that, as audiences become more fragmented and starved for leisure time, short-form content is increasingly gaining ground on all devices. "I was hearing that they were selling smaller and smaller units, and the sense I was getting was that the 30-second bite was kind of the ubiquitous content entity, the unit that would cross all platforms," he says. Gertler continues: "I think we’re used to digesting 30-second messages thanks to advertising, and part of the idea was to give kind of the cash-per-second power to content that advertisers have, so that they could play with the same kind of tool kit to get their message across." The shorter format also has a democratizing influence, allowing more cash-constrained producers to put something together. "Anyone can do 30 seconds – that does not exclude anybody," he says. Vidfest’s Content a Go-Go originally featured three partners: Mobile MUSE, a Vancouver-based mobile content research project; Radio 3, the CBC’s cutting-edge showcase for emerging music; and ZeD, another CBC property that was a victim of the public broadcaster’s review of its programming spending earlier this year. With its eclectic mix of experimental multimedia and a large online community, ZeD was a model for the kind of content Vidfest was created to promote, says Kristin Richter, producer at Vidfest. However, she adds, the connection to the CBC remains intact with Radio 3’s involvement. "ZeD’s been a partner with Vidfest since we launched in 2004, and they’ve been great – obviously, this was kind of their area," she says. "But Radio 3…has kind of been spearheading the whole podcast revolution in Canada." Richter says Vidfest started experimenting with content creation competitions at last year’s event, with a competition to create the best 45-second video clip for a mobile phone. This year, the format is much looser. "Length isn’t really a consideration, so we’re kind of open to all types of digital content this year," she says. The content will reside on five of Apple Inc.’s 60 GB video iPods, which Richter says will offer an experience similar to the listening stations found in music retailers, albeit with audio and video. Entries will be judged by representatives from Vidfest, Radio 3 and Mobile MUSE, and the five top finalists will each win one of the iPods from the exhibition. So far, Richter says Content a Go-Go has seen a wide variety of entries, from longer online "sagas" to audio podcasts and short films. "It’s a nice mix," she says. "I think it shows what type of content people will actually be using now that the technology has kind of caught up." The interest in the competition underlines the fact that mobile content is increasingly driving new media’s more experimental side. "Obviously we have full-screen screenings as well, mobile content is a huge part of what’s kind of going on in the industry," she says.