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Lights, cameras and plenty of action

Concordians are thriving in the world of streaming media
April 26, 2022
By Doug Sweet

In the beginning, there was the tube. And the antenna. And the network, with a programming schedule. Millions of people tuned in to watch the same program at the same time — television worked this way for decades.

While some technologies have since helped advance the way viewers engage with content, not much changed until the turn of the millennium, when key developments allowed broadcasters to fling programs over the internet. Streaming had arrived.

Faster connection speeds moved the needle in a big way. From 2005 to 2020, streaming revenue in the United States rocketed from $7.1 billion to $24.1 billion, according to data produced by Grand View Research, PwC and Statista. As new platforms emerge and access to high-speed broadband increases, some industry watchers expect the figure to reach $42 billion by 2025.

Unsurprisingly, many Concordians have found homes in the streaming industry. Alumni, some in senior positions, work at many of the major streaming enterprises, including Netflix, Disney, Crave, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Paramount+ and Apple TV+.

Here’s how four graduates are making their mark in the streaming world.

Audrey Gardiner Photo: Kerry Shaw

Audrey Gardiner, BA 01

Faculty of Arts and Science graduate Audrey Gardiner has a job to make cinephiles drool. As head of Netflix’s global independent and documentary film licensing efforts, she spends a lot of her time watching movies at the company’s Los Angeles offices.

“On a typical day, my team and I are screening finished films we can pick up globally or multi-regionally,” says Gardiner, who also manages U.S.-based studio film-licensing partnerships.

“We’re reviewing lists of available new-release and catalogue films from distribution partners in the U.S. and around the world, and working through longer-term strategic partnerships. It’s been amazing to work for as long as I have at a global company and enter new markets.” Part of what fascinates Gardiner about her industry is the way streaming can broaden viewers’ horizons.

“Something we say a lot at Netflix is that ‘great stories can come from any­where and be loved everywhere,’” she explains. “I think this will continue to be true as more people adopt stream­ing as one of their primary means of entertainment, and are able to discover and escape with film and TV from every corner of the world, not just the country they’re living in.”

Gardiner was able to use her back­ground in journalism and political science to pivot to entertainment fairly quickly.

“Concordia helped foster my curiosity and passion — two things that have really driven me.” While Gardiner’s longer-term plan includes leading a company getting into streaming for the first time, she’s excited by Netflix’s ability to appeal to a worldwide audience.

“We’re working with incredible storytellers in Hollywood and around the world and have really raised the bar over the last few years,” she says. Given its 27 nominations at the 2022 Academy Awards — including two for Best Picture — it looks like she’s right.

Vivek Pandey

Vivek Pandey, MEng 10

As senior network engineer at Disney+, Vivek Pandey is focused on the IT infrastructure side of streaming media. The resident of Mountain View, California, is convinced streaming is here to stay and that most platforms will create content rather than pursuing licensing deals to broadcast someone else’s productions.

Like many platforms, Disney+ has carved out its own niche, as it aims to capture a big share of the youth market with powerful brands such as Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars, not to mention Disney itself.

“Being on the engineering and implementation team, my responsibility is to ensure new data centres are deployed on time for launch in new regions,” says Pandey, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Thailand in 2005. “I also work on projects to continually improve the user experience.

”At Concordia’s Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science, Pandey found good value in the Electrical and Computer Engineering program and one bonus of note: “the vibrant city of Montreal!

”And he’s not done with his education. He’ll be enrolled at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business this summer and his sights are set on a more product-oriented role at Disney.

“I have always been flexible in my career, pursuing that next opportunity all the time,” Pandey says. “Concordia helped establish the foundations of my career and the analytical skills required to advance my journey in IT engineering.”

Isabelle Sullivan

Isabelle Sullivan, BA 06

As director of strategic planning at Bell Media, Isabelle Sullivan manages the programming of its Crave streaming service, as well as pay-TV services Super Écran and Cinépop. These days, her focus is on expanding Crave’s reach in Quebec and the rest of francophone Canada.

Sullivan began at Bell in 2013, as director of original programming for its French specialty channels, having worked previously for a variety of digital producers, managing relationships with the likes of Disney, AMC, NBC Sports, CBC, Radio-Canada and Astral.

Cultural diversity is a big plus, Sullivan says, especially for a bilingual service like Crave, unique among Canadian streaming companies for that very reason.

“We’re lucky in Quebec because the French community has its own star system, which has helped our industry stay so strong,” she notes. “We were able to keep shooting during the pandemic, which allowed us to premiere amazing shows to strong numbers.

Original con­tent for Canadian streamers remains the key, and a big differentiator and sub­scriber driver.

“Having strong original programs in both English and French allows us to attract bilingual viewers looking for different types of content.” Sullivan was fortunate to get her start right out of high school, moving up from intern, first in production space, and then to the broadcast side of things.

As an undergraduate in communication studies, she focused on television.

“Learning communications theory helped me understand certain decisions and the inner workings of the TV industry,” she says. “I also made great contacts who have followed me through the years.

“Being equipped with relevant experience and a degree, a strong work ethic and a little bit of luck helped me get to where I am today.”

Sarah Beckett Photo: Christopher Kubek

Sarah Beckett, BFA 04

The only thing I think about when I take on a new project is, ‘Is this a good story?’” says Sarah Beckett, a California-based writer currently working at Paramount+ who has a wealth of experience in streaming and cable television.

“In my line of work, good storytelling is everything. What’s so wonderful about this expanding world is seeing doors open for storytellers who would never have had a hope in hell of getting their show on a traditional network, or even cable,” she says. “There is an element of increased risk-taking that has led to the discovery of some really terrific new voices.”

Yet there are fewer differences of note between streaming and cable, adds Beckett, with the possible exception of the former’s flexible episode lengths and greater freedom when it comes to things like profanity.

“Streaming is the future of home entertainment, whether people love it or hate it,” she says. “I suspect we will eventually see some type of bundling of platforms, sort of like the old-school cable model.”

So what is a typical day like for Beckett?

“The bulk of my responsibility is writing,” she says. “Since the start of the pandemic, writers’ rooms have just about all gone virtual, so I’m on Zoom most of the day.

“My office is a 1963 Streamline trailer, 50 feet from my door in Joshua Tree, where I recently moved from Los Angeles with my husband and daughter. I no longer have to commute 10-plus hours a week, so that’s been a major bright spot,” says Beckett, who is list­ed as a co-producer on an upcoming crime-drama series called Happy Face.

Following graduation from Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts, Beckett worked with a Montreal documentary film producer, then as a researcher and writer for a true-crime series at Toronto-based Cineflix.

“It has always been interesting,” she says of her career. “To new writers, I would simply say: Live a life worth writing about, love the work and actually do the work. That’s something my first boss in L.A. used to say — there’s no secret handshake, no one person who will make your career happen for you. Just do the work.”

In Good Company is a series on inspiring grads who work for corporations, non-profits or industries that employ a large number of Concordia alumni.

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