How the democratization of content enables one-on-one connection with clients. A Q&A with Shahrzad Rafati, Founder and CEO of BBTV.

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Russell: Growing up in Iran, did you feel like there were things that you understood about the world and about your country that you weren't seeing reflected on television? Like, were you aware of the fact that that sort of the world as depicted in the media was not the full story?

Shahrzad Rafati: Oh, absolutely. I mean, look, content was truly rationed. I mean, you think about it, we have four channels. One of them was Imams, All Imams All Day. And the second one was, you know, the occasional movie. I grew up during the war, so inequality was really an everyday thing and really experiencing that and wanting to make sure you're playing a part in the democratization of content and being able to actually help folks, whoever that wants to tell their story, empower them to tell their story which is really that citizen journalism making sure that everyone is empowered to tell their story. It was the passion. It was definitely something that I was passionate about from earlier days. When I moved to Canada, I saw that as an opportunity where with BBTV, I could start a global business that helped content creators tell their story and grow an audience and reach audiences and to make sure that we are not just hearing curated stories, but really to play a big part in democratization of content.

Russell: I think your idea was a little bit ahead of its time. And then I think the way in which you've evolved, is rather than bringing kind of all the existing content into someone's television, into someone's living room, it's really like you've become a broadcaster, you're actually partnering to create more and more content.

Shahrzad Rafati: I think the other aspect of that is talking about democracy and democratization of video content is really about empower, helping and empowering SMEs (subject matter experts). If you look at creator economy as a whole, you're looking at 104 billion dollar economy. You look at Canada. In Canada, we have about 13 billion as far as total scope of digital video and tens of thousands of obviously content creators. The ability to also be able to actually empower local creators to have a global audience is really important.

When you look at digital platforms, 90 percent of the watch time for Canadian content, for example, on YouTube happens outside of Canada. This really is a great showcase of how do you actually expose Canadian talent and Canadian culture to the rest of the world, which is the case in every other country. How do you enable these local stories to be told?

I'm sure you know this, Russell, because when you look at your revenues, having the ability to actually reach a global audience and to expand, bring that level of awareness around Canada and what's happening in Canada, the rest of the world. And I think that's really the two true power of content democratization is being able to connect with audiences and have a diverse ability to reach a range of them across the globe.

Russell: I agree completely. I think any sort of list of who is the biggest star in the world right now would have to include The Weeknd. For a lot of people, that would be a clear number one, as nobody's more important to global, global music right now. And The Weeknd is somebody who is Canadian, who I think we all know is from Scarborough, Ontario, and was able to make it as an artist because of the democratization of content exactly the way you described it. He is someone who became famous on SoundCloud, and ten years earlier, would he have been famous? Maybe not. Maybe he would not have been able to get the breaks to get a record deal. Even if he did, he might have been an artist like the Tragically Hip that was famous in Canada but never made it globally. But because the technology existed, he had, you know, access to SoundCloud. He right away had a global fan base before he even had a record deal. And I think that's what's so exciting about kind of where we are right now.

Shahrzad Rafati: Oh, absolutely. And I think if you think about it, that relationship is also different, right? You think about the relationship between digital talent and their audience. It's a lot more authentic, right? You kind of look at Gen Z, Gen Alpha, you know, the way they actually consume content and the way that they're influenced is very different, right? Because you're able to have that one-on-one interaction with your specific favorite artists. You actually have creators that are building audiences, they're listening to those audiences to see what content they're looking for as far as what they should be creating. So that you're also seeing this massive shift in terms of what trust and authenticity really means, which is what has led into this also shift in ad dollars, because at the end of the day with advertisers, agencies, they always follow eyeballs and give it ads. And that's why we are so excited about creator economy and how every brand and every advertiser can actually build that connection with audiences through creator economy.

Russell: There are so many innovators that come from Canada, and I think in many ways we're punching above our weight in innovation. Why do you think that is?

To learn why Shahrzad believes Canada continues to innovate, listen to the episode here:

Shahrzad’s transcript has been slightly altered in this Q&A for clarity and brevity.