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The Pull of Crowds in a Plugged-In World

Feature films are only a tap away, and yet the global box office is making more money than ever—raking in a record US$41 billion last year.

Even as we live more and more of our lives online, we still crave in-person experiences. Think back to last spring, when Toronto Raptors viewing parties were everywhere, capped off by a parade that brought together more than one million fans. Then just last month, half a million movie buffs descended on the Toronto International Film Festival.

As technology evolves, one thing that disruption hasn’t upended is the genuine human need for connection. The experience economy is thriving, and every disruptor needs to think about the signal that sends: today’s consumers want to feel like they are part of something. In a global survey by Live Nation, 66% of people said they are “starving for experiences that put them back in touch with real people and raw emotions.”

To learn more about drawing crowds in the digital age, and the disruptive force they represent, we hosted an RBC Disruptors conversation with the co-heads of the Toronto International Film Festival:

  • Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director & Co-Head, TIFF
  • Joana Vicente, Executive Director & Co-Head, TIFF

The number of households with multiple streaming services is growing at a rapid pace, but Vicente thinks back to the advent of television and the introduction of the home video, and comes out bullish on the future of theatres.

“There’s always been these kinds of disruptions, and there’s always been an answer,” Vicente said.

In an era of constant distraction, the theatre is the only place where you’re told to turn off your phone. You are required to get sucked into the story, to laugh or cry alongside your fellow audience members. And let’s be honest, you can’t beat the projection.

“I think that no matter how good your home theatre is, it’s not as good as what we have,” Bailey said. “Sorry!”

But what stands out about the streaming era is that it’s not just about shifting viewing habits; it’s about the potential impact of data on the art form itself. Directors may find themselves struggling between their artistic vision, and what the data says will get them on Netflix’s list of recommendations.


As Senior Vice-President, Office of the CEO, John advises the executive leadership on emerging trends in Canada’s economy, providing insights grounded in his travels across the country and around the world. His work focuses on technological change and innovation, examining how to successfully navigate the new economy so more people can thrive in the age of disruption. Prior to joining RBC, John spent nearly 25 years at the Globe and Mail, where he served as editor-in-chief, editor of Report on Business, and a foreign correspondent in New Delhi, India. He is the author of three books and has a fourth underway.