This December, we discovered that our playlist is the ninth-best performing YouTube playlist of 2017, CBC-wide. That means archival episodes of Land & Sea are being watched as much as Marketplace, The Fifth Estate and Daniel Tiger.
More than just tapping our Newfoundland pride, this milestone serves as a reminder that sometimes it pays to challenge accepted wisdom.
In this golden era of video, producers are told the faster, splashier and weirder, the better. We know our audience‘s attention span is about 15 seconds. If you don‘t grab their attention with a surfing cat, a dog pirouette or an explosion off the top, the audience is gone — fiddling with their phones, clicking on another video or sending eggplant emojis.
So who exactly is watching 30-minute archival Land & Sea episodes? Who‘s sitting through the mellow theme song and sticking around for a long opening shot that inevitably pans across a scenic barrens or a rocky harbour?
We know a lot about that online audience: 75 per cent are male and most are 35 to 44 years old; not exactly “young,” but we‘ll take it. Most are watching in Canada although we have a healthy audience in the U.S., Ireland and Australia and, surprisingly, there are Land & Sea fans in Kazakhstan and Samoa.
And what are they watching? The most popular episode is about the Bay de Verde fishery, with over 14,000 views. It‘s worth a watch, just to hear the rich Bay de Verde brogue and watch a fishermen singing as he works. I can‘t help but wonder if the crowd in Kazakhstan have to use Google Translate.
There‘s also a well-watched episode about Inuit caribou hunters. It was filmed before a number of the group died in a snowstorm. It‘s a poignant film of life with dog teams, qamutiks and Ski-Doos. Also from Labrador, there‘s an epic show from 1975, featuring a 321-kilometre canoe trip down the Churchill River with trappers Mark and John Blake, and Horace Goudie.
Some of the most popular archival Land & Sea episodes introduce us to unsung heroes and unique characters, like the popular Cecilia Smith, the feisty outdoorswoman and famous bear hunter from Hawke‘s Bay. The 1980 two-part show “The Trouble with Whales” introduced the province to the work of Dr. Jon Lien, a fearless man who risked falling into the frigid Atlantic to free whales caught in fishing gear and in doing so helped change our relationship with those majestic mammals.
Land & Sea also takes us to some of the most magical places in Newfoundland and Labrador. The episode that follows the Barry family shows a Merasheen Island that looks as lush as I imagine Hawaii to be. And there‘s a two-part show from 1988 following fishermen Sam Caines, Bernard Farrell and Bernard Martin on an Oxfam trip to Nicaragua to teach fishermen there how to use a cod trap.
There are also episodes — like the one on songwriter Lem Snow and the one about life on the Cape Shore — that have captured a time before mass media washed away the last traces of our unique folk culture.
Most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a story about Land & Sea: watching it as a child, scoring a Land & Sea ballcap or knowing someone who was featured. My favourite family story about the show is receiving pirated VHS tapes in the mail when I lived in Toronto. There was never a note attached, but the implication was clear; I was meant to screen the show for my mainland boyfriend. I am happy to report he heeded the message, watched each and every tape and is now my husband.
Archival episodes of Land & Sea offer us a window into a time when resilience, skills and a sense of adventure were necessary to survival. We‘ve long known that Land & Sea is magic, and now YouTube is letting the rest of the world in on the secret.
I look forward to posting more episodes in 2018. If you go to the and hit the red subscribe button, you‘ll be notified when we post new shows.