In the wake of a consolidation rush that sent a small cluster of media giants on a two-year buying spree, operations are finally beginning to take precedence again–and now, by centralizing departments and doing away with the inevitable overlap, media conglomerates like Corus Entertainment are starting to trim the fat. ‘The time has come for Corus to stop acquiring for a while and start operating. But this made my job less rather than more,’ says Nelvana co-founder Patrick Loubert, who resigned from the Corus-acquired animation powerhouse in mid-November.
According to Nelvana CEO Michael Hirsh, ‘Patrick was both a major production talent and a driving force behind our success with his vision, his unparalleled creative eye and his capacity to keep us focused on the essence of our art.’ But focusing on the core business is what Loubert says is needed now. ‘Times are tough for everybody. A long time ago, we decided we had to be in the U.S. and Europe to finance almost any sort of budget, but now those markets are tightening. Fewer projects are produced in Europe, and the U.S., for the first time, is reaching out to Canada and Europe for co-productions. Business is in a contraction.’
Loubert, who resigned after 50 positions were eliminated–including that of fellow co-founder and maverick animator Clive Smith–is an admitted casualty of centralization that has effectively taken decision-making power out of his control. ‘It’s hard to take responsibility when you don’t have your hand on the lever anymore,’ he says. ‘As the company gets bigger, you get carried aloft, and my heart has always been in filmmaking.’
So armed with a two-year, exclusive development/production deal with Nelvana and a four-year output arrangement with Corus broadcast outlets YTV and Treehouse, Loubert has decided to stay true to his production roots and start up on his own studio. The as-yet-unnamed production house will focus on TV specials and series, but before Loubert gets started, he plans to take some time to regroup.
Loubert says he had been contemplating his exit from the company that he co-founded along with Smith and Hirsh 31 years ago since Corus bought Nelvana more than a year ago. ‘I am sad. The one thing I did [there] was identify good people and make sure the company held onto them. There are a lot of people I’ve hired that have been [at Nelvana] for 20 years.’
Traditionally, as co-CEOs, Loubert was responsible for production and development, and Hirsh handled sales and marketing. Smith was the artistic force behind the company and the only member of the trio, says Loubert, who knew how to draw.
Hirsh will continue in his role as CEO and will lead Corus’s Content Division, which includes the operations of Nelvana, Kids Can Press and Balmur Corus Music. Scott Dyer, co-founder of Windlight Studios, which was acquired by Nelvana in 1997, has been appointed senior VP in charge of production and will oversee Nelvana’s slate of programs, from perennial favorites like Franklin to new brands in development such as Beyblade and Medabots.