Canada’s most prolific animation company is heading into a new era that will see it fused with parentco Corus Entertainment’s TV division, and Corus president of television Paul Robertson has been chosen to orchestrate the shift. No stranger to the kids biz, Robertson used to be president of Canadian kidnet YTV.
Robertson says maintaining Nelvana’s reputation for creative quality is at the top of the priority list, which should be made easier by the fact that Corus has reduced Nelvana’s production levels by 30% from 252 episodes in fiscal 2002 to a planned 150 in 2003. ‘As the market was expanding and European prices were going through the roof, we just continued to make more and more episodes,’ he says. ‘But now that there’s been some constriction, we need to avoid doing quantity at the sake of quality. The major focus has to be on instilling in our customers and co-production partners the belief that we are still totally committed to developing the best programming we can.’
Robertson also hopes to use the Corus TV outlets to launch properties with the level of momentum that will convince international broadcasters to sign on. ‘Canada can be a good test market or greenhouse for giving an animated series the best possible start, and a good example is Beyblade. We stripped it on YTV, we aggressively promoted it, and we integrated it on our website. The show is now number-one among young boys in Canada, and Hasbro can’t keep enough of the toys in stock. It’s that kind of in-market experience that we can take to other markets as proof that the property has an outstanding chance of taking off and triggering customer interest there.’
To help Robertson guide Nelvana’s slate, Peter Moss will step in as executive VP of development, in addition to his role as head of programming for Corus Television. On the distribution side, sales veteran Emmanuele Petry has been promoted from VP of Nelvana Europe International to senior VP, international and will be responsible for sales, licensing and co-productions in Europe, Latin America and Africa. President of international distribution, marketing and consumer products Toper Taylor will still represent Nelvana part-time in the U.S., but he’ll also be pursuing other projects and business ventures. So to complete the Nelvana puzzle, Corus is looking to fill a senior position that will manage sales, marketing, publishing, consumer products and brand-building.
The musical chairs comes on the heels of Nelvana co-founder Michael Hirsh stepping down as CEO in the wake of a tough financial year for both Nelvana and Corus, attributed largely to a slowdown in the production/distribution industry. In response, Corus is taking a US$128-million writedown on Nelvana, which it purchased in September 2000 for US$373 million.
Hirsh, who has headed up the toonco since its launch 32 years ago, will segue into an advisory capacity by year’s end. Helming certain Nelvana projects, Hirsh will also be exploring new opportunities in 2003. ‘The niche of kids programming has been very good to me,’ he says. ‘It’s one that I’m passionate about; it’s one that I dreamed about as a kid and that I continue to dream about. And once you’re good at something, you want to keep doing it.’