How would you describe Corus Kids’ current place in the market?
Corus Kids is strategically well-positioned as a vertically integrated content producer and broadcaster and will continue to evolve its strategic advantage with the recent integration of Corus’ children’s networks with Nelvana Enterprises and Nelvana’s studio. Not only can we benefit from optimal scheduling and exposure for our shows, we also have a superior financing capability compared to other independent content producers. This enables us to minimize our financial risk when producing new shows, which is especially important in today’s difficult economic environment.
What would you say are the division’s strengths?
Our integrated position as a broadcaster and content producer provides us with some very unique, strategic opportunities and there are very few companies in the world that are truly integrated – there are obviously the majors, like Warner Bros., Disney and Viacom. But beyond that, there aren’t many other broadcasters with our scale. The other important thing we have is our people. We have been grooming and developing a very talented team over the last five to six years. We have a very strong group of executives at all levels of the organization.
How are Corus Kids’ channel activity, production team and commercial arm
Nelvana Enterprises working together?
We will be announcing a number of exciting new assignments for our talented executive team that thematically will look to cross-pollinate senior management at our kids’ networks with Nelvana Enterprises, and vice versa, as well as expand the roles of the new team. This is all in an effort to continue developing our team and to seek out new ways to grow our business. The new structure will drive revenue synergies as it will allow for an integrated approach to building partnerships, encourage holistic thinking about the entire business and provide us with the ability to leverage knowledge from the various kids’ businesses. It will help us to more accurately identify short-term and long-term opportunities. We consider this to be a considerable strategic asset in today’s competitive marketplace.
Looking back at the past five years, what would you say has been the biggest area of growth?
Corus Kids has a very strong and growing consumer products business. Treehouse Presents, our DVD business, has sold more than one million units in Canada since its launch. And Corus has outstanding preschool properties such as The Backyardigans, Babar and Max & Ruby, to name just a few. Furthermore, Nelvana has firmly established relationships with key Japanese partners over the years, enabling our involvement in such powerhouse brands as Medabots, Beyblade and Bakugan – one of the top-selling boys action properties in North America right now.
Where would you like to take Corus Kids in the next five years?
We are beginning to put in motion some new approaches to our business that will seek to leverage our experience as a broadcaster to produce great new shows that we can sell the world over. When we pitch our shows, we will be able to speak to our own ratings performance and also share best practices with our international broadcast partners in terms of ratings success and audience-building promotions. And on the network side, we want to continue to look for integrated partnership strategies with major advertisers. As both a content producer and broadcaster, we really understand the objectives of the studios, toy companies and consumer packaged goods clients.
How are you going to achieve those goals?
With this new integrated team, we’re going to revisit and develop a three-year strategic plan that will have everybody’s fingerprints on it to ensure we have the best ideas and complete alignment. From there, a large group of the senior management team will be responsible for developing quarterly objectives that dovetail into our annual operating plan. And this way, when we have our weekly manager meetings, everyone sitting around the table will have a complete sense of what everyone else’s priorities are. We’ve done this very successfully at Nelvana Enterprises the last couple of years. Finally, Corus values of initiative, innovation, knowledge, teamwork and accountability are something we’ve worked very hard to embrace as a team. Don’t underestimate how integral those values are to our success in achieving our goals over the next five years; they’re very, very critical.
What do you think are the biggest challenges right now?
One is the current macroeconomic climate, absolutely. And that impacts us most specifically on the advertising sales side. And it also impacts us on the Nelvana side in terms of international licensing fees. I think the second big challenge, which is also an opportunity, is the digital revolution, wrestling with the notion of how aggressively to embrace all things digital. We have specific strategies around the core business, which is obviously the lion’s share of our revenue, but we also have specific strategies for exploring the digital side. We need to be out there and be in front of digital strategies and be pioneers in the space, but on the flip side, no one’s really clear yet on what the business model is. So the risk is, as Jeff Zucker said at NBC, that you don’t want to wind up trading linear dollars for digital pennies. So we have to balance the need to innovate and pioneer with the actual economics of the new digital platforms.
How are you approaching your new position? What are your priorities and job responsibilities?
Basically, I’ve been working my butt off as one-part student, one-part teacher and have been spending a lot of time exploring ways to optimize the structure of the new Corus Kids. I would also say that my style is very participatory, so we’ve been having lots of meetings where we’re hauling everybody into a room and brainstorming and putting opportunities on the table and jamming on them to see if we can make them bigger.
How do you intend to work with the indie production community moving forward?
Great content will always find a home and a condition of our broadcast license is that we work with independent producers. Money has to be spent outside of Nelvana and it’s going to be spent. But also, it’s not business as usual. We have an expectation that our independent content partners will bring a vision to new content that involves multiple touch points for the audience outside of linear broadcast. So we want content strategy that has a TV component, but also has some thinking around consumer products like toys, home video and interactive games, and online strategies. I really believe that merchandise can be content, too; it’s anything that helps build a child’s relationship with a given property. So it’s helpful for us to have our independent production partners develop TV series with a view to other aspects of the overall business.
To that end, are you also looking at taking on more third-party licensing?
Yes, it’s important to us. Because we’re both making and broadcasting content, we understand the objectives that some of the consumer-branded content producers out there, like HIT Entertainment, Chorion and Sesame Workshop, have. We appreciate playing a very important role in being a strategic partner to ensure that those properties have a good performance in our marketplace, so we’re co-producing Guess with Jess with Entertainment Rights and we would love to find some other co-pro opportunities and are looking at becoming the merchandising agent in Canada for some of the key properties that live on our networks.
Is Canada a good test market for properties with global aspirations?
Yes, we have had that experience with Beyblade and Bakugan, successfully launching international consumer products franchises from TV properties in Canada. I think we can keep doing that because we’re at the forefront of kids networks here and we have a lot of licensing knowledge. We can co-produce a show, be a broadcaster, be the home video partner and the merchandising agent. We can really be focused and bring all of our significant resources to these properties.
Corus Kids has faced stiff competition from Astral Media’s Family and Playhouse Disney channels in recent years. What are you doing to fight back in 2009?
We started building up in early 2008, signing a long-term output deal with Nickelodeon to secure Nick content for our channels. We’ve been scheduling that fairly aggressively and are having some great success. YTV has recaptured its lead position with two to 11s on the weekday 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. block and we’ve also got the lead on boys in that slot as well. YTV’s weekend block, Crunch, is still number-one with boys. So we’ve been very pleased with how we’ve been able to definitely turn the corner on our ratings performance and have consistently been growing our ratings since the last summer. As for Treehouse, it’s still by far the dominant kids two to five service in Canada with a 34 share and more than 600,000 moms watching us weekly. And we’re going to be announcing some new strategies for preschool in the near future that I can’t share at the moment.