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This is…the kids business in Canada – Part 2

Our sister mag Playback takes a look at how industry consolidation and new streaming services are influencing one of Canada's most successful entertainment sectors, in the second part of this series.
June 12, 2014

Continued from Part 1…

Canadian kids producers are used to rolling with the punches. Situated in a modestly sized market with the US production machine next door, numerous companies have learned to thrive by piecing together financing from multiple sources. Breakthrough Entertainment co-founder Ira Levy, for example, cites shows like Rocket Monkeys, which came together with money from Teletoon, tax credits, the Shaw Rocket Fund and a major presale to Nickelodeon’s international channels.

“More recently we’ve been working on a tween sitcom that has involved both YTV and Nickelodeon from the ground up. And then there was our Canada/Brazil preschool coproduction My Big Big Friend.”

The ability to navigate through complex financing models is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it means Canadian producers can, if necessary, introduce projects to the international market first then bring them to Canadian broadcasters once firm interest has been established.

Secondly, co-financing has prepared Canadian studios for the upheaval caused by on-demand platforms like Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and Hulu. CCI’s Charles Falzon acknowledges that on-demand has hit DVD/video revenues, but overall “I see them as a positive development because they’re new doors to knock on.”

That sentiment is shared by J.J. Johnson, co-founder of  Sinking  Ship. Ask him about the threat of channel consolidation in Canada and he responds by saying, “there are trillions of ways to get things financed. If we had a show that was rejected by every mainstream network, we’d still find a way to get it out there, even if we had to launch our own sponsored YouTube channel.”

For the most part, Sinking Ship’s shows do get traditional commissions, such as reality kids series This is Daniel Cook (produced with marblemedia and aired on Treehouse and TVO) and live-action/CGI series Dino Dan (on TVO). But it has also successfully pursued alternative paths. A case in point was Amazon’s decision to pick up the company’s live-action sci-fi series Annedroids. Emphasizing the ease with which Canadian firms work across borders, the company is also making Odd Squad for PBS in the US, another live-action idea that was devised by L.A.-based Tim McKeon and Adam Peltzman.

Johnson quite likes the idea of a producer (such as DHX) taking over TV channels “because it might bring a different sensibility.” But if he has a concern, it’s that Canada “should probably be creating more global hits. So my question for the industry would be how do we create the framework for those big L&M successes?”

Possibly, that is what is happening right now. With companies like eOne, DHX, Shaftesbury, Breakthrough, 9 Story, CCI and marblemedia all well-established on the international market, it might just be a matter of time before a Canadian show takes the world by storm.

CCI’s Falzon thinks the industry is well-placed for such an eventuality. “There was a time when Canada’s primary appeal to the international market was the financial benefit it could bring to a coproduction. But I think we’ve moved past that now. These days we’re recognized as reliable partners with a good reputation for delivering shows to the world.”

But it would be wrong to think the next few years will be easy. Breakthrough’s Levy acknowledges this. “Everybody has to learn to be adaptable,” he says. “No one in kids can afford to be complacent on either the creative or the financing side.”

This article originally appeared in Playback‘s Summer 2014 print issue.

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