To say the least, these are uncertain times for Halifax, Canada-based DHX Media.
On top of the challenges presented by recent decisions made by the country’s broadcast regulator CRTC, and the uncertain effect they may have on children’s programming services, a cut to the province of Nova Scotia’s tax credit, and most significantly, the recent loss of its Disney licensing deal, the media company is facing challenges on many fronts.
What hasn’t changed, however, is the need for quality content. And within all the turmoil, that’s what programming head Michael Goldsmith is focusing on as he looks to fill the pipeline for the soon-to-be rebranded channels DHX acquired from Bell Media last year.
“What is really important, and what we can control and are excited about, is delivering hit shows,” he says. “If we deliver original programs that resonate with our fans and our various partners, then we are going to be in a pretty good place, regardless of the regulatory landscape. What we have passion for right now is developing and producing with the community groundbreaking shows for kids, and I think the rest will take care of itself.”
Last week, Corus Entertainment announced it had reached an agreement with Disney/ABC Television to launch Disney Channel in Canada on September 1. That means Disney content – which currently makes up a large part of the schedule on DHX Television’s Family, Disney XD and Disney Junior channels – will migrate over to the Corus-owned channel by January 2016.
As a result, DHX Television will expand the existing Family brand to its preschool channels, rebranding Disney Junior as Family Junior and its French-language counterpart as Famille Junior and Disney XD as Family XTRM. These rebranded channels will launch by November 30.
From a programming perspective, says Goldsmith, the upside of the de-Disneyfied channels is that it creates an opportunity to build and expand DHX Television’s original programming slate. And providing a baseline for success on the tween side is Temple Street Productions’ The Next Step , which was recently greenlit to a fourth season.
A unique programming strategy saw Family air one new episode per night from the third season over a three-week period. The stunt attracted 479,000 unique viewers each weeknight, according to Numeris data provided by DHX.
Goldsmith also pointed to B-Minor production Gaming Show (In My Parent’s Garage) as an example of how a channel can win with originals by testing new formats and listening to what viewers want.
The Next Step was launched after Family’s programmers discovered the channel’s viewers’ passion for dance, while Gaming Show was a response to research showing viewers’ love of gaming. Both shows work a unique format angle – The Next Step is drama shot in a reality TV style, while Gaming Show (which was ordered for a second season) is a magazine-style format. More recently, Radical Sheep’s Fangbone! was commissioned by DHX in March, with a spring 2016 launch date.
For the “new” Family channel, Goldsmith said he wants to see more serialized dramatic content geared towards tweens, presented in a unique format.
“[There are] two key words for us – it might sound simple, but real and relevant programming for tweens, and that is quite different from what they’re being served up on other channels,” Goldsmith says. He also pointed to kid-targeted comedy as one area the broadcaster is keen to see presented in new formats and approaches, noting many shows in the genre have started to feel formulaic.
“For a genre like comedy, rather than trying to duplicate what other channels are doing with a four-camera comedy with laugh track – we may really need to try something different so kids can immediately see that our programming is different,” Goldsmith says.
On the preschool side, Goldsmith says the rebranded channels will continue to focus on core preschool, bucking a larger trend towards “aging-up” preschool content. He also noted DHX’s non-preschool channels are open to picking up animation.
“We have had a really good run with live action and we will be looking to do more, but we will always need solid preschool properties and solid kids animation. I guess it’s coming back to that theme of how do we do it a little bit differently?” Goldsmith says.
The rebrand also stands to potentially shake up the ad structure of the channels. Currently, Disney XD is the only channel in DHX’s suite that is advertising-supported. But DHX Television is currently in discussions about whether or not it will amend the licenses for Family Channel and the preschool networks to include ads. A decision has not yet been made.