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Why Shaftesbury got back into kids content

Success on YouTube and the lower cost of producing digital content have motivated the prodco to put more investment into kids, says CEO Christina Jennings.
July 31, 2019

Toronto-based Shaftesbury is getting back into the kids game in a big way. The prodco’s kids and family slate is packed in the coming months as the company begins production on a third season of its STEM-focused show Emerald Code, and the first season of sustainable environment series ClearWaterKids Challenge. Shaftesbury also recently launched a YouTube channel targeting eight- to 12-year-olds and began releasing a new batch of content on the platform. To top it off, in June, the company hired its first EP of kids and family, Jennifer McCann, to oversee its growing children’s division.

Shaftesbury wasn’t always so active in the kids space. Over the past decade, it has focused on adult fare like Murdoch Mysteries, a period procedural series that has run for 13 seasons and been licensed to broadcasters in 110 territories worldwide.

But there was a time in the early 2000s when the bulk of the company’s work was for eight- to 12-year-olds, with the live-action scripted content producer creating two to three new kids shows per year, says chairman and CEO Christina Jennings. One of its biggest successes was the tween-skewing series Life with Derek, which had a four-season (70 x 24 minutes) run. The show premiered on Canadian kidsnet Family Channel and on Disney Channel in the US in 2005.

“About seven years ago, there was a big change in the kids landscape in Canada [with a lot of] consolidation,” says Jennings. “We were a scripted live-action content company, and when this consolidation happened, there were fewer buyers [interested in] live action.”

In addition to local consolidation issues, big players like Nickelodeon and Disney shifted business models to maintain greater control over the content—in effect, they wanted to own it all, she says. With Shaftesbury’s primetime business booming, and kids content hurdles looming, the company stepped away from the space.

However, the team never lost its love of kids programming, Jennings says. Shaftesbury found itself drifting back into the market three years ago, after experiencing success with short-form scripted content on its YouTube channel KindaTV (266,000 subscribers), which targets Millennials and Gen Zs.

After realizing it would be much cheaper to produce series for digital—and that a platform like YouTube would feed kids’ appetite for on-demand content—the prodco saw an accessible way back into the kids space, says Jennings.

Shaftesbury focused on STEM content because it saw a demand in the market, especially with young girls who were hungry for positive role models in the field, Jennings says.

The company began investing in other producers’ work, such as Toronto-based Balloon House’s educational comedy show Space Dragon & Kim, and Louise Pollard’s tween web series Sex-Ed School, both available on the Shaftesbury Kids YouTube channel. The prodco also began creating some of its own STEM content with Emerald Code (pictured), its first digital series for kids.

Centering on a group of children who create and code inventions, the series paved the way for the kind of kids content Shaftesbury would create and invest in. “We want to get back to producing two to three series a year, movies and maybe mini-documentaries,” says Jennings. “In the future, we may move beyond [STEM]. We’re talking to broadcasters about our shows, and we want content creators to know that we’re looking to bring in writers, and that we can use our international partners to help grow shows.”

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Online writer for Kidscreen. Have a story that's of interest to Kidscreen readers? Contact Ryan at rtuchow@brunico.com

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