Kicking off the “Oh Canada – How the business is shaping up in the Great White North” panel at Kidscreen Summit last week, moderator Mark Bishop—co-CEO and executive producer at Toronto’s marblemedia—immediately addressed what he called “the elephant in the room,” which was that the kids channel programming team (YTV, Treehouse) from Canadian media conglomerate Corus Entertainment was not present at the conference, nor has it made any recent kids content commissions. But rather than dwell on an ongoing void in the children’s TV landscape in Canada, Bishop and his fellow panelists said they are more focused on surviving and thriving in the local market—and beyond.
Alongside Agnes Augustin, president and CEO of Shaw Rocket Fund, Mary Bredin, EVP of content and strategy at Guru Studio, 9 Story Media Group president and CEO Vince Commisso, Lambur Productions president Joan Lambur, and Marney Malabar, director of kids TV at TVO, Bishop pointed out that Canadian-made kids productions make up 16% of the country’s total film and television production industry, which in 2017 was worth roughly US$421 million (CAD$521 million). Down from US$527 million (CAD$627 million) the year before, the drop is due partially to a changing landscape and a lack of commissions on the part of Corus-owned YTV and Treehouse. But Canada is about to get a US$400-million (CAD$500 million) investment from Netflix, and the hope is that this will trickle into kids productions (such as current Netflix Originals like Guru’s True and the Rainbow Kingdom).
To help in the creation of kids content in Canada, Augustin notes that the Shaw Rocket Fund is undergoing some changes so that the application for its grant is not paperwork-driven, but rather focused more on content. In addition, content no longer has to be commissioned by a Canadian broadcaster in order to receive funding.
On the production side, Bredin, Commisso and Lambur say they are all setting their sights on international audiences. Commisso noted that since Canada is so multicultural, content that plays well in the Great White North can also succeed with global audiences. For example, Commisso said countries like China increasingly want to partner in order to create content that works in both markets.
Bredin agreed with the idea of bolstering co-production pacts and recommended that other Canuck prodcos go out and find international partners. But she wants to make sure content returns to Canada, because, as Bredin noted, “It’s a sad day if Canadian kids can’t watch our own shows anymore.”
Malabar made a point to say that TVO Kids is still commissioning shows, even if other broadcasters aren’t, but that means the volume of pitches received by the pubcaster has tripled in the last year. The broadcaster can afford to be pickier now, and is leaning toward productions already midway through development, and is picking up shows that look more polished than ever before.
Of course, competition breeds creativity, and Commisso said there is a silver lining to an evolving landscape. “The fact that there are producers out of Canada still making money despite the fact that broadcasters aren’t making commissions proves just how good we are,” he noted.
To that end, Bredin said new platforms like Netflix and YouTube are giving producers a chance to experiment and make new content that might not have worked for specific linear broadcasters. Besides, Commisso added, strong Canadian tax credits and local talent are hard to replicate anywhere else.