When it comes to kids' TV, Canada is king
'We're doing an amazing job of telling stories that resonate around the world'
Perhaps it's something your kids already know: Canadians are the architects of amazing children's TV shows.
Canuck creators are behind hit TV and streaming programs that are making a splash worldwide. And now, with Canadian distributor DHX Media's $345-million US purchase of Peanuts (which one expert called "the Holy Grail" of children's entertainment) as well as the Strawberry Shortcake brand, our reach is widening.
We really don't acknowledge enough our incredible children's industry, which has developed in a very competitive global market, said Charles Falzon, a TV industry veteran and dean of Ryerson University's faculty of communication and design in Toronto.
"Shows are not great because they're Canadian," Falzon noted.
They're great because Canadian companies have developed a reputation as excellent custodians: managing kids' content with integrity, remaining connected with the audience and respecting the creator and the creative process, he told CBC News on Wednesday.
"We can continue to export that capacity on properties that are created here, on properties that we partner with internationally, on properties that we acquire. It really is one of our unique selling propositions as an industry."
Peanuts and Strawberry Shortcake will join, for instance, a host of other major kids properties in Halifax-based powerhouse DHX's vast library of content, including established shows Teletubbies, Inspector Gadget, Caillou and Yo Gabba Gabba.
Strong content endures, finding fresh fans in each generation — just look at Thomas the Tank Engine, Winnie the Pooh or Sesame Street.
And while it might sound counterintuitive to some, legacy brands and programs are what's most valuable in today's fractured landscape, said DHX's co-founder and executive chair Michael Donovan.
"It's the parent who makes the decision [on what to watch] and they base it on what they recognize, given an infinity of choice," he said, explaining that 72 per cent of programming watched by families with children under six years old is consumed with a parent present.
"It's what people recognize and already have an emotional attachment to."
With Peanuts, DHX has taken on the tricky task of bringing a revered and classic children's franchise forward. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz's family members notably turned down many pitches over the years — before finally agreeing to a recent 3D-animated film — because they didn't want his vision modernized in a gimmicky way.
"We take these traditional brands with legacy, that we feel have positive values, and try to reimagine them given new technologies and new audiences. We would like to do that with Peanuts. But it's already fantastic. It's already unbelievably good, so we do that trepidatiously," Donovan said.
A creative hotbed
Domestic creators are also putting Canada on the global map with original shows that easily cross borders.
"People are in awe about what Canada does. I think we punch way above our weight as a nation, in terms of our size," said Frank Falcone, president of Guru Studio, the Toronto-based animation house behind Spin Master Entertainment's massive international hit Paw Patrol.
"We're killing it. We're doing an amazing job of telling stories that resonate around the world."
Canadian values like inclusivity and civic duty filter into the stories we tell and how we tell them — a key factor in our success with exporting kids shows abroad, Falcone explained.
For instance, Paw Patrol "works in every country [where] it's launched," he said.
"[Kids] feel really empowered by the energy that those pups bring and the storytelling and good nature of the show. The civic duty that comes across in the show is remarkable. Doing the best for your community is the message of that show and that works in every country around the world."
With today's borderless streaming and video-on-demand technology, fans hungry for Canadian kids' shows now have more access than ever to a wave of new material coming from the Great White North.
"Kids want new content. They want to learn more. They want to be exposed to new ideas as fast as we can create them," Falcone said.
"There's lots of room for creators to bring new entertainment brands and stories to the market."
With files from Eli Glasner and Alice Hopton