Disney+ is preparing to give the green light to original Canadian content. However, those seeking programming mode with the Mouse House’s northern unit may not be setting up the pitches that the streamer is actually looking for.
Less than a year after former Shopify director of e-commerce Jason Badal took over as Vice President and General Manager of Disney+ in Canada, he sat on stage for a session highlighting Content Canada to discuss the company’s push toward general entertainment content. Specifically, he revealed that the company is looking to blow up the Disney Star portion of Disney+.
“This is where all the content that expands our audience is,” he explained. “I love hearing that people with older children or younger children love our product, but I always try, even on an individual basis, to remind people that there is more general entertainment content out there.”
He added that part of his job at the moment is not just to find more content to expand the Disney+ addressable market, but to educate people about the content within that subsection of the streaming service. Currently, Star box consists of various titles from entities such as FX, Hulu, and Fox. Some of them premiere in day and date with US channels, and other titles are held depending on national acquisitions.
When asked what current project he wished he had, Badal easily called “Fleabag,” a series he said people don’t necessarily expect to see on Disney+.
“That’s exactly why I want to, because there is a perception of who we are and then there is reality if you are [looking at our content],” he explained. “We have a lot of interesting content made for adults and we really need people to realize that. A show like ‘Fleabag’ is broadly applicable and addresses demographics that may not be associated with Disney+ but are really important to us.”
Last month, Disney+ took another step toward embodying Canadian content when it hired Stephanie Azam, a veteran Telefilm veterinarian, to be its editorial content manager. Azzam was in the audience during the Content Canada session. She agreed with Badal’s assessment that the company currently prefers series rather than features, and is looking for longer content rather than limited series. She added that more information will be available to producers and creators soon.
“We want to be able to communicate in a simple and effective way,” she added from her seat. “Very soon we will be able to communicate very specifically – although Jason has done a great job – the kind of content we want to show.”
Badal added that although there are extensive research teams collecting data to provide useful content to Disney+ viewers, he believes the human layer is also necessary to know the next finding.
“There is a place for data and insights, and there is a place for creative instincts,” he said. “The creativity instinct has been built up over years of working in the industry. Ultimately, our process will be defined creatively, but with a very strong foundation to back up the data.”
On finance and budgets, executives were less clear.
“From the budget level, we haven’t defined it yet. It’s early days for us in terms of how much we put into each series or each feature,” Badal said. “And the funding model for that is completely unknown at this point, because as you all know, there are some changes. Regulatory measures that may loom and that are likely to affect funding in some way.”
Badale was referring to proposed Bill C-11 (known as the Internet Broadcasting Act), which is currently undergoing Senate hearings. The bill appears to have several operators ramping up Canadian content teams in case they are tasked with prioritizing Canadian content.
If the bill takes hold, it will require online broadcasters to pay to support Canadian artists, as the country’s traditional broadcasters are already doing. In return, broadcasting companies can also qualify for some financial incentives and tax breaks.
Recently, David Faris, vice president of global public policy at Walt Disney, advocated a redefinition of what counts as Canadian content. He used the recent movie “Turning Red” as an example, noting that it should fall under current Canadian content qualifications because it tells the story of a Chinese Canadian in Toronto and stars Canadian Sandra Oh.
He added that the company has already invested about $3 billion in Canada over the past few years. “We’re hoping for more investment in Canada, and a flexible regulatory system will allow us to maximize those future investments,” Faris said during the Senate’s September 15 hearing.