Canada’s reputation as a kids’ TV production powerhouse is under threat



Boat Rocker Media had a hit on its hands. The Next Step, a tween-targeted show about an elite dance troupe, drew the highest ratings the Family Channel had ever seen for a premiere at the time, with 574,500 people tuning in. Over five seasons, the Canadian-made series found an audience – in more than 120 countries, viewers were following the drama of a telegenic squad of teen dancers as they competed to win championships, formed friendships and rivalries, and pursued their dreams. The company drew in viewers to its YouTube channel as well, where it posted dance sequences regularly watched by tens of thousands online.

“It built a global juggernaut,” said Jon Rutherford, president of rights at Toronto-based Boat Rocker.

But by the sixth season, Boat Rocker’s financing in Canada was no longer enough to get production off the ground. DHX Media Ltd., which now owned the Family Channel, was still paying a fee to license the show, but “their total financial contribution was much lower,” Mr. Rutherford said. So last summer, Boat Rocker turned to U.S. channel Universal Kids, seeing an opportunity to work out the first deal for the show with a major American TV broadcaster. In August, Boat Rocker announced that Universal Kids had acquired the rights to the first five seasons and would be a production partner on the sixth.

It might seem surprising that a hit show would face an investment shortfall in Canada. But it didn’t come as a surprise to Boat Rocker, because they had already noticed the landscape in kids’ TV production start to shift drastically. “In the golden era,” Mr. Rutherford said, “you could get upwards of 80 per cent of your financing in Canada” to get a show off the ground, when taking into account the broadcasters’ investments as well as government-led incentives for Canadian content. (A “semi-scripted” show such as The Next Step – scripted, with improvisational scenes – typically has a budget of roughly $375,000 to $500,000 a season.)

In this new era, Canadian financing often falls short. The Next Step required financing from both the U.S. and Canadian broadcasters, other international partners and funds Boat Rocker itself put up for the show to go on. It was hardly an isolated case.



  1. Just remembering with fondness watching “Chez Helene” when I was a little one.
    Oh Brother, those days are gone.


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