Disney+ Canada CEO Jason Badal looks for the next ‘Fleabag’
Disney+ is preparing to license original Canadian content. But those looking to place programming with the northern contingent of the Mouse House may not be preparing the pitches the streamer is actually looking for.
Less than a year after former Shopify e-commerce director Jason Badal took the top job as VP and GM of Disney+ in Canada, he took the stage for a spotlight session at content Canada to discuss the company’s push into general entertainment content. In particular, he revealed that the company wants to license content in Canada with a focus on content for the Star component of Disney+.
“That’s where all our audience-expanding content is,” he explained. “I love hearing that people with older kids or younger kids love our product, but I always try, even on a one-on-one basis, to remind people that it’s older-skewed general entertainment content.”
He added that part of his job right now is not only to find more content to expand Disney+’s addressable market, but to educate people about the content in that subsection of the streaming service. Currently, the Star box consists of various titles from entities such as FX, Hulu and Fox. Some of it premieres day and date with American channels, other titles are kept dependent on national acquisition agreements.
When asked what existing project he wishes he had, Badal readily named “Fleabag,” a series he said people wouldn’t necessarily expect to see on Disney+.
“That’s exactly why I want it, because it’s a perception of what we are, and then it’s reality if you’re [looking at our content],” he explained. “We have a lot of interesting content 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 very important to us.”
Last month, Disney+ took another step toward materializing Canadian content when it hired seasoned Telefilm vet Stephanie Azam as its first director of content. Azam was in the audience during the Content Canada session. She agreed with Badal’s assessment that the company currently favors series over features, and is looking for content in longer form rather than limited series. She added that more information would soon be available to producers and creatives.
“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 – what kind of content we want to present.”
Badal added that while there are extensive research teams assembling data to deliver content useful to Disney+ viewers, he believes a human layer is also needed to figure out the next hit.
“It’s a place for data and insights, and it’s a place for creative instincts,” he said. “Creative instinct is built up over years of work in the industry. Ultimately, our process will be determined creatively, but with a very strong foundation of computer support.”
When it comes to funding and budgets, managers were less clear.
“From a budget level, we have not decided that yet. It’s early days for us in terms of how much we’re putting into each series, or each feature,” Badal said. “And the funding model for that is completely unknown at this point, because as you’re all aware, there are some regulatory changes that could be on the horizon that is likely to affect funding in one way or another.”
Badal was referring to the proposed Bill C-11 (commonly known as the Online Streaming Act), which is currently going through hearings in the Senate. The bill appears to have many streamers beefing up their Canadian content teams in the event they are mandated to prioritize Canadian content.
If passed, the bill would require online streaming companies to pay to support Canadian artists, as traditional broadcasters in the country already do. In exchange, streamers may also qualify for certain financial incentives and tax breaks.
Recently, David Fares, VP of global public policy at Walt Disney, argued for a redefinition of what qualifies as Canadian content. He used the recent film “Turning Red” as one example, noting that it should fall under current Canadian content qualifications as it told the story of a Chinese-Canadian in Toronto and starred Canadian Sandra Oh.
He added that the company has already invested about $3 billion in Canada in recent years. “We hope to invest further in Canada, and a flexible regulatory regime will allow us to maximize these future investments,” Fares said at the Sept. 15 Senate hearing.