Wow! Unlimited buys Bell cable channel in “strategic partnership in kids and youth entertainment”

Wow! Unlimited, the amalgamation of Rainmaker, Frederator, and Ezrin Hirsh Entertainment, teased acquisitions during the company’s announcement last fall and the first big one has been revealed. Yesterday afternoon, Wow! Unlimited struck a “strategic partnership in kids and youth entertainment” that will see the animation company purchase a cable channel from Bell Media. The new channel is tentatively titled Wow. The companies will also collaborate on various other initiatives, including providing content for Bell’s streaming services.

That’s the succinct layman read of that press release. The more verbose version says Wow! Unlimited “will directly or indirectly acquire the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications broadcasting license relating to the Category B specialty service from Bell Media pursuant to an asset purchase agreement to be entered into by Wow and Bell Media.” Should the CRTC approve the transaction, the purchase agreement will see Bell Media take a 12% ownership stake in Wow! Unlimited, valued at $6,866,892. Other terms include Bell’s continued carriage of the channel on their various TV services, as well as their aid in broadcast operations while Wow! Unlimited gets set up. The two will “collaborate and to jointly develop and produce content” as Wow! Unlimited will provide content for Bell’s linear television, CraveTV, and SnackableTV services. Bell will also be given the opportunity to nominate a board of directors at Wow! Unlimited.

Neither company specified which channel was being sold. However, reports that Bell Media currently fully owns just two English language category B channels: Comedy Gold and Investigation Discovery. The company’s other category B services are co-owned with separate companies. According to the CRTC, as of 2015, Comedy Gold had 775k subscribers in Canada. Investigation Discovery held onto 1.4 million. As Comedy Gold has no first run programming and a smaller subscriber base, I’d say it’s prime for a rebrand.

Speaking to Kidscreen, Wow! Unlimited CEO, and former founder of Nelvana and Cookie Jar, Michael Hirsh, said the new channel will be ad-supported. Daytime programming will be aimed at children 0-12, while the night will be devoted to millennials.

Wow! Unlimited joins Corus Entertainment and DHX Media as the major players in Canada’s private sector English language children’s broadcasting. While I think they’ll have an uphill battle attempting to launch a youth’s cable channel in 2017+, I’m bizarrely optimistic. We all have trepidations over Wow! Unlimited’s upcoming ReBoot: The Guardian Code series, but the truth is, thanks to Fredator they’re the only one of the three that has shown a consistent investment in older youth animation. That includes Netflix’s Castlevania series. It’ll be interesting to see how the new channel is programmed because as far as I’m aware, the majority of Rainmaker’s work has been service animation they don’t own the distribution rights to. Frederator’s library will presumably be leaned on, but as much of that consists of smaller, web-oriented material, the extent of which they can get away with that will be … limited. Hirsh says the company is looking to license content from third party distributors to help fill the channel.

Wow’s move into broadcasting is an interesting one that may support the theory that Youtube advertising revenue hasn’t scaled well for businesses aiming to produce TV-level animation. Looking at the company’s financial reports, that seems to be the case. For the first quarter of 2017, Wow! Unlimited reported that the Frederator Youtube multi-channel network generated $1.6 million in revenue. Accounting for the overhead of having to pay for an office, writers, directors, voice actors, and you know, the team of animators, that’s not a whole lot for the hundreds of millions of views Wow! claims it’s getting. TV might be a way to get some more attention from advertisers, much like Viceland’s approach.

Oh, and don’t worry if you’ve never heard of SnackableTV – neither have I! It’s apparently a recently launched ad-supported short-form video service from Bell for mobile. Perfect for Frederator’s web content. The app claims to currently be available on iOS devices. Bell needs to improve their SEO as Googling the service’s name finds you a conceptually identical, but seemingly unrelated Australian site of the same name.

Speaking of Viceland, the channel’s UK version is planning to run a variety of anime series, including Eureka Seven and Tokyo Ghoul, sometime soon. This has sparked some hope that the Canadian version could one day do the same. The channel is run by Rogers Media, who 10 years ago programmed an anime block on G4 TechTV Canada in partnership with Geneon Entertainment. I’m of two minds. On one hand, Viceland could be a solid home for anime, because based on every report of the network’s viewership internationally, I doubt any notable anime series could draw lower viewership than their thirty-forth show evangelizing marijuana. On the other hand, Rogers has invested significantly in producing original material for Viceland. I’m not sure they’d be willing to promote and air third party content. Additionally, as the linear viewership has been such a dud, I’m also not convinced Viceland is long for this world. Then again, Rogers Media still operates a channel calling itself G4, years after all original programming got cancelled and its US affiliate ended.

In other television news, despite two confirmations (one only a few weeks old) that the show was heading to Teletoon, Corus Entertainment’s fall upfront revealed that Mysticons is actually going to be airing on YTV in Canada this fall. This is the first time in a while that YTV will be airing any action programming. Will this lead to more?

If you’re interested in a 2D animated series inspired by Genndy Tartakovsky’s work that doesn’t look like any of his work, that same upfront confirms Nelvana’s Hotel Transylvania series will air on Teletoon this fall.

  1. Most channels are required by the CRTC to show certain types of programming. The Comedy Gold licence requires programming to be at least 15 years old.

    Maybe Bell will arrange to sell a channel it doesn’t entirely own, which it why it wasn’t announced.

    • Back in 2015, the CRTC eliminated genre protection, allowing channels to air whatever they want: That’s how Much is getting away with being a teenage/young adult version of Comedy. I’ve seen a lot of positive reaction to that CRTC decision, but I’m not a big fan of it. If you can’t work within the system of your license, launch a new channel. Don’t con yourself into people’s homes with something else.

      It’s certainly possible Bell plans on buying out a partner from another channel to sell to Wow. There’s also the slim chance that it’s a CRTC license that Bell hasn’t actually used, though Hirsh referred to it as a channel rebrand in another interview.

  2. I remember joking in the early 2010s that anime would return to Canada in 2020 – never would have thought that my pessimism was so on point.

    I still can’t quite understand how the UK and US have anime, we get plenty of anime movies in cinemas, and fans are still asking for it – yet we still don’t have any mature (or even teen) oriented anime on any Canadian channel. It’s like some kind of omen.

    • I’ve always been astonished by the fact that we couldn’t even get Dragon Ball Kai. We’re like the only major English speaking market in the world to skip out on airing at least part of it. To add insult to that, we know there’s a finished 98 episode Canadian dub of the series just sitting on some hard-drives.

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