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Keynote: WildBrain’s Eric Ellenbogen

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Eric Ellenbogen, vice chair and CEO of the leading kids’ and family content indie, shared how he is guiding the company through a fast-changing marketplace at the TV Kids Festival today.

Ellenbogen was interviewed by TV Kids’ Anna Carugati at the virtual summit today. You can watch the session on-demand here. “We’ve been deliberately investing over the past 36 months across what we call our 360 business,” said Ellenbogen on what’s been driving the company’s positive financial results. “That strategy has been central to our growth, first and most importantly, starting with an investment in creative.”

Ellenbogen continued: “We’ve been committed to having the best animators, producers, directors and writers, combined with an incredible vault of IP that we have been unlocking over these past 36 months. That 360 circle starts with development. It goes to production at our studios in Vancouver, with 15 to 20 shows in the studio. [On] the distribution side, we are the largest independent library of kids’ and family content, something on the order of 13,000 half-hours. That’s a very important link in the value chain of how we’ve been able to create these sustained earnings. Our television channels in Canada are part of the vertical integration of our business. We also have one of the largest YouTube channel organizations in our Spark division, with 500-plus channels under management. That is a virtuous circle. The discovery process for content is often quite difficult with the incredible number of choices available to the audience. YouTube remains one of the most, if not the most, important onboarding platforms. It is the onramp for content discovery, particularly for kids under 13. We have a dedicated consumer-products organization, CPLG, with offices worldwide, representing not only our proprietary content but also partner content.”

Carugati then asked Ellenbogen about WildBrain’s IP-activation strategy. “Our entire organization is driven by that prized, beloved and well-known intellectual property. That has enabled us to attract some of the greatest talents in the business. Content development is the first stage of everything. It is the start of our 360 model. Getting it right is very important. And we’ve been deliberate and careful in the rollout of that IP. That content feeds our global distribution business across every platform, including our Spark network. That, in turn, drives brand awareness and affinity and engagement with those audiences that ultimately results—for some properties, not all—in consumer product sales. That continues to feed and build the library and then goes back to other forms of distribution as we go through different windows.”

On the distribution side, Ellenbogen believes the business is “moving from a model of pure exclusivity, although there are certain exceptions for certain telecasters, to the ubiquity of content across many platforms, so that audiences, no matter where they are, what language they speak, that content is always on, always available in different forms. The ubiquity of that content is critical to driving the kinds of IP brands that WildBrain possesses.”

Ellenbogen added: “We are unique as a company with not only the ownership but the care and feeding of these incredibly beloved franchises. We’re very careful with them and very selective about what we do. You’re seeing the result of a lot of work being done by the teams now coming to fruition.”

Carugati then asked Ellenbogen how he sees the landscape today as some of the global streamers pull back on their content investments. “The headlines have been exaggerating the rationalization happening in the business. There has been enormous, unprecedented investment in content. A lot of it was about audience acquisition and retention. What we’re seeing now is more careful choices and development by the streamers. The level of investment is still extremely high. Kids’ content has always been a cornerstone of these services. It’s very hard to unplug your kids from any of these services. It just doesn’t happen and is what keeps churn down. The landscape is changing for sure. Some services are de-emphasizing kids’ content, but we are seeing growth in FAST channels. There’ll be continuing shifts in the marketplace. But our business has always endured those things. Again, it’s just about great creative. We’re experiencing incredible audience loyalty against the content and great interest, frankly, from all of the services in branded entertainment.”

Ellenbogen then talked more about the company’s successful WildBrain Spark division. “One trillion minutes of content have been seen on WildBrain Spark,” he said. “Being a direct owner and operator of that network has given us tremendous learnings. YouTube remains the most important discovery platform and the most popular one for brand relevance. We continue to see incredibly high engagement on that network. It is highly curated and one of the few places full episodes are seen. One of the measures we use is watch time. How long does our audience stick with the content that they are seeing? That’s the engagement figure. Engagement is the story. While a trillion minutes is a great number, I look at repeatability. Is our audience with us? Do they move from one piece of content to the next? We are data-informed but not data-driven. A storyline, a character, or something will emerge with great audience engagement. And from that, we can then determine whether we should lean into that character or make more episodes.”

On what’s ahead in the next 12 to 18 months, Ellenbogen noted: “A lot of our partner clients are being very deliberate about their choices. That is a challenge for new content, unknown content. You will see hits, though. That nature of the business has not changed. It’s about creative excellence. You are seeing a flight to quality and not necessarily quantity; fewer, better things. We value these partnerships greatly and having a collaborative environment, working across the globe with co-production partners and other owners of IP. Leaning into our strengths is going to be an opportunity for us. As a content creator, you used to just make your show, and then you’d give it over to a linear telecaster. And they did a terrific job. They would do everything and were amazing marketers and development partners and often took consumer products, and you just focused on the shows. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Given the fractionalization that’s happened in our industry, and this is the reason you see consolidation, frankly, because we are responsible for all those things. We’re lucky to have these partners; they do a lot for us, but we have to do a lot for ourselves. That is the biggest challenge right now for independents in the business. To feed and sustain those great creative starts requires you to be everywhere. You make a great show, but sometimes it’s a tree falling in the forest now, just because of the number of channels and the fractionalization of the business. I do think it’s a little bit harder. That’s why we love our Spark business—it’s a playpen for creative experimentation. That’s the way we see the business going. It’s going very high-end and, in one sense, premium, and at the same time, at an entry level. That is going to be a challenge for a lot of content creators.”






About Mansha Daswani

Mansha Daswani is the editor-in-chief and associate publisher of World Screen. She can be reached on mdaswani@worldscreen.com.

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