Canadian media giant Corus Entertainment has made a rare production investment, buying a majority stake in “The Breadwinner” and “Raising Expectations” producer Aircraft Pictures.
Founded in 2005 by Canadian producers Anthony Leo and Andrew Rosen, Aircraft was Oscar-nominated for 2017 animated feature “The Breadwinner,” about an 11-year-old girl living under Taliban rule in Afghanistan in 2001. However, it seems to be the company’s live-action capabilities that have been the primary draw for Corus, which has a well-established kids’ content portfolio of its own.
Aircraft is known for both animated and live-action scripted TV shows and movies for kids, families and young adults. Its slate includes Hulu original “Holly Hobbie”; the “Bruno & Boots” movie adaptations; and the comedy “Raising Expectations,” starring Jason Priestley and Molly Ringwald. Leo describes the deal as “two puzzle pieces coming together perfectly” for both companies.
Colin Bohm, executive VP of content and corporate strategy at Corus Entertainment, tells Variety that Aircraft will remain independent in its operations. “We want to let them continue to do what they’re doing,” says Bohm. “This investment helps them build more capital in their business and allows them to invest more and develop other things.”
Leo adds: “Our sweet spot right now is half-hour scripted live-action or animated kids’ content, and we started to branch out to animated features with things like ‘The Breadwinner.’ But we also want to expand our mandate to include four-quadrant family one-hours as well.”
Corus and Aircraft previously partnered on the “Bruno & Boots” movies. The former media group operates Global networks across Canada, as well as specialty brands such as HGTV, Food Network, History and Adult Swim.
However, under the deal, Aircraft — which co-produces the bulk of its slate — is still able to partner with other distributors, broadcasters and platforms. (Although projects that use Corus’ development resources will require the company to get a first look.)
“We can still be that indie producer that’s nimble and that can make a deal with the right distributor or company to make something financially and creatively,” says Leo. “But at the same time, we have the heft of a studio behind us which, depending on the project, can bring distribution, publishing or licensing and merchandise to the table.”
Adds Aircraft co-founder Rosen: “It gives us more of a braintrust. Before, it was just me and Anthony, but now we can get more market intelligence from [Corus’] teams. It helps us make smarter moves in terms of what we want to make in the future.”
Bohm says Corus has been “really focused” on the content space in the last four years, and has reorganized the company’s production pipeline under his leadership. “It’s been a focus for us to grow our business,” says the long-time Corus executive. “We don’t have a playbook here; we’re just looking for the right opportunities, and where youth and family programming felt like a good fit in terms of the market opportunity.”
At Corus, Aircraft joins kids’ content studio Nelvana, along with publisher Kids Can Press and Corus Studios. Collectively, clients include such broadcast and streaming partners as Nickelodeon, Discovery, The CW, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.
Variety has confirmed that there are no immediate plans to merge Aircraft into Nelvana, which Corus bought in a landmark deal worth $540 million back in 2000, and currently operates as a major distributor. Instead, with Aircraft in its stable, it’s likely that Corus is looking to bolster its production pipeline as best it can. Streamers such as Netflix are investing heavily in Canada, and IP ownership will increasingly become crucial for local players to compete.
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