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Ottawa-based Shopify to open TV, film production house in Toronto

Shopify Studios — the Ottawa-based e-commerce company's new TV and film production branch — features Hiut Denim and its founder, David Hieatt, and his plan to bring 400 jobs back to a small Welsh community.
Shopify Studios — the Ottawa-based e-commerce company's new TV and film production branch — features Hiut Denim and its founder, David Hieatt, and his plan to bring 400 jobs back to a small Welsh community. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Shopify Studios, Vuk Dragojevic

Shopify Inc. is branching out beyond its e-commerce roots to launch a TV and film content development and production house, but the company says it isn’t gearing up to become a competitor to heavyweights like Netflix or the CBC or a branded content creator.

The Ottawa-based tech giant revealed Wednesday to The Canadian Press that it is launching a venture called Shopify Studios that will involve developing, producing and financing projects for both streaming platforms and traditional networks.

WATCH: How Shopify is powering Quebec entrepreneurs (May 28, 2018)
How Shopify is powering Quebec entrepreneurs
How Shopify is powering Quebec entrepreneurs

Among the first wave of content Shopify will release is a series of 20- to 30-minute videos on entrepreneurs called Studios Films, which will feature episodes on jeans brand Hiut Denim Co. and New York-based streetwear designer Colm “KidSuper” Dillane. Shopify will also release a docu-series called “And Nowhere Else,” which will examine the relationship between where individuals live and what they choose to create, and a weekly podcast called “Vanguard,” which will explore secret economies and debut with the story of an artist who has created a bespoke tarot card deck to explore Black identity.

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The first round of content will be available on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Play, but Shopify said future offerings could just as easily be released for streaming on platforms like Netflix or Hulu or to air on a television network.

“We’re looking forward to building relationships with a variety of distribution partners, and our overall goal is to ensure Studios’ content is available to the broadest possible audience through premium distributors,” Jason Badal, the head of Shopify Studios, told The Canadian Press in an email.

“Shopify Studios is our opportunity to bring thought-provoking and entertaining stories to viewers that showcase the real people powering commerce today — encompassing a diverse range of industries, socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures.”

READ MORE: Shopify to spend up to $500 million on Toronto development

Badal said Shopify doesn’t have plans to extend the work of its Studios unit — headquartered in Toronto, but with operations in New York and Los Angeles — to include branded content or content for companies already using its platform.

Shopify refused to reveal the budget for its Studios venture. Netflix was estimated to budget $8 billion for original content last year, while Hulu was said to be spending $2.5 billion in previous years.

However, Shopify did say that it has already signed deals with Anonymous Content, Spoke Studios and Saville Productions to develop entrepreneur-focused documentaries.

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Anonymous Content is behind hit films and TV shows including “13 Reasons Why,” “Spotlight,” “Boy Erased” and “Mr. Robot.” Spoke Studios was created by former ITV America chief executive Brent Montgomery, while Saville Productions has worked with “Crash” director Paul Haggis and Barry Levinson of “Rain Man” fame.

READ MORE: Shopify reports third quarter revenue up 58 per cent from year ago

Badal said Shopify has “multiple” long-form series in development with those partners and will continue to debut new short to mid-form original content on Shopify’s YouTube channel, but wouldn’t share more about the projects.

“We’re always looking for additional partners,” Badal hinted.

Shopify’s announcement caught some analysts and experts off-guard because it strays so far from what Shopify is best known for: providing e-commerce solutions to 600,000 brands including Nestle, Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics and Kanye West’s Yeezy Store.

Cannaccord Genuity LLC senior analyst David Hynes Jr. told The Canadian Press in an email he didn’t think the announcement was an indicator that Shopify will change its core values and look to conquer competitors in the entertainment space.

“I don’t think Shopify is aiming to be the next Netflix,” he said. “My sense is that they’ll use this as a platform to kindle entrepreneurship, along the way reinforcing the Shopify brand and reminding prospects that they are the go-to partner for business creation needs.”

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