With Disney Plus entering the market Tuesday, the battle for streaming supremacy has entered a new phase, and B.C.’s film industry is salivating at the possibilities.
The province’s film sector is already booming, accounting for more than 40 per cent of all production in Canada, according to the Canadian Media Producers Association.
Vancouver’s production alone was worth $3.8 billion last year, according to the Vancouver Economic Commission.
But with the hungry maw of streaming platforms increasingly demanding new content for a binge-watching public, local producers hope to see those numbers grow.
“It’s just continuing to explode because technology is also advancing alongside that,” said Jennifer McCarron, CEO of Thunderbird Entertainment Group, which employs about 1,000 people.
“With the advent of 5G coming online, it’s going to be taking content that used to stream like a garden hose, and is now going to start streaming like a fire hose.”
Atomic Cartoons, one of Thunderbird’s properties, focuses on cartoons for young kids — a lucrative endeavor in the streaming world, because McCarron says research has found families tend to stick with a streaming service if their kids’ favourite show is a part of its content package.
McCarron said the cartoon division used to try and vie for between 10 and 15, occasionally 20 spots on the roster for Saturday morning cartoons.
“Now, with streaming you’ve got Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Hulu, HBO Max, Peacock, the list goes on,” she said, adding that Atomic is currently working on 17 productions.
The pool of capital producers are vying for is huge. Forbes reported that Netflix alone spent US$13 billion on content, most of it original, this year. Disney Plus is spending half a billion on content in 2019, according to Variety.
Vancouver is particularly well-positioned because it has specialized in visual effects, animation and post-production.
According to Creative BC, which promotes the province’s film industry, the Lower Mainland is home to the world’s largest animation and visual effects cluster, with more than 100 animation and VFX companies.
Vancouver animators have had a hand in many of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars productions now listed on Disney Plus, and HBO’s Game of Thrones produced some of its most iconic dragon flight and battle sequences in Vancouver.
Some of the biggest Netflix productions in recent years, including Altered Carbon, A Series of Unfortunate Events and Lost in Space, had Vancouver film credits, as did Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle.
Creative BC lists 11 specifically “new media” TV series currently in production in B.C., while several of the some two dozen traditional TV programs currently in production, such as The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and The 100 are licenced to streaming platforms like Netflix.
The business community is also bullish about the future when it comes to cord-cutting content consumers.
“Within the industry, VEC sees opportunities for more growth in the post-production and animation sectors,” wrote the Vancouver Economic Commission’s September Film and TV Research Update.
“This is due to increased demand from streaming services and international production companies, and the fact Vancouver is home to one the world’s highest concentrations of visual effects and animation artists.”
But while the streaming boom may be good news for those who work in the production industry, it could bring pain for those sitting at home soaking up the storytelling.
That’s because the new streaming ecosystem is starting to resemble the old days of package cable, where if you want one program you’ve got to buy the bundle, said technology analyst Andy Baryer.
“Oh $20 if you’re a sports fan for DAZN, and then, oh you want Disney Plus, so that’s another $9,” he said.
“Once you start adding it up, cable starts to look pretty good.”
— With files from Ted Chernecki