Disney+ has put the brakes on original commissions in Canada until at least the end of the year, Variety can reveal.
Sources indicate that the Mouse House has put a pin in local programming from across its brands in Canada, and isn’t actively commissioning. It’s understood that this mandate will be in place until the end of 2023 and could extend into 2024.
Disney+ officially launched in Canada in November 2019, but like other streaming services north of the border, it’s taken a few years to get originals underway. Last summer, the company hired respected Telefilm executive Stephanie Azam as its director of content for Canada — an appointment that generated some buzz in the local industry.
In September, the originals strategy seemed to be shaping up, with Jason Badal, VP and general manager for Disney+ in Canada, taking the stage at industry conference Content Canada to outline the team’s initial objectives. As he talked up his desire for the Canadian version of “Fleabag” on Disney+, Badal revealed a focus on more adult-oriented programming for Star (which is effectively the international version of Hulu, FX and Fox) and a preference for returning series over features.
“We want to be able to communicate in a simple and efficient way,” said Azam from her seat in the audience during the session. “Very soon we’ll be able to communicate very specifically … the kind of content we want pitched.”
But that’s yet to happen: Disney+ hasn’t made a single original commission out of Canada — a concerning reality that had producers talking at this week’s Banff World Media Festival in Alberta, Canada, where Disney was non-existent. In comparison, Paramount Global had a strong showing, with CBS chief George Cheeks delivering a well-received keynote, and Paramount+ even announcing its first slate for Canada.
One reason for Disney’s absence could be Bill C-11, Canada’s Online Streaming Act, which was passed in late April, and will require online streaming companies to invest in Canadian content (known locally as CanCon), as traditional broadcasters in the country already do. In exchange, streamers could also qualify for certain financial incentives and tax breaks.
The act currently awaits a clear outline from Canada’s media regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which is consulting with the industry on how to enforce the new laws.
Another reason for Disney’s low-key presence in Canada could be the company’s internal woes. Disney recently reached its 7,000 layoffs goal, handing out notices to the remaining employees impacted in its third round of job cuts ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend. The 7,000 layoffs are part of the company’s $5.5 billion cost-savings target, of which $2.5 billion represents “non-content costs,” including labor costs.
Disney has been aiming for an annualized reduction of $3 billion in non-sports content costs — a plan that will be realized over the next few years.
Disney declined to comment on this story.