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WildBrain’s YouTube Strategy and What it Could Mean for the Future of Degrassi

If you’ve been paying attention to what WildBrain is doing from a business perspective, you may have noticed that over the past year or so they have been more focused on making their content available through their WildBrain Spark network. WildBrain Spark is a kids and family network on AVOD (advertising-based video on demand i.e. YouTube). Instead of selling content to a streamer or traditional television network, WildBrain is distributing their shows (such as Degrassi) on YouTube and collecting ad revenue.

And it’s not just old content that they are sharing on YouTube. Recently, they have announced they are creating new content for AVOD. For example, they have a new animated series for teenagers called emojitown that is premiering exclusively on YouTube at the end of May. Emojitown, which was created in partnership with the Emoji brand, follows the lives of young adults (represented as emojis) as they experience the “everyday horrors” of modern teenage life. This is interesting because most of the content that WildBrain makes is primarily for children/pre-teens. However, this series is intentionally aimed at older audiences (i.e. teens and young adults). And the episodes are being released weekly via a dedicated YouTube Channel.

This has got me thinking about the possibility of a brand new Degrassi series that is released directly to YouTube instead of via a third-party broadcaster. This would be a major change for the brand, because Degrassi has always aired on either traditional television or a streaming service. However, we have seen Degrassi create original web content in the past, such as webisodes and vlogs. And the existing episodes of Degrassi are enjoying a lot success on YouTube (Degrassi’s channel currently has around 220 Million total views).

Personally, I would love to see a brand new Degrassi series on YouTube, if it would make sense financially. From a fan engagement perspective, there could a lot of positives here. Some advantages that I can think of are:

1. It would allow Degrassi to release episodes/clips when they wanted, rather than relying on a broadcaster. This would open up the possibility for shorter hiatuses or even releasing content in “real time”
2. The episodes would be available for everyone in the world at the exact same time, which is so important for a brand like Degrassi that has a global following
3. Live tweeting/blogging (which was sorely missed during the Next Class era) would be possible again, if they decided to utilize YouTube’s “live premiere” feature. But YouTube would also allow casual fans to watch whenever and wherever they wanted, similar to a streaming service. It could be the best of both worlds between traditional TV and streaming.
4. On the business side, YouTube would allow WildBrain to have more data on who is watching, which is something they seemed to be lacking with Next Class since Netflix keeps their data so private
5. Ultimately, out of all of the options available, YouTube makes the most sense for the Degrassi brand. As we all know, young people don’t want traditional television anymore, so I don’t see Degrassi ever going back to that. And streaming is not ideal for long term “soap opera” type shows like Degrassi (there is a reason why Netflix shows only seem to last for a maximum of 3 seasons).

But of course the big question is money. The vast majority of WildBrain Spark’s content is animated. I would assume that it is much cheaper for WildBrain to create an animated series than it is to create a live action one. A season of Degrassi requires a multi-million dollar budget. Is it realistic for them to make back that money from ad revenue (+ government tax credits) without the support from a larger broadcaster? This could be a major challenge.

What WildBrain decides to do next with Degrassi remains to be seen, but I am slightly optimistic in that we have seen them start to focus more on investing in their current brands as opposed to acquiring new ones. The possibility of one day figuring out the business model for a Degrassi web series is exciting to me. WildBrain’s CEO recently stated that AVOD is “very much the future” of media distribution. Fingers crossed that Degrassi is part of that future one day!

P.S. If you haven’t already, now is a great time to support Degrassi on YouTube. Of course, you can watch all of the episodes there, but it’s also helps to Subscribe and Like their videos. Anything we can do to prove to WildBrain that Degrassi is still alive and relevant will always been a good idea.