Shaftesbury reorganizes digital, branded entertainment divisions

Christina Jennings on why it made sense to rebrand Smokebomb and Shift2 under the Shaftesbury banner, and how that positions the company for future success.

christina jenningsIn a bid to move with the changing nature of how content is produced and consumed, Toronto prodco Shaftesbury has revealed a restructuring plan that will see its digital offshoot Smokebomb and its branded entertainment division Shift2 consolidated under the Shaftesbury umbrella.

“It really started becoming clear that, ultimately, content is just content, whether it’s deployed and funded by a TV broadcaster, or on digital through a brand, or funded through the IPF or CMF or Bell Fund,” Christina Jennings, chairman and CEO, Shaftesbury, told Playback Daily.

As such, the company, which this fall celebrated its 30-year anniversary, is bringing Smokebomb and Shift2 under Shaftesbury and discontinuing the former brand names. No positions have been affected as a result of the reorganization.

Shaftesbury acquired Smokebomb more than nine years ago and co-founded Shift2, which is a partnership between Shaftesbury and millennial-focused agency Youth Culture, in 2014. Youth Culture has also been brought under the Shaftesbury umbrella as a result of the restructure. Kaaren Whitney-Vernon, the former CEO of Shift2, has also been given the new role of Shaftesbury’s new SVP, branded content.

Clarity of brand voice also factored into the consolidation, Jennings said. “We also wanted a simplification of the message of ‘Shaftesbury,’” she said, adding the trio of brand names would sometimes be confusing to outsiders as to how projects were divided between the three lines of business.

The restructuring was also made easier by the company’s new Logan Avenue office, which Shaftesbury moved into late last year. At the time Jennings said the company had outgrown its previous digs on Toronto’s Queen Street and that the TV-focused teams were becoming increasingly siloed from the digital ones. The resulting collaboration between the teams at the new space made the reorganization seem like a smarter move, added Jennings.

With the rebrand also came news that the prodco is formally launching a virtual reality division focused on the research and development of VR, AR and mobile media products in the health and wellness space. Headed by Jay Bennett, SVP of creative and innovation, the division will also include Ted Biggs, VP, convergent/technology and Claude Gagnon, a Shaftesbury board member and former president of Technicolor Creative Services. The company has previously produced VR projects, including companion pieces to its thriller Slasher and kids series The Moblees. The prodco said it will be announcing a new project with a U.S. partner in the coming weeks.

On the topic of the Carmilla movie, international rights holder Fullscreen announced last week it is shuttering its SVOD services – the platform on which the film has already been released. Jennings said it’s too early to know exactly what the next steps will be. “We’ll let the dust settle and let our lawyers get into it and figure out ‘what does this really mean for Carmilla?’” she said, adding that a number of distributors had already been in contact to ask about the situation and whether international rights were available.