Ira Levy on Breakthrough’s refocused strategy

The prominent Canadian producer discusses how Breakthrough is pivoting its production and development model following the sale of its kids catalogue to 9 Story last month.

Ira LevyWhen Breakthrough Entertainment announced in July that it would sell its entire kids and family catalogue to 9 Story Media, it marked the departure of significant and longtime presence in the domestic kids industry.

The deal saw Breakthrough sell a content library built over its 33 years, including properties like Bruno & BootsThe Adventures of Dudley the Dragon and YTV’s Anne of Green Gables MOW trilogy. Within the deal, Breakthrough also agreed to a three-year non-compete in the kids and family space.

And as Breakthrough partner and executive producer Ira Levy (pictured) tells it, the prodco’s decision to exit the space came down to two main factors.

First, it put Breakthrough’s properties into the hands of a globally focused production company, with significant scale, in a trying time for the domestic industry. As many kids producers have pointed out, domestic greenlights in the kids and family space have declined and it’s becoming an increasingly tough business to sustain at a smaller scale. (The CMPA reported in its annual Profile that production spending on English-language kids content dropped to $419 million in 2016/17, from $522 million the year prior).

“The kids’ market is a very challenging one these days, and this was an opportunity for the legacy to continue with a well-financed and a very reputable company in the children’s area. 9 Story is the perfect partner to pass the torch to, and to do the right thing with the content moving forward,” Levy told Playback Daily.

Second, and perhaps most importantly to Levy, it allowed Breakthrough to concentrate on other areas of its business, including factual and scripted TV and feature films. “It was a strategic objective and it’s allowed us to sharpen our focus on all the other areas that we’ve always been involved in,” he said.

It’s in these areas that Breakthrough has been pursuing a number of collaborations in recent months. Most recently, it worked with Hallmark Channel on the MOW Season for Love, which premieres on Saturday (Aug. 25). While it was a service production, Levy said the company is looking to increase its development efforts in the rom-com space, as streamers like Amazon and Netflix (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Kissing Booth) seem to be demonstrating interest in the genre.

On the TV comedy front, the prodco is also breaking new ground, brokering first-ever coproduction deals with territories such as Australia, with which it has two projects in development.

In particular, Levy said he sees growth opportunities in the burgeoning partnership between Canada and China. Breakthrough was part of the government’s first-ever cultural industries trade mission to China, led by former Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly, in April. During the mission, participating companies signed commercial agreements worth nearly $125 million, according to Heritage. Breakthrough is currently in development with a Chinese broadcaster on what Levy calls a “big, global, blue-chip” documentary series. “In a million years, I never thought I’d be doing this,” he said of the partnerships forged in China.

And while Breakthrough is moving away from kids and family content, Levy is still upbeat about the opportunities for global-minded Canadian prodcos in the space – despite the challenging climate. “If you’re going to play in the kids space in Canada you really are playing in the kids space in the international market. If you understand it that way, certainly you can do things here,” he said.

As to whether Breakthrough would ever return to the kids and family space in a significant way, Levy said he wouldn’t rule it out but that in the coming years the company’s focus will lie elsewhere.

“Film and TV is a cyclical industry and I don’t think anybody’s ever done [with a certain area of the industry]. We’ve always been a diverse company,” he said. “So I think it’s an interesting time to refocus on the other areas of the business.”