2017 Indie List: Muse spies unscripted growth

With a focus on MOWs, factual and producing for the international marketplace, the Montreal prodco climbed the ranks last year.

Playback’s annual Indie List gives an inside look at who is spending what and where. This year, we examined a few companies on the list, digging into their business strategies and plans for growth. Here, we look at number four on the list, Muse Entertainment.

By all accounts, Montreal’s Muse Entertainment had a stellar 2016. In comparison to its 2015 numbers, Muse increased its production spend by nearly $18 million and produced 17 projects last year, including The Julius House: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery (pictured) .

The Julius House is just one of the 12 movies of the week the company produced in 2016. Muse has a long and successful history producing MOWs, and company president and CEO Michael Prupas expects continued growth in the space. “We’ve already got plans for the upcoming 12 months and if anything we’re increasing [our output],” he says.

While the company had a significant number of MOW projects on the go in 2016, Prupas says Muse’s spend was largely driven by two major additions to its slate: Reelz’s The Kennedys: After Camelot, the sequel to 2011’s The Kennedys, as well as eight-part series Bellevue, which it coproduced with Back Alley Film Productions for CBC.

While Muse officially got into the non-fiction space in 2013 when it opened a factual division in Toronto, it’s only recently started to ramp up its production efforts.

In the past year, the prodco sent two new series to camera. The Alex Vega Project (8 x 60 minutes), which follows a custom car designer as he creates new rides for collectors and celebrities, got the greenlight from U.S. cable net, Velocity, while docuseries Collision Course (6 x 60 minutes), which investigates celebrity crashes, was ordered by Reelz.

Prupas says the company is focusing its factual business on developing content for U.S. sales, taking advantage of the Canadian dollar and lower costs of production. “If we can present ourselves as a viable player in the U.S. market, and we can take advantage of our Canadian base, then we’ve got the best of both worlds. That’s the model that our company tends to follow.”

The company has a couple other non-scripted projects in the works, says Prupas, and it has bolstered its non-scripted team in Toronto to account for that growth goal, mostly with short-term and freelance contracts.

Of all the projects Muse produced in 2016, only Bellevue was driven by a Canadian sale. With digital networks upending the marketplace, changes to the corporate structures of Canadian broadcasters and the CRTC reducing the Cancon requirements of those broadcasters, it’s no surprise the Canadian networks aren’t putting up as much money for Canadian programming as they used to, says Prupas. “I’m getting a strong sense that the amount of projects being bought by the private networks in this country, notably Bell and Corus, is down from what it was a few years ago,” he says.

Prupas adds that one area where he once expected to see growth in the future, is now in question. “We had thought the series market was going to be a ticket to success in the future, and to be honest, I’m a little worried about how that is playing out these days,” he says. “A lot of the big networks are taking more and more control of the rights.” He adds that while Canadian networks want greater control of the IP, they’re putting up less money. “We’re getting squeezed on that side of things,” he says.

In light of the market realities at home, Prupas says the company has increasingly looked outside of Canada’s borders for growth opportunities – as evidenced by its 2016 slate. “Our thinking is moving toward doing things in the international marketplace,” he says.

To help facilitate this, Muse added two team members to its L.A. office in June 2015. Lydia Storie was named VP of development for Muse Entertainment USA and Meghan Mathes joined as director of development. The hires were part of the company’s commitment to producing programming for sale in the U.S. marketplace.

The company continues to look further afield for opportunities as well. While Muse has produced several successful coproductions in its 19-year history (including the Canada/Australia copro JFK: The Smoking Gun), Prupas says there’s generally greater receptivity to international coproduction in Europe today than there has been previously. In 2016, the company partnered with Paris-based Superprod on an animated preschool property, Helen’s Little School, made for Knowledge Network, Télé-Québec, TFO, France Télévision in France and BBC Kids in the U.K., which also secured a pre-sale to Discovery Kids in Latin America.

Prupas says, “The entire television world is going through quite a degree of convulsion right now because of the advent of the SVOD services. How that is going to play out in the international marketplace is difficult to say, but there is perceived need to combine resources.”

This article originally appeared in the 2017 summer issue of Playback.

For the full 2017 Indie List click here

For the 2016 Indie List click here