2017 Indie List: Seven24 streamlines into sci-fi

The Calgary prodco has dropped genres outside of its core lines of business as it looks to build on the breakout success of Wynonna Earp.

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 Calgary producer SEVEN24.

Buoyed by the continued success of one of Canada’s longest-running dramas (Heartland, pictured, which is now headed into its eleventh season on CBC) and the breakaway popularity of its supernatural Western sci-fi Wynonna Earp – two titles on completely opposite ends of the dramatic spectrum – Calgary’s SEVEN24 enjoyed a banner year in 2016. All told, the company spent $53 million in production.

The 25-year-old company is known for a variety of comedy, drama and kids series including North of 60 (CBC) and Young Drunk Punk (CBC, Rogers) and as an executive producer on Brokeback Mountain. This year the prodco topped up its spending in the development department as it zoned in on scripted drama as a primary area of focus for future greenlights and revenue generation.

In addition, SEVEN24 partnered with NBCUniversal’s USA Network on the Alberta-shot drama pilot Damnation, a 1930s-set drama about an Iowa man who poses as a preacher in a bid to lead an insurrection against the status quo. The series was greenlit by USA this past May, with the show expected to bow in October.

With a growing sense of its strengths, Jordy Randall, EP and managing partner at SEVEN24, says the company streamlined the focus of its development slate in 2016 by dropping genres and formats outside of its core lines of business.

As such, film and children’s content, which were previously permanent fixtures on its slate were shed in favour of directing that development spend ($500,000) toward the international market’s current darling: scripted drama. The business rationale for this is evident – scripted drama is selling – but Randall also points to a domestic market in which feature film and kids content is increasingly challenging to produce.

“If film isn’t your core business, isn’t what you live and breathe every day, I think it’s extremely difficult to get features done. I think the same can be true of kids,” he says.

As a result, SEVEN24 trimmed the fat on its slate, which now zeroes in on hour-long dramas (mainly genre, co-viewing and procedurals) and half-hour comedies with an eye to finding the sweet spot between what will appeal to a U.S. buyer and a Canadian buyer, he says.

Sometimes the popularity of a particular show can give a producer a foot in the door where once opportunities were scarce. And when SEVEN24 made its entry to the sci-fi series market with Wynonna, which debuted in March 2016, the company quickly realized it had piqued the interest of a number of North American broadcasters.

A Syfy renewal, a Netflix pickup and a Canadian broadcaster switch later (the series moved to Bell Media’s Space channel, from Hamilton, ON-based CHCH) and the prodco sensed it was time to double down on its sci-fi breakthrough.

Naturally, the company has acted quickly to pursue more. “Wynonna has put our company on the map when it comes to the genre, and all of a sudden many more doors are opening to the creative we have in the sci-fi area,” says Randall, who adds the prodco currently has five sci-fi properties in “advancing” development – about a third of its slate – and is looking at both creator-conceived projects and underlying IP acquisitions currently.

“Specifically, we’re looking to do more with Syfy and Space in Canada, as well as other U.S. broadcasters,” says Randall, adding however, that no deals have been finalized at press time.

The way Wynonna‘s fans – or #Earpers – have amplified the message of the series has altered the way the prodco approaches the development process, says Randall, who notes the traction the show gained on social was a crucial piece of the puzzle in Space acquiring the series.

A number of factors aligned to enable Wynonna to cultivate this online following, says Randall – a character that resonated with a niche audience, a showrunner in Emily Andras with a pre-existing following from Lost Girl and a property that was based on the IDW Publishing comic books. During its season-one run, the series delivered 46 million impressions on Twitter, according to SEVEN24. Today, more than 30,000 people follow the show on Twitter and another 37,000 on Facebook.

It’s not an exact science though, he adds, pointing to the prodco’s comedy series Young Drunk Punk, which was cancelled after one season, despite gaining a loyal following. “It’s not a perfect recipe,” he says.

But, SEVEN24 is looking to bake that strategy into the DNA of more of its in-development projects. Though Randall did not disclose any of the series on its current slate, he says the plan of attack is simple: work with writers and creators to develop characters that can be embraced and adored by niche audiences and then target social-media influencers to further the reach of the property.

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