Corus tackles climate change in kid-targeted doc special

Corus EVP Colin Bohm shares how CitizenKid: Earth Comes First fits into the company's original content strategy and how they formed the partnership with White Pine Pictures.

YTV is marking World Environment Day to remind kids of another ongoing global crisis – climate change.

CitizenKid: Earth Comes First is a 22-minute documentary, produced by White Pine Pictures, that highlights youth activism on climate change with a spotlight on Canadians Hannah Alper, Cooper Price, Charlene Rocha and Sophia Mathur. The doc, which premieres today (June 5), shows kids ways they can make a difference as the young activists head to Ottawa and Washington D.C. to speak with government officials and environmental groups.

The name CitizenKid comes from a long-running book series from the Corus Entertainment-owned publisher Kids Can Press. The series, which has been translated into 21 languages and published in 28 countries, tackles big issues like biodiversity and access to water in a way that’s accessible for kids. It has sold 1.6 million copies worldwide to date.

“We’re trying to build global franchises and homegrown brands and talent,” Colin Bohm, EVP, content and corporate strategy at Corus Entertainment, told Playback Daily, adding that the CitizenKid was a great example of an existing publishing brand to adapt into a series for the global marketplace.

The partnership with White Pine Pictures began two years ago, when the prodco’s president Peter Raymont attended a Canadian trade mission in Shanghai. He met Kids Can Press president Lisa Lyons Johnston, who was looking for the right producer to turn CitizenKid into a successful kids-branded docuseries – and the rest was history.

The project is White Pine Pictures’ first TV project targeted to kids. Bohm says production executive Amanda Vaughn collaborated with the prodco to help develop content to fit “a different audience with different expectations and tastes” from their usual adult-skewing viewership.

White Pine also took a more modern approach to casting. While Alper was already on their radar due to her years of activism, the company took to social media to find the other three “cast members”.

“Not wanting to employ child actors, as is often done, we did a thorough search for young teenage climate change activists and interviewed many before landing on the four activists who are the central characters in our film,” said Raymont.

While CitizenKid: Earth Comes First covers a very different kind of global crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic did serve as an unusual complication. Not only did they have to make the final touches during physical distancing measures, the Corus team was forced to consider if this was the right time to broadcast and market a documentary not related to the pandemic. In the end, Bohm says the company wanted to show kids a documentary that could empower them to make a difference at a time when so much is out of their control, and June 5 – the United Nation’s World Environment Day – seemed the perfect opportunity to do it.

Moving forward, Corus’ ambition for the project is to turn it from a standalone special into an ongoing series of documentary specials related to the myriad of topics covered in the CitizenKid book series.

It fits into their larger strategy for not only utilizing its existing IP library from Kids Can Press, but also producing original Canadian content for the international market, which has been in the works for the last year and a half, according to Bohm. The move has served them better than anticipated, especially in their lifestyle production at Corus Studios, as the global demand for content has only increased during the pandemic. The company recently sold its homegrown hit Island of Bryan to HGTV in the U.S. under a rebranded name, while the company extended its deal with Netflix to bring a second season of Rust Valley Restorers to the streamer on May 8.

“We got calls fairly quickly from a number of buyers in the U.S. who are stuck in terms of production and didn’t have as much in the can, so we’ve seen a strong demand for our content,” says Bohm.

Photo by Stefani Reynolds