Disney+ Canada Boss Jason Badal is Looking for the Next ‘Fleabag’ as Streamer Readies to Develop Canadian Content

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Disney+ is preparing to greenlight original Canadian content. However those seeking to place programming with the northern contingent of the Mouse House may not be preparing pitches the streamer is actually looking for.

Less than a year after former Shopify e-commerce director Jason Badal took the top job as VP and GM of Disney+ in Canada, he sat onstage for a spotlight Session at content Canada to discuss the company’s push into general entertainment content. Specifically, he revealed the company is looking to blow out the Disney Star portion of Disney+.

“That’s where all of our audience-expanding content is,” he explained. “I love to hear that people with older kids or younger kids love our product, but I’m always trying to, even on a one-to-one basis, remind people that there’s older-skewing general entertainment content.”

He added that part of his job right now isn’t just to find more content to widen Disney+’s addressable market, but to educate people on the content within that subsection of the streaming service. Currently, the Star box comprises various titles from entities like FX, Hulu and Fox. Some of it premieres day-and-date with the U.S. channels, other titles are held depending on national acquisition deals.

When asked which existing project is the one he wished he’d had, Badal easily named “Fleabag,” a series he said people wouldn’t necessarily expect to see on Disney+.

“That’s exactly why I’d want it, because there’s a perception of what we are and then there’s the reality if you’re [looking at our content],” he explained. “We do have a lot of adult-skewing interesting content and we really need folks to realize that. A show like “Fleabag” is broadly applicable and addresses demographics that may not be associated with Disney+ but that are really important for us.”

Last month, Disney+ took another step towards materializing Canadian content when it hired seasoned Telefilm vet Stephanie Azam as the inaugural director of content. Azam was in the audience during the Content Canada session. She agreed with Badal’s assessment the company currently favors series rather than features, and is on the hunt for longer-form content rather than limited series. She added more information would be available for producers and creatives soon.

“We want to be able to communicate in a simple and efficient way,” she added from her seat. “Very soon we’ll be able to communicate very specifically — although Jason has done a great job — the kind of content we want pitched.”

Badal added that although there are extensive research teams putting together data to serve up content that is useful to Disney+ viewers, he believes a human layer is also necessary to suss out the next hit.

“There is a place for data and insights, and there is a place for creative instincts,” he said. “Creative instinct is built up over years of working in the industry. Ultimately, our process will be creatively decided, but with a very strong foundation of data support.”

In terms of funding and budgets, the executives were less clear.

“From the budget level, we haven’t determined it yet. It’s early days for us in terms of how much we put into each series, or each feature,” Badal said. “And the financing model of that is completely unknown at this point, because as you’re all aware there’s some regulatory changes that may be on the horizon that’ll probably affect funding in some way.”

Badal was referring to the proposed Bill C-11 (commonly known as the Online Streaming Act), which is currently going through Senate hearings. The bill appears to have many streamers ramping up their Canadian content teams in the event they will be mandated to prioritize Canadian content.

If solidified, the bill would require online streaming companies to pay to support Canadian artists, as traditional broadcasters in the country already do. In exchange, streamers could also qualify for certain financial incentives and tax breaks.

Recently, David Fares, VP of global public policy at Walt Disney, argued for a redefining of what qualifies as Canadian content. He used the recent film “Turning Red” as one example, citing it should fall under current Canadian content qualifications as it told the story of a Chinese-Canadian in Toronto and starred Canadian Sandra Oh.

He added the company has already invested some $3 billion into Canada over the past few years. “We hope to invest further in Canada, and a flexible regulatory regime will allow us to maximize those future investments,” Fares said during the Sept. 15 Senate hearing.