The John Morayniss-led studio has attracted a range of artists and business partners in year one, solidifying its value proposition as a global content hub in Canada.
BY KELLY TOWNSEND
A strategy to merge established industry savvy with a “border-busting” creative slate has paid off in spades for Blink49 Studios in its first year of operations, accelerating its progress faster than even its founders anticipated.
“We saw an opportunity in Canada,” Blink49 Studios CEO John Morayniss (pictured above) tells Playback. “There’s a renaissance that’s happening right now, and it’s very talent-driven and story-driven, with a buying community that I think is feeling invigorated about the opportunities for original content in Canada.”
Morayniss describes Toronto-headquartered Blink49 Studios as an independently-owned global content company with a “lean-in to Canada” approach, equipped with a team of executives with expertise in both the Canadian and U.S. content markets.
He says the drive to build Blink49 was supported by the level of new buyers entering the system, and the global market interest in locally-made stories, leveraged by their expertise in producing and financing content. Morayniss served as CEO of Entertainment One (eOne) TV for a decade, and was formerly head of television at Alliance Atlantis.
The studio was launched in late 2021 by a group of former eOne execs, including COO Jeff Lynas, CFO Nelson Kuo-Lee and executive vice chair Patrice Theroux. Fifth Season (formerly Endeavor Content) is the company’s anchor investor and worldwide distributor. Morayniss says the two companies remain in daily communication on their content strategy and the state of the global market.
The content team is led by EVP, global scripted Carolyn Newman (pictured right), formerly director of original series at Netflix, who works out of L.A. and collaborates closely with Toronto-based executive producer Virginia Rankin.
The partnership allows for a “holistic” North American strategy, where they can appeal to buyers on both sides of the border, depending on what works best for a given project, says Newman.
“We’re definitely somewhat surprised about the volume of activity we’ve had in the first year in both production and development, and the deals and relationships that we’re building, but it also confirms our thesis,” says Morayniss.
Partnerships formed over the last year include first look and overall deals with Canadian creatives such as Sheri Elwood (Moonshine) and Ben Sokolowski (The Walking Dead: The World Beyond); a content development and production deal with agency Vanguarde Artists Management; and a strategic investment in former USA Network president Jeff Wachtel’s new shingle Future Shack Entertainment, which includes distribution of its projects based in Canada.
One of the most notable deals signed in 2022 was with Canadian expat Lilly Singh and her L.A.-based prodco Unicorn Island Productions. The studio partnered with Bell Media for a first-look scripted deal with Singh, along with a second-look deal for unscripted content. The pact with Singh is reflective of their cross-border talent strategy, which focuses on bringing successful expats back to Canada as much as it amplifies homegrown talent within the North American market, according to Newman.
They brought the deal to Bell Media as a way to form a closer partnership with the broadcaster, according to Morayniss, either by bringing projects to them to develop and eventually commission, or pitch Bell Media as a Canadian partner on U.S. projects.
“There was an alignment between what we were trying to do with Unicorn Island and what we saw Bell pivoting into, getting a little closer to IP and a little closer to some really interesting Canadian talent, storytellers, and companies,” says Morayniss.
Such opportunities are part of what Newman describes as an ecosystem within the Blink49 Studios umbrella, where they’re consistently looking for collaborative opportunities between their various partners.
“It’s rare that you find one like-minded creative executive, let alone an entire studio,” says Elwood (pictured left) on her experience developing content with the studio. “John has put together a team that’s the perfect blend of market-savvy, out-of-box brilliance and writer-friendly resilience. I could not be more excited and proud of the eclectic, border-busting slate we’ve put together.”
The company already has two greenlights under its belt: Hallmark Channel original series Ride with Calgary-based coproducer SEVEN24 Films, and CTV crime drama Sight Unseen with Sisters Troubetzkoy Productions. Even so, Morayniss says this is the “tip of the iceberg” of the growth expected to come.
Newman says she expects the heavy amount of development they’ve done in 2022 will lead to a busier production schedule in 2023 and 2024, which is an acceleration of their initial strategy of two years of strict development post-launch.
The momentum has helped Blink49 raise enough capital to act on its next frontier — buying majority or minority shares in smaller-scale production companies. Morayniss says they’re taking a very strategic and surgical approach to find companies that align with the Blink49 ecosystem.
“There’s a lot of really interesting Canadian production companies, both in the unscripted space and the scripted space, who are great storytellers and have something to say,” he says. “We think a partnership between Blink and these companies can supercharge them and provide them with some jet fuel that will take what they’ve done in Canada around the world.”
This story originally appeared in Playback‘s Winter 2022 issue
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