When Toronto-based Spin Master Corp., makers of the hit show Paw Patrol, launched its entertainment division back in 2008, executives wanted to create an action-adventure series for preschool-aged children.
With a loose idea of what they wanted, they reached out to five creators, including Keith Chapman, the creative force behind the successful Bob the Builder series.
“Keith had an idea of dogs that rescue and have jobs in the real world and, as we know, dogs doing jobs are part of the real world. There are police dogs and there are fire dogs and there are Coast Guard dogs,” says Jennifer Dodge, president of Spin Master Entertainment.
In Paw Patrol, a 10-year-old boy named Ryder leads a group of talking rescue dogs equipped with dog houses that transform into rescue vehicles to save the day whenever trouble arises for the good folks of Adventure Bay. “It was just a lovely idea,” she says.
The company worked with Mr. Chapman, animators, artists and writers to develop the idea and pitched it to Nickelodeon. Spin Master had an existing relationship with the U.S.-based children’s network and talked up the dog show to its international team at MIPTV, an annual international television market in Cannes, and to Nickelodeon executives headquartered in New York.
“They loved it immediately, and they wanted to partner on it,” Ms. Dodge says.
Toronto-based Spin Master Corp., founded in 1994, has grown from the maker of the Earth Buddy, a pantyhose-covered head that sprouted grass, to one of the world’s top toy manufacturers, a publicly traded children’s entertainment behemoth with toy, entertainment and digital games divisions, 32 offices around the world, and 2,000 employees. Its entertainment division has developed a half-dozen television series, including Paw Patrol, which began airing on Nickelodeon in August, 2013, and today is broadcast in at least 35 languages in more than 170 countries.
Spin Master sells the series in Canada to TVO, Treehouse, Netflix and Knowledge Network, while Nickelodeon (a division of Paramount Global) aired the series on its platforms globally and managed rights and distribution around the world. In addition, Spin Master manufactures and sells the toy line globally.
Over the years, Paw Patrol has won numerous Canadian Screen Awards and, in 2021, Paw Patrol: The Movie hit the big screen, grossing more than US$152-million at the worldwide box office.
To sell the show internationally, the Paw Patrol team had to ensure the stories were suitable for people around the world and across cultures, Ms. Dodge says.
“You have to tell stories that are relatable to the human experience and can travel outside of just your town or just your province or just your country. The great thing is kids are kids wherever they are, and we really focus on community stories and making sure the stories we’re telling are relevant across all those audiences.”
Paw Patrol is part of a Canadian creative export industry valued at $18.7-billion in 2019, accounting for 33 per cent of the country’s $57.1-billion culture gross domestic product, according to Heritage Canada. That was an 11-per-cent increase from 2018. The industry represents the equivalent of approximately 222,090 culture jobs in Canada that year, says Caroline Czajkowski, spokeswoman for Heritage Canada.
The United States, China, Britain, Germany and Hong Kong were Canada’s top creative export markets in 2019, with Hong Kong surpassing France in 2019 to become our fifth-highest export market. Up to that point, France had consistently been in the top five, she says.
The U.S. accounts for 59 per cent of all Canadian cultural exports but compared with other industries, such as manufacturing, the creative industries have good diversification, Ms. Czajkowski says. The fastest-growing creative export markets are China, Hong Kong, India, Singapore and Australia.
In 2018, the federal government launched a five-year, $125-million Creative Export Strategy. Led by the Department of Canadian Heritage in collaboration with Global Affairs, the Trade Commissioner Service and Foreign Policy Development Service, the program boosted funding for the Canada Arts Presentation Fund, the Canada Book Fund, the Canada Music Fund, the Canada Periodical Fund and Telefilm Canada.
It also includes, among other things, funding through Creative Export Canada for export-ready audiovisual, interactive digital media, music, performing arts, publishing, visual arts and design.
In its first four years, the strategy has benefitted more than 1,900 businesses and organizations in all major creative sectors, many of them from several different services or programs and over multiple years, Ms. Czajkowski says.
“The sustained and targeted support they received helped them to achieve their international business development goals,” she says.
Canadian Heritage has also partnered with the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver Boards of Trade to offer creative industry specialized Trade Accelerator Programs to help businesses develop export plans and learn key skills to help them succeed when expanding into new and existing markets, she says.
She adds that some of the challenges for would-be creative exporters are doing the proper planning and analysis to find potential new buyers and finding the right market, given every market has different needs, cultures and requirements.
There are also duties and tariffs to consider, as well as currency exchange rates and foreign compliance procedures, she explains.
The right partners can certainly play a big part in global success, Ms. Dodge says. And she notes that Nickelodeon is among the biggest in children’s television. “We’ve built up a lot more of our international capabilities around television distribution from a merchandising and licensing standpoint and franchise standpoint, but yes, they’ve been obviously very helpful.
“I would say for a smaller independent entertainment company, they would probably be looking to partner with a larger global company that can help them fulfill those aspirations.”