CBC targets young adults with new Gem slate including 'Warigami,' 'Utopia Falls'

TORONTO — With the battle for young-adult audiences heating up in the streaming space, the CBC is launching a slate of programming for audiences aged 13 to 24 on its Gem service.

The public broadcaster says the lineup announced Wednesday isn't a response to competition in that demographic from the likes of streaming platforms Netflix and the upcoming Disney Plus, which has confirmed it will be headed to Canada but hasn't released details on when.

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Instead, it's an attempt to reach out to young adults in a way it wasn't previously able to through linear TV, while also offering diverse stories from up-and-coming creators, says Gave Lindo, executive director of the CBC's OTT programming.

"Our YA programming is sort of a bridge, because traditionally after you've grown out of preschool, school-aged content, there was a period where there weren't necessarily specific linear programs available for those audiences over 13," Lindo said in a phone interview.

"Of course a lot of our larger main network shows like 'Schitt's Creek' and 'Kim's Convenience' are co-viewing and family viewing opportunities, but there weren't really shows that were specifically targeted to that demographic."

The new YA lineup includes buzzy original CBC Gem Canadian series "Warigami," starring Emily Piggford as a kami-jin, a descendent of an ancient Japanese people who can turn paper into deadly weapons.

Produced in partnership with The CW, First Love Films and New Form, the Toronto-shot action-drama stars many Japanese-Canadians and unfolds in 10, 10-minute episodes that launch Friday.

Toronto-based executive producer Andrew Nicholas McCann Smith says creator Eddie Kim came up with the concept when he was a UCLA student and had little money for a student short film.

"He was like, 'What could I do with something that is just around me?' and he looked at the paper and thought, 'What if I folded this, turned it into origami and the origami became a weapon?" McCann Smith said.

The series, which is also being developed into a comic, has a 1970s retro vibe and fits into the "nichism" that's popular among young adult audiences these days, he added.

"Anything that has elements of a social message are very strong, because young adults are inherently more active than most other generations in caring about the world around them," McCann Smith said.

Other new YA programs include the original series "Utopia Falls," about a group of competitive performing arts teens who discover a hidden archive of musical and cultural relics. The sci-fi drama from creator/director R. T. Thorne, which will debut next year, has music from famed record producer Boi-1da.

The lineup also has four short films produced as part of the CBC New Indigenous Voices training program, in collaboration with the National Screen Institute: "Dead Bolt," "Forgotten," "Nappy Hair & Eagle Feather" and "Star Line." They start streaming July 26.

International titles on the docket include the British comedy-drama "My Mad Fat Diary" starring Sharon Rooney and Jodie Comer.

More titles will be added in the coming months, and many of them are shorter in length, as that's how younger audiences tend to consume content, said Lindo.

Lindo stressed the YA programming is "definitely not for children. And unlike the ad-free children's programming on CBC Gem, the 13-plus YA programs will have advertising unless users have a subscription.

Reaching younger Canadians with fresh, diverse voices from a variety of communities — and on a medium they generally prefer — is a priority for the CBC as it pursues a strategic plan to reach viewers "at all stages of their lives," Lindo said.

"We're not just interested in programming for young adults but we're also looking at ensuring that the creators of these programs are also younger storytellers with a unique perspective and voice to share."

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