If things go according to plan, managing director of Ravensburger Film + TV GmbH Peter Hille will soon see his distribution and production company evolve into an entity nobody in the business of children’s programming in Europe can afford to overlook. ‘My long-term vision is to become a production and distribution company that you can’t ignore when you are thinking of and looking at kids programming. I want to be that first address you have to visit.’
The 12-year-old division of Ravensburger AG is well on its way to establishing that status. Its limited catalog of about 100 titles-half for international distribution and half for domestic-as well as about 10 co-productions currently under way, is deceptively small. It has supplied over 90 hours of television programming to German-speaking territories and, because of the diversified nature of its holding company, each title created at Ravensburger Film + TV GmbH has exponential possibilities at its fingertips.
For example: Cap’n Bluebear was launched five years ago as a limited series of 104 animated short films for kids. Since then, it has spawned a regular weekly children’s TV series, Cap’n Bluebear’s Club, the more general-audience series Cap’n Bluebear’s Early Morning Stories and one of its characters, Dave Dimwits, will be at the heart of a late-evening family program expected to air next year. Outside of TV programming, the spin-offs to date include home videos, CD-ROMs, over 20 books out of Ravensburger’s book division, a few games and puzzles, and about 150 pieces of licensed merchandising. Hille adds, ‘We are talking to Warner Bros. about doing a feature film based on Cap’n Bluebear,’ which, if it gets the green light, will be the first feature for Ravensburger. The programs are distributed throughout Europe, in Canada through Canal Famille, and in Malaysia, South Africa and Singapore.
The TV division started in 1984 as a means of exploring the German and European television and broadcast
markets, ‘especially for private TV activity,’ says Hille, and quickly became part of the pilot cable and satellite projects that eventually launched SAT1, the first commercial network in Germany.
In 1995, Ravensburger Film + TV showed a significant increase in turnover growing by nine percent to 21 million deutsche marks (US$14 million) and an anticipated increase of 20 to 30 percent in 1996. It also holds a 10 percent share of Germany’s first channel for kids, Nickelodeon.
Hille is making his local market the next priority. ‘In our domestic market, producing programming for kids, especially animation, continues to grow in Germany and in Europe. It’s also happening in the entire world, but the focus for us is Europe.’
A new area Hille is currently evaluating for expansion is digital pay radio. ‘We often thought about becoming involved in radio, but we never decided to go ahead, at least, not until now. We are seriously considering stepping into that type of new media, which could be a sizeable market, especially for kids.’
In television production and distribution, Hille
estimates about 70 to 80 percent of the division’s products are animated. The
company has distribution deals throughout the world and co-production deals focusing mostly on Europe and Canada (where Ravensburger is working with Cinar Entertainment on the new series, The Country Mouse and the City Mouse Adventures). Other regular partners include King Rollo Films of the U.K., France’s Ellipse, P.M.M.P., France Animation and D’Ocon.
Hille sees an opportunity to keep abreast of co-production possibilities in the Far East, although for now he says, ‘it’s hard to find co-production partners there. You can find companies that do work for hire, but I think it will become more and more important for the Europeans to find co-producing
partners [in the Far East].’
At home, Hille has his sights set on tackling the family market while stepping up the number of children’s programs he has in the works. ‘We are in development on some game shows and a drama for family audiences, and we have our fingers crossed that next year we will start into production.’ According to Ravensburger Film + TV’s strategy, Hille will test the waters at home and then look into the European
There’s no question, says Hille, that part of Ravensburger Film + TV GmbH’s success is attributed to the holding company’s long-standing reputation as a supplier of quality children’s product. ‘We have a very high standard of quality in terms of content and production itself and the audience can trust our products,’ he comments. ‘It’s simple: Our company’s brand is synonymous with good-quality products.’