Special Report: MIP-TV: The U.S. invasion: A look at how American shows are crossing borders: U.K. makes a home for U.S. programs

The truism that 'no two deals are ever the same' has never been more accurate than in today's climate of intricate production partnerships linking companies from around the world. The main feature in our MIP-TV special report traces the evolution of...
April 1, 1997

The truism that ‘no two deals are ever the same’ has never been more accurate than in today’s climate of intricate production partnerships linking companies from around the world. The main feature in our MIP-TV special report traces the evolution of these partnerships through the complex deals that led to new children’s television shows that are now being marketed at MIP-TV. The report also includes a discussion with U.S. studios on television programming trends, as well as a glimpse into the television markets of Germany, England and France.

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In many respects, the U.K. television market is a world unto itself. International distributors regularly acknowledge that the British public’s taste in drama, documentary and preschool make it a tough market to crack.

The key exception to this is the market for animation and live action aimed at kids four to 15 years old.

Although the U.K. boasts its own vibrant animation sector, U.S. studios have scored major successes in both the terrestrial and satellite markets.

GMTV, a commercial broadcast contractor that controls air time on ITV Network between 6:00 and 9:30 every morning, is a microcosm of the viewing habits of British kids.

GMTV shows five hours of children’s programs on the weekend, with peak ratings at about 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays.

The core of the Saturday schedule is Buena Vista Productions’ Wake Up in the Wild Room (7:10 to 8:20 a.m.), a magazine-format show that intersperses U.K. presenters and guests with U.S. programming, such as Quack Pack and Winnie the Pooh from Disney (which is itself a GMTV shareholder).

On Sunday, a similar magazine-format series called Disney Club is broadcast from 8:25 to 9:25 a.m. Aimed at a slightly older audience, the hour includes the likes of Chip ‘n’ Dale, Aladdin and Shnookums and Meat.

GMTV’s biggest ratings hit, however, is Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, which is broadcast at 8:55 a.m. on Saturday. The acquisition of Power Rangers played a key part in reviving GMTV’s ratings performance two years ago, and last year, the series achieved a 45 percent share of the Saturday audience. During one school holiday week last August, it was stripped daily and took five of the top 10 ratings slots. The Power Rangers crew returned on March 15 as Power Rangers ZEO, and will run through to August.

Two general observations can be made about U.S. children’s programming in the U.K. The first concerns its longevity. Characters such as Top Cat, the Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, Animaniacs and Tom and Jerry perform as well now as they did with previous generations of kids. In a market that demands an editorial approach tailored to its viewing tastes, these properties have the advantage of seeming to belong to the U.K. audience.

Of the U.K.’s five satellite players, including Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Fox, TCC and Disney, it is Cartoon Network that most effectively bridges the generation gap by appealing to both adults and small children. February, for example, was Scooby-Doo month and 100 back-to-back episodes of the show were aired over a 48-hour period. Nearly two and a half million people tuned in, though, interestingly, 54 percent of those viewers were adults. Scooby-Doo has also had a recent airing on the BBC, where it made the top 10 in the official audience ratings. Other top-performing series for February were Tom & Jerry, Cow and Chicken, The Mask, Two Stupid Dogs and The Flintstones. Last year, Secret Squirrel was the top-rated series of the year on Cartoon Network.

Nickelodeon, by contrast, is strongest in the teen market, and boasts a more balanced demographic split between the sexes. January saw its ratings top all of its cable and satellite rivals, with key hits including Kenan & Kel, Bruno The Kid and The Secret World of Alex Mack.

The second point of interest is the way in which U.S.-originated children’s productions have encouraged rights windowing between cable, satellite and terrestrial stations.

Disney and Saban product both feed ITV. However, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon also have an important impact by sharing rights with terrestrial partners. The Mask and Jonny Quest performed well for both Cartoon Network and BBC1, while Nickelodeon’s Rugrats took the U.K. by storm last year. In the recent session at the annual producers’ forum The Television Show, five network television children’s programming heads from BBC, Carlton, Nickelodeon, Channel 5 and Channel 4 named Rugrats in their assessments of the top 10 performers of the last year.

Currently, Nick-produced Hey Arnold! is the top-performing U.S. product on children’s television in the U.K., hitting a 15 to 16 percent share on ITV during February.

Following the success of animated spin-offs from the movie world, such as Aladdin and The Mask, the latest spin-off to rate in the top 10 in the U.K. is Jumanji.

With pressure on terrestrial broadcasters to make the right children’s programming acquisitions, it’s likely that U.S. movie spin-offs and partnerships with U.S.-backed cable and satellite will continue to guide buying policy for the foreseeable future. Not only are such deals cost-effective, but they come with a modest guarantee of audience appeal.

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