Special Report: L.A. Screenings: Kids products star at L.A. Screenings

Kids and tweens products are blazing new trails on the screening rosters of studios and independents at this year's L.A. Screenings....
May 1, 1997

Kids and tweens products are blazing new trails on the screening rosters of studios and independents at this year’s L.A. Screenings.

Now that the FCC has put a new focus on kids television, many sellers predict on-the-spot sales for cartoons and children’s live-action shows. Emerging markets are also looking to fill their kids slots.

‘In Latin America, it used to be two or three stations for a country,’ says Eugenia Briseno, vice president of international sales at Saban. ‘Now, with privatization, those same countries have six or seven stations buying.’

‘It seems that every year, more and more kids companies are attending the screenings,’ notes Mickie Steinmann, vice president, international television and home video sales at Gaumont. ‘Kids buyers tend more and more to hold onto their cash at MIP in order to save it for L.A.’

The screenings are ‘the place to buy’ for the heavy Latin contingent and other internationals looking for kids product, says Steinmann, for one simple reason: packaging. The studios are all bundling shows. And those program packages include children’s product.

By waiting until the majors announce their fall pickups in May NBC on the 12th, CBS on the 22nd, ABC on the 19th and Fox on the 20th, buyers can snap up new network adult series and children’s programming at the same time. ‘It’s great for us because we don’t have to do 10 deals just one,’ says Steinmann.

Another noteworthy development this year is the abundance of preschool series, many of which are offered by companies for the first time.

‘Preschool is hot now because of the new FCC regulations,’ Steinmann notes, adding that Gaumont’s Tune of the Moon is the studio’s first venture into the genre. ‘It’s a completely different business very content-sensitive,’ he says.

Steve Patscheck, Discovery International’s senior account manager, program sales, says that his company’s first preschool program, Little Star, is getting a major push. Sellers’ only misgiving about preschool is the difficulty of getting buyers to sit through the shows.

While there is some dissent over whether kids shows are screened from beginning to end, sellers agree that buyers are more likely to screen thoroughly at the L.A. Screenings than at other markets. Because of its two-week length and slower pace, the screenings afford a more focused viewing environment, which many say is especially important following this year’s FCC content rulings. The rulings fostered heightened content awareness in the kids genre, according to Steinmann, making thorough screenings a must for most kids buyers this year.

‘I think especially with kids [programming], the buyers have to know what they’re getting. In the adult business, you can afford to schedule wrong and you can cancel the show. In kids, you’re shaping their lives.’

According to Steinmann, buyers are scanning more closely than ever for violence and action levels. Discovery’s Patschek says focused screenings are critical to his sales, but for different reasons. ‘If I can get them into the booth and sit them down and do a pitch and a screening, they’re usually hooked,’ he says, noting that Discovery is combating the outdated image of documentary programming as ‘dry.’

However, some sellers, such as Regis Brown, director of international distribution at Film Roman, say buyers rarely watch kids shows all the way through. ‘They just want to pop it on and see what you’re talking about,’ he notes. Film Roman bundled a group of five kids cartoons together for sale at the screenings. The shows, which had previously aired on Latin American cable, are all predubbed, he notes.

Saban’s Briseno agrees that buyers rarely watch shows from beginning to end. An 18-year veteran of the May screenings, she says buyers are familiar with Saban’s product, and trust her to let them know what they’re getting. ‘Sometimes, because of censorship, they’ll [screen all the way through], but with animation they usually don’t,’ she adds. ‘I’ll tell the truth about the content, and they know that they can trust me.’

Stephanie Pacheco, director of international sales at CBS Broadcast International, says her company rarely emphasizes youth series, but this year they’re screening The Sports Illustrated For Kids Show. Catering to the industry’s current voracious appetite for educational programming, the lesson-oriented show is hosted by sports stars along with two kid announcers.

Teen programs are also being packaged at the screenings. NBC International’s slate reflects the market’s youth orientation, with a flagship series, titled USA High, targeting kids age 12 to 16. ‘USA High and the TNBC [block] of four teen shows [led by the successful sitcom Saved by the Bell: The New Class] have a growing, faithful international constituency,’ says Sergio Getzel, vice president of NBC international sales. ‘In most international markets, you’ll find it somewhere on the dial,’ he says. The teen-oriented package, which qualifies as ‘educational and informational,’ in accordance with FCC guidelines, will be a primary focus for NBC International at the screenings.

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