Advertising Supplement: Driving the Future: Best of Canadian Children’s TV? Coming to a (Computer) Screen Near You

The following feature appeared as a sponsored supplement in KidScreen:...
May 1, 1997

The following feature appeared as a sponsored supplement in KidScreen:

It’s an unprecedented gathering of some of Canada’s top children’s television characters. There’s Theodore Tugboat, Dudley the Dragon and Mudslinger from Groundling Marsh. Little Lulu and Mrs. Cherrywinkle are along for the ride. So are Anna Banana and Max the Cat, and many more favorites.

They’re all appearing on the same screen for the first time – your computer screen!

This all-star lineup of characters can be found on a unique new CD-ROM courtesy of the Canadian Film and Television Production Association (CFTPA). The interactive catalogue of Canadian children’s television highlights the work of 21 leading production and distribution companies, and features segments from some 60 programs and series.

The CFTPA is the film and television trade association serving Canadian producers and production companies. It serves these members in a variety of areas. Most notably in its lobbying efforts with federal and provincial governments, industrial relations and negotiations with guilds and unions, training and representing the industry domestically and internationally.

‘The Canadian film industry has a highly visible trade component and the CFTPA is committed to ensuring that children’s programming holds a prominent place in this export picture,’ says Elizabeth McDonald, President of the CFTPA.

‘Children’s TV and film production is also leading the way into the new media marketplace. We need to champion these companies, their ideas and product.’

Called ‘Driving the Future’, the CD-ROM is being introduced at the first NATPE Animation and Special Effects Expo, May 8-11 in Los Angeles. The official launch takes place at the residence of the Canadian Consul General to Los Angeles (and former Canadian Prime Minister), Kim Campbell.

All the hoopla underlines the importance the children’s programming industry is placing on this dynamic marketing tool. The CD-ROM includes high quality video clips, audio clips, stills, text descriptions of the programs, and production and distribution credits. It’s not only promoting the programming, but the properties in the programming for use in new media.

The target audiences include conventional markets such as broadcasters, distributors, syndicators and co-producers, and new markets like multimedia software developers and merchandisers.

‘We felt there was tremendous potential for the Canadian industry that perhaps wasn’t being fulfilled,’ says Annabel Slaight, President of Owl Communications Inc., and Chair of the CFTPA’s Children’s Committee.

She’s not talking about the quality of the industry – which Slaight says ‘is doing tremendous work’ – but about spreading the word.

‘We decided we had to clearly communicate the value of the Canadian industry, and beat our drum.’

That was one of the recommendations of a 1995 industry strategy, also called ‘Driving the Future,’ which was coordinated by the Alliance for Children and Television. ACT is a national, non-profit organization that aims to improve the quality of a child’s experience with television and all screen-based media.

In response to the study, the CFTPA’s Children’s Committee identified the need for a powerful and creative vehicle to reach foreign markets, particularly the U.S., hence, the CD-ROM project was born.

With the backing of major sponsors: Bell Canada; the Canadian Federal Government Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade; the province of Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism; Telefilm Canada; KidScreen magazine; KAO Infosystems Canada Inc; The Mastering Studios @ KAO and THREE LOOP NINE, the CD-ROM became a reality.

The disc was developed by Mackerel Interactive, a Toronto firm known for its inventive multimedia work on CD-ROM, diskettes and kiosks.

Why a CD-ROM? The medium itself will serve to remind users of the potential of the characters to move beyond television.

‘The majority of producers participating in the project already have successful television programs,’ says Lisa Olfman, project Chair and, with Joy Rosen, a partner in Portfolio Entertainment Inc. That’s why we chose a CD-ROM. Not to be clever, but because we’re looking to expand beyond TV and make use of our products in the new media. We’re in the entertainment industry, and how we entertain kids isn’t just through TV anymore.’

Adds Slaight: ‘Television producers are very natural content providers for the new media. The very fact we’re doing an innovative CD-ROM, instead of a booklet or a video, is a statement of what we can do.’

There are also practical benefits to the CD-ROM format. Andrew Keyes, Head of Digital Marketing at Mackerel, says the product gives the user considerable control.

‘You can get at information by selecting all sorts of criteria, like language, production company, distributor, number of episodes, length, audience, production type and genre.’

Running through the contents, Olfman says, ‘One of the things that struck me is that Canadian children’s programming already had quite astonishing successes, beyond TV with interactive filmmaking, merchandising and CD-ROMs.’

She is referring to the track record of something like The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon, from Breakthrough Films and Television Inc. Seen by million of viewers in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Brazil and South Africa, the show also has a product line of over 100 items – from plush toys to CD-ROMS to towels.

Another prime example is The Big Comfy Couch, from Radical Sheep Production and Owl International, which went from TV to home video to a highly successful merchandising effort. Just check out F.A.O. Schwarz on Fifth Avenue in New York, which currently displays an array of Comfy Couch items in a spot formerly occupied by Sesame Street souvenirs.

Portfolio and partners J.A. Delmage Productions are experiencing similar success with their puppet series Groundling Marsh. The program was sold to the Disney Channel in the U.S. and U.K. where it debuted in 1996. It’s now seen in94 territories worldwide, and airs on the Fox Children’s Network in Australia and Latin America.

Lyrick Studios, the people that produce the hit children’s show Barney and Wishbone, will launch Groundling Marsh on a home video for release this year. Look also for a full-scale Groundling Marsh merchandising campaign.

Based on Groundling Marsh, Portfolio and Delmage also produced a mini-feature for the big screen, for uniquely designed interactive theatres in a chain of U.S. family entertainment centres.

Each of these companies has made some inroads into new media, which is always looking for content, and has had some type of creative packaging and promotion,’ says Olfman.

The CD-ROM is a collaboration between BBS Productions Inc.;Big-Time Talking Pictures Inc.;Breakthrough Films and Television Inc.; Cactus Animation Inc.; Catapult Productions Inc.; Cinar Films Inc.; Ciné-Groupe; Cochran Entertainment Incorporated; Ellis Enterprises/KEG Productions; Forefront Entertainment Group; Hammytime Inc./Hammytime II Productions Inc.; Insight Production Company Ltd.; Owl International Inc.; Paragon Entertainment Corporation; Playing With Time Inc.; Portfolio Entertainment Inc.; Prisma Productions Inc.; SDA Productions Ltd.; Salter Street Pictures Ltd.; Water Street Pictures Ltd.; Windborne Productions.

McDonald says that the CFTPA memaber companies participating in the CD-ROM and the products they produce not only show the high level of production value and innovation that Canadian production companies deliver, but also showcase the broad spectrum of the creative talent pool available in Canada.

‘These companies are well defined, financed, commercial entities who are actively producing for an international market. Their contacts are broad and many are interested in international co-productions. They have recognized track records in delivering a variety of genres – from animation to live-action – MOWs to animated features,’ says Olfman.

She adds, ‘Canadian producers have a strong infrastructure of support – from financing to leading edge post-production and digital technology companies. Many of our children’s television production companies have significant new-media divisions in their companies.’

‘Collectively Canadian kids producers are very strategic in advancing their companies, products and industry standards – both domestically and internationally,’ McDonald observes.

The cooperation in putting together the industrial strategy and this CD-ROM, Slaight adds, was ‘pretty amazing.’

‘It’s always better to be part of a growing market, with good competitors, and to make a bigger wave together,’ comments Slaight.

KealyWilkinson, National Director of ACT, says, ‘One measure of the CD-ROM’s success will be to let other international companies know that Canadian children’s producers have the skills and characters that ‘cross over.’

The CD-ROM also demonstrates Canadian values in children’s programming and the country’s reputation for being ‘child-centred’ and ‘respecting the intelligence of children.’

Canadian programs try to deal with reality from the point of view of children. The programs make an effort to stimulate the critical judgement of children, avoid oversimplification and stereotypes, and open up the world beyond the sphere of the child’s immediate environment.

Slaight ech’es those sentiments, saying Canadian programs are known for high entertainment value without violence or exploitation.

‘There’s sort of an unwritten code of what quality TV is in Canada,’ says Slaight. ‘We don’t bore them, preach to them, or inject certain jolts per minute. We have fun.’

In fact, Slaight hopes to get the CD-ROM into the hands of American politicians and lobbyists who advocate quality programming anywhere.’

Olfman also talks about the Canadian reputation for ‘non-violent, child-friendly, respectful’ programming. But she adds, ‘That’s just the framework for creating dynamic entertainment that’s proven itself internationally – it sells.’

That’s even more encouraging when you consider how the worldwide market is ‘exploding,’ says Olfman, thanks to a huge increase in the number of children’s channels.

There are a few other heartening numbers: – 1.9 billion children under age 16 (22% of North America’s population, and one-third the global population) – a 10% annual growth rate in TV ownership in Asia – an estimated $25 billion (U.S.) worldwide market for interactive video services by the end of the decade.

Last year Canada alone spent $140 million on children’s television programming – a sound investment considering the global market.

‘Every country is concerned about the programming for its youngest viewers,’ Wilkinson says. ‘Your programming needs to be trusted. It’s a question of whether the values are shared.’

Slaight says a follow-up in six months will gauge the CD-ROM’s impact, mainly in people’s awareness of the Canadian industry and, most important, whether producers in Canada have captured new business.

‘I would encourage programmers, children’s television producers and multi-media developers to take the time to look at the amazing product on this disc,’ suggests McDonald. ‘ I think they will find it well worth their time.’

Olfman agrees. ‘Canadians are considered to be top documentary filmmakers in the world. Well, now we’re a leader in children’s programming too!’

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