European, Australian and Canadian distributors and buyers of children’s programming predict that shows that respond to continuing trends, as opposed to a few knockout properties, will dominate the upcoming MIPCOM.
Edutainment series top wish lists of buyers from around the world. In part, American broadcasters, looking to satisfy the FCC’s mandate of airing three hours a week of educational children’s shows, are driving this demand. But networks and cable channels across the globe share concerns about the content of kids television, especially when it comes to violence. ‘It’s a worldwide trend that people [have become] more aware of what they are showing to their kids,’ says Andras Erkel, senior director of Varga Studio in Budapest, Hungary, and Varga tvc in London, England.
As well as an interest in softer, less violent shows, series that appeal to the whole family are in demand, says Dale Taylor, vice president of production and programming at Toronto, Canada-based YTV. ‘[There's] a universal desire for some quality downtime where kids of all ages and their caregivers or parents can be entertained together.’
On the flip side, when it comes to targeting specific demographics, broadcasters are going after girls. Taylor sees a ‘push internationally for more gender-balanced product . . . [as] an attempt at balancing or upping the girl viewership.’ Several new shows are aiming at this audience with females in the role of the lead protagonist.
Preschoolers are also being served with more programs. ‘For some time, the market was missing preschool programs,’ says Valžrie Seban, director of marketing and communications with Marina Productions of Neuilly, France. ‘More and more, we can find programs for four- to six-year-olds.’ And preschool shows are being picked up not only by state television, but ‘private channels are now getting involved,’ says Marc du Pontavice, president of Paris, France-based Gaumont Multimedia.
But Varga’s Erkel is skeptical of how much the preschool business will grow because there is little advertising support for such shows.
To lesser degrees, YTV’s Taylor believes that producers will offer more series tied in to the Internet, such as an upcoming YTV program featuring Web sleuths; revivals of old shows, including new episodes of Woody Woodpecker and The Pink Panther; and knockoffs of previous hits, such as Sabrina, The Teenage Witch following in the footsteps of Bewitched.
Dwindling in popularity are series with environmental or ecological themes, says Erkel of Varga Studio and Varga tvc.
And short in supply are ‘very funny series’ with an edgy tone that are not afraid to poke a bit of fun at adults and parents, says Rachel Kahn, head of the children’s department of Paris-based France 2.
It’s also hard to find shows for girls age seven to 11 and action-adventure series for boys 11 to 13, says Lisa Hryniewicz, managing director of Paris-based Salsa Distribution, a new company selling programming exclusively to Latin America.
In terms of genres, animation will play the starring role at MIPCOM. ‘Animation continues to sell very strongly because of its universal qualities,’ says Charlie Caminada, sales director of HIT Entertainment of London.
‘Technology has just escalated within the last 10 years, so suddenly we’re able to create animation very quickly and cost-effectively,’ adds Katie Cordes, distribution manager for Sydney, Australia-based Energee Entertainment.
What does this mean for producers of live action and other genres?
Todd Leavitt, chairman of Toronto-based Alliance Television Group, believes that there is ‘an underserved demand and desire for live action.’ Nickelodeon, for one, has shown that live action can attract kids.
But ‘[live action] is not easily sellable because you incur problems of dubbing,’ points out Ricky Corradi, vice president of international affairs with Mondo TV of Rome, Italy. Live-action shows also tend not to travel as well as animation because their setting makes them specific to one culture.
As well, live action can restrict creative leeway, says Seban of Marina Productions, because creating special effects comparable to those in animation is so costly.
Outside of these two dominant genres, buyers are warming up to live animation, such as Hugo the TV Troll, by Copenhagen, Denmark-based Interactive Television Entertainment, are aiming to put a new spin on animation. An advantage of this fairly new genre, says Jesper Helbrandt, ITE’s managing director, is, since a character can move and speak in real time, ‘the character is not so predictable.’
Regardless of genre, children’s television programs are growing in demand, thanks to new cable television outlets popping up around the world. Producers and distributors are keeping an eye on the expanding markets of Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
The Asian market for children’s television, while definitely growing, may be developing slower than early expectations, says Cordes of Energee Entertainment, which distributes programs throughout Asia. The opportunity for doing business in the region is limited by the fact that Asian countries tend to buy the bulk of programs from Japan. Asia is also not a high-paying market, says Cordes, and buyers must be sensitive to the fact that every country is different.
Kids television in Latin America has been making headway in the last five years, says Salsa Distribution’s Hryniewicz. In Argentina, for example, ‘kids channels are consistently in the top five to 10 channels watched.’ Colombia appears ready to heat up now that the government opening up to private stations, and Venezuela, which is coming out of a three- to four-year economic crisis, is likely to become a bigger buyer of children’s series this year.
All of this new competition, producers say, can only be a plus for kids: as more services vie for kids attention, kids will not only be offered more shows, but higher quality.