With the rapid expansion of new broadcast outlets around the world, the demand for television product continues to increase, as evidenced by the growth of markets such as MIPCOM and MIPCOM Junior. With this special report, we continue to follow the evolution of children’s television programming through a series of co-production diaries, as well as a snapshot view of the children’s television industry.
Also, for the second time, we present the KidScreen ‘Dream Block,’ the best two-hour block of children’s programs, according to a poll of senior programming executives. To find out which shows came out on top and why, turn to page 74.
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The children’s television business has become a lot tougher in Germany. Competition has escalated with the introduction of new services, commercial income is sinking in the kids sector and audiences in the target group are declining as German children turn away from the television set and their real numbers drop due to a falling birth rate.
And it all seems to have happened overnight. The once-quiet German television scene is changing rapidly, especially in the children’s area.
Nickelodeon, which went on air more than two years ago, can now be received in more than 60 percent of German households. In July, the channel had a market share of only seven percent among children age three to 13. (This share figure refers to cable households, measured from Monday to Sunday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
Although the channel demands the lowest commercial rates, often selling only one 60-second spot per hour, bookings have been soft. At the same time, there have been rumors that Ravensburger Film + TV, which owns 10 percent of Nickelodeon (the other 90 percent is held by Viacom International), wants to sells its stake.
Rival broadcaster ProSieben is said to be interested in Nickelodeon. ProSieben is the kids leader with a 17.1 percent market share in the children’s sector.
‘The economic situation caused us a lot of worry,’ says Peter Hille, managing director of Ravensburger Film + TV. It is not clear yet how big ProSieben’s share of Nickelodeon might be. ProSieben did not officially confirm the reports of its interest in Nickelodeon.
The Kinderkanal, which launched at the beginning of this year and is owned by public stations ZDF and ARD, now reaches 55 percent of German households and, according to recently released figures, had an average market share of 9.9 percent among children age three to 13 in July.
Other broadcasters have been forced to reduce their children’s programming. Kabel 1 shifted its daily afternoon cartoons to the weekend. ‘For us, children’s programming makes economic sense only as a niche offer,’ says Kabel 1 spokesman Hans Fink.
SAT 1 also closed its kids slate during the week a year ago because, as spokeswoman Tina Ziegler says, ‘there is not enough good programming.’
This summer, even ProSieben halved its two-hour afternoon cartoon lineup.
‘Quality is a rare thing,’ says Susanne MŸller, head of the children’s department at ZDF. ‘Prices rise, while the licensing times get shorter.’
Susanne Schosser, director of programming at Super RTL (which is jointly owned by Walt Disney Company and European entertainment company CLT-UFA), explains: ‘Sometimes we lose a series after just one year.’
North Americans have accepted the need to build ancillary revenue streams through promotional tie-ins and licensing and merchandising deals. But this is still relatively new to German television.
‘Nowadays, a channel in the children’s sector has no chance without a professional marketing and merchandising campaign,’ says Thomas Haffa, managing director of the entertainment company EM.TV & Merchandising. Many others have come to the same conclusion.
Haffa has plans for a unique merchandising campaign for the company’s new 90-minute Tabaluga Club, which begins airing October 4 on ZDF. The little green dragon that stars in the show will be on sale in more than 400 German toy stores. A monthly Tabaluga magazine is being published at the same time, with a circulation of some 300,000.
The Tabaluga character was created by German singer Peter Maffay, whose musical Tabaluga and Lilli drew a collective audience of more than 700,000 people. Together with Haffa, Maffay successfully pitched ZDF on the idea of a Tabaluga cartoon series.
As Germany’s largest licensing company, Haffa’s EM.TV & Merchandising is diversifying into other related marketing and production activities and plans to go public.
Ironically, while competition for German children TV viewers heats up, German kids’ interest in television seems to be cooling down. TV consumption by young viewers hasn’t increased over the past five years. It has more or less stagnated at around 12 hours per week, while the amount of children’s programming has multiplied sixfold from 50 hours per week in 1992 to 320 in 1997.
One explanation for the relatively static viewing habits of German children compared to kids in other countries may be the fact that their parents are still very concerned about the quality and quantity of television that their children consume.
This is true also of German education and government authorities. ‘Media education’ is the latest buzzword to come into vogue as German society wrestles with the impact of the new information age. An increasing number of schools are running media education projects aimed at helping students develop media competency by watching TV, making films or editing their own radio programs or newspapers under the guidance of their teachers.
In order to help parents decide what their children should be watching, nine Landesmedienanstalten (regional communications authorities based in each of Germany’s 16 provinces) recently created a new means of advising parents on what their kids should or should not watch.
‘Some parents are almost tormented by the fear their children might suffer permanent damage by watching TV,’ says Helga Theunert, scientific director of the institute Jugend Film Fernsehen, which produces Flimmo, a publication that comes out every two weeks on-line and can be ordered quarterly for free. It provides a fairly lenient guide to television programming, with the most critical judgment of a show being ‘hard to digest.’
‘We don’t want to condemn the television,’ says Theunert. All the assessments of children’s programs are based on studies and polls that explored the effect of the relevant program on children.
But since a lot of programs have not yet been scientifically studied, the new advice is far from being complete, leaving out a lot of shows that appeal to kids. Some of the shows that attract a lot of children are actually being programmed to adults.
‘Children leave kids programs more and more early,’ says ZDF’s Susanne MŸller. A new poll of 1,600 children between eight and 15 years recently found out that these young viewers spend only 20 percent of their viewing time in front of programming made for them. About 80 percent of the time, they watch shows that are also programmed to adults or only aimed at an adult audience. In the first six months of 1997, the top 10 TV hits of kids age three to 13 were without exception shows that aired during prime time (after 8 p.m.), including movies Eine Familie namens Beethoven or Tom und Jerry – der Film or Wetten, da§…?, the most popular German TV show.
‘With kids programming, we now only reach the children up to the age of nine years,’ says Susanne Schosser of Super RTL. ‘After that, they already start to be interested in series like Akte X.’
Market share in kids TV
The following are market share figures from July 1997 in German cable households with children age three to 13, measured from Monday to Sunday from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Super RTL 15.3%
RTL 2 12.5%
ARD + ARD III 11.7%
Kabel 1 3.2%
The figures below differ from the measurement of a full program day (24 hours) in all TV households. Since the Kinderkanal only airs until 7 p.m. and not in all households, it does not publish its market share figures on this basis. The market share of other broadcasters was measured in June (kids age three to 13, Monday to Sunday, 3 a.m to 3 a.m.). RTL takes over the second place, and SAT 1 has a high percentage, though it offers kids programs only on weekends.
Super RTL 12.9%
RTL 2 10.0%
ARD + ARD III 8.1%
SAT 1 7.1%
Kabel 1 3.6%
*TELECASTING FROM 6 A.M. TO 8 P.M.