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 new series features friendly faced Skippy dressed in a vest, trendy baggy pants and a baseball cap. He’s Bushtown’s park ranger, and action ensues when he fights the evil schemes of the mayor, Croco the crocodile, and his wife, Suka. Skippy’s friends include Matilda the kangaroo, who is a journalist, and a pelican named Professor Angus McPouch.
Yoram Gross-Village Roadshow, Australia
Télé Images, France
How the partnership began:
It’s been 29 years since Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, a live-action series created by Australia’s Fauna Productions, was introduced to television. In that time, the merry marsupial has become a national icon in the land down under, and the program has aired in 84 countries.
After acquiring the rights to the property from Fauna Productions and Australia’s Nine Network in 1994, Yoram Gross begins looking for international partners to work on a new animated series that would be aimed at seven- to 11-year-olds.
After examining story scripts and character design, VIDEAL of Germany, a broadcast investor in animation, films and documentaries, signs on in November to bankroll 25 percent of the AUS$9.7-million project and take a share of the copyright. VIDEAL was no stranger to the Yoram Gross team. It had previous dealings with them when it invested in Blinky Bill’s Extraordinary Excursion, a 1994-95 studio project. The company comes on board as an investor for the second half of the 52 episodes that are created. ‘We had a good working relationship with Yoram Gross when we were involved with them on Blinky Bill, so we were fairly confident going into this project,’ says Claire Sivewright, head of business development at VIDEAL’s London office.
The company also approaches Télé Images to co-produce the animated project. The Paris-based investor and distributor was already involved in distributing Nine Network’s 1990s remake of the original live-action series, The New Adventures of Skippy. Télé Images also comes in as a 25 percent investor and, with the exception of German-speaking regions, Scandinavia, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Spain, receives worldwide distribution rights.
‘It made sense that we turn to Télé Images because they were already familiar with the character,’ says Tim Brooke-Hunt, director of marketing and business affairs at Yoram Gross-Village Roadshow. ‘They also have a solid reputation as a distributor.’
The three-way partnership structure crystalizes at NATPE and the final agreements are all signed by June. This includes distribution agreements with EM-Entertainment (now EM.TV & Merchandising) of Munich to cover German-speaking and Scandinavian regions, and LUK Internacional of Barcelona to oversee Spain. The 1994 rights agreement gave Yoram Gross control over distribution in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.
‘We had three compatible partners,’ says Brooke-Hunt. ‘That was very important to us because Skippy is an Australian icon, and we didn’t want what we were doing to take away from that.’
Yoram Gross maintains a 35 percent share; Nine Network, 15 percent; and VIDEAL and Télé Images, 25 percent each.
VIDEAL is eager to participate because the Skippy character is not only easily identifiable, but consistent with the investor’s philosophy. ‘We have a fairly conservative group of private investors,’ says Sivewright. ‘We wanted to support something that was wholesome and had family appeal.’
‘At first, we wanted to animate the original concept of one animal and two humans in the show,’ says Brooke-Hunt. ‘But then we didn’t think it would work too well, so we came up with the park ranger storyline.’
The new cast of characters is also better received by the partners, and allows for a stronger merchandising program in the future. Yoram Gross-Village Roadshow and its partners have plans for a host of licensed products featuring the animated characters.
‘We are in the process of developing an international style guide,’ says Brooke-Hunt. ‘That’s one of the reasons why we thought an animated Skippy would work well.’
In addition to Nine Network, TF1 and Canal J, both based in France, agree to run the series next year. Production begins.
Yoram Gross-Village Roadshow, Télé Images and VIDEAL are hosting a lunch to introduce Skippy’s Adventures in Bushtown at MIPCOM Junior. The 26 half-hour episodes will be delivered to broadcasters in April 1998. Yoram Gross continues to negotiate with additional networks to broadcast the new series.
Evaluating the Partnership
‘It’s not only about us being compatible with each partner, but that the partners are compatible with each other,’ says Brooke-Hunt. ‘It’s worked well in our case.’
Since this was VIDEAL’s second partnership with Yoram Gross, there were few surprises. According to Sivewright, maintaining positive relationships in the industry can be a challenge, so the company would not have entered into another agreement had the original partnership not been good to begin with.
‘The only way to truly judge is to have had personal experience,’ she says. ‘We went through the same evaluation process with Skippy as we did with Blinky Bill, and we were pleased with what we saw.’