Special Report on NATPE: Selling kids shows to Latin America: Salsa Distribution’s Lisa Hryniewicz describes how Salsa filled a niche with children’s programming in the Latin American market

NATPE has come a long way since it opened 35 years ago with 71 attendees. Last year, close to 17,000 people came to New Orleans from around the world, making NATPE arguably the largest stop on the fast-paced international television market...
January 1, 1998

NATPE has come a long way since it opened 35 years ago with 71 attendees. Last year, close to 17,000 people came to New Orleans from around the world, making NATPE arguably the largest stop on the fast-paced international television market circuit. KidScreen’s special report on NATPE looks at how the once mostly American television market has grown with the expanding television industry to represent a truly global perspective, including, especially in recent years, a greater Latin American presence.

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When people ask me what I do for a living, it really seems like a dream. I live in Paris, travel to Latin America and watch cartoons all day. That is really what it’s like to sell children’s programming in Latin America. It sounds really simple, right? Wrong.

I started in the business of selling children’s programming to Latin America about six years ago. At the time, my company was the only one that sold strictly European programming exclusively to Latin America, from Europe. I was able to fill an interesting and burgeoning void in the market.

I decided to focus on children’s programming for two main reasons: the first, I love it, and the second, Latin American television tastes.

Latin viewers are probably one of the audiences most influenced by American culture in the world. From the very beginning of TV development in Latin America, the U.S. has had a strong influence in the region with financing, equipment and providing the bulk of programming fodder. U.S. networks have interests so large in the stations themselves that you could virtually call it ‘ownership.’

Also, the proximity of the U.S., as well as the enormous cultural, financial and social traffic between North and South America makes American the number two culture throughout the continent. Latins are very familiar and comfortable with the U.S. and want to see what’s going on ‘al Norte.’

With this scenario in mind, I felt the best way to compete with American programs was to focus on programming produced in Europe that was excellent in quality, and not live action and therefore, not dependent on actor recognition. (Let’s face it, the hugely popular and successful Helen from the French super-hit Helen and the Boys is not exactly a household name in Paraguay. But any 10-year-old boy can tell you who J.R. is.)

The logical choice was to focus on animation. I started knocking on doors and luckily ended up with some of the best children’s companies in Europe. Lucy Ellson at King Rollo Films was the first person to give me a chance, and soon after I lucked out with the likes of S4C, Ravensburger and Link. Eventually, Cathy Laughton at Jim Henson Productions called me and I thought I had died and gone to heaven-Kermit the Frog, my childhood idol, was to be my client!

The consumption of children’s programming in Latin America is huge. It’s no secret that there are scores of pan-regional channels flowing into the area that are 24-hour kids biz, such as Discovery Kids, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Locomotion, Zaz, Fox Kids and so on. The demand is huge. Even before the influx of these pan-regionals, almost all terrestrial stations offered large blocks of kids programming all week long. Although there is a lot of local production of telenovellas, sitcoms and variety shows, there is little children’s programming, resulting in a high percentage of imported programs.

Salsa has become extremely successful selling children’s programs in Latin America. By successful, I mean that our programs are airing on, literally, every single pan-regional kids channel in the region, as well as in every individual country on the continent; and our clients are ‘serial clients’-they always come back for more. However, it is interesting to note that these channels have different focuses, different slices of audience, different themes, different styles, which amounts to a demand for a large volume of different kinds of programming.

I can hear sellers cheering already. But not so fast. A large demand for a wide variety of children’s programs in Latin America does not mean that any old programming can get on the air. So what is the key to success and how do you get loyal, return clients in Latin America?

There are several that apply to all markets, such as good service, good value and good quality. Specifically, it is very important to understand the need and tastes of each country (and it’s not just one!), and to respect those tastes by providing good- quality programs within the genre.

For example, for a channel like Discovery Kids that likes educational programs and also likes puppetry, the obvious choices would be Jim Henson’s Animal Show and Fraggle Rock-programs that are top-of-the-line within their category. However, on the other end of the spectrum in terms of style, there is a craze in many Latin markets for Japanese animation. Many sellers have responded to this demand by buying anything Japanese and inexpensive, and selling it without even checking if the characters are fully animated or even fully dressed.

We wanted to fill this demand as well, so we selected a Japanese series that had the elements that mesmerize children-action, and most importantly, very strong and often intricate storylines-without compromising the quality or our self-imposed censorship of violence. The result has been outstanding with both Thunder Jets, an action-packed yet nonviolent futuristic adventure series with truly beautiful artwork, as well as The Trapp Family Singers, a beautifully animated version of The Sound of Music.

Choosing the right programs and knowing the tastes of our buyers have been paramount in giving Salsa such a successful first year.

Lisa Hryniewicz is the managing director of Salsa Distribution, a Paris, France-based distribution company that sells television programming exclusively to Latin America.

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