As children’s services such as Nickelodeon, Fox Kids and Disney Channel expand worldwide, they are discovering what local children’s programmers have long known: tailoring to the local market is a key to maintaining a competitive edge. Local programmers are drawing on this wisdom as they face competition from international kids services in their territories.
‘The way forward for the BBC is to make more programs that are British and distinctive and different,’ says Roy Thompson, head of children’s commissioning at BBC Television. Supporting this course of action is the fact that BBC’s strongest children’s programming block, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday on BBC 1, has no acquisitions at all, but airs such BBC shows as a comedy called Chucklevision, a daily news update called Newsround and the 40-year-old magazine program Blue Peter.
For an older audience of teens, the U.K.’s Trouble applies the same concept. ‘The branding of the channel is very British,’ says Amelia Johnson, Trouble’s acting head of programming. British teenagers appear in the channel’s original programming, for example, transforming a friend’s image with the help of professional stylists in On the Make or sharing extraordinary experiences in What a Life. ‘That’s one way we can address the competition,’ says Johnson.
Another way is by targeting the older, underserved teen and young adult audience. This month, Trouble is extending to a 13-hour-a-day service (see story page 34). ‘The [age] four to nine kids market in particular has become hugely competitive,’ she says. ‘It certainly made sense from Trouble’s point of view to extend its service and become a fully fledged channel because there isn’t the same sort of competition in the marketplace for teenagers.’
‘[A channel] has to have an identity,’ says Natalie Altmann, head of children’s programs at private French broadcaster M6. ‘And I think it’s really the in-house productions that make the difference.’ M6 has received high ratings and lots of viewer mail for its in-house shows M6 Kid and M6 Kid Atelier, both of which feature host Nathalie Vincent. ‘Having a host is very important in our eyes because you have the human contact,’ says Altmann. Despite the arrival of Fox Kids and Disney Channel on cable and satellite last year, M6′s ratings and share improved in 1997 over 1996.
In France, because the cable and satellite markets are early in their development, Altmann believes that terrestrial broadcasters such as M6 are in a better position to produce original programs because they have larger audiences. These higher numbers give them stronger financial foundations to invest in creating their own shows or co-productions. International services tend to rely on their catalogues and on acquired programs in the beginning, which can lead to showing programs that have already aired on over-the-air channels.
‘We are focused on the French heroes first,’ such as Astérix and Spirou, says André de Semlyen, head of acquisitions at the year-old French animation service Teletoon. ‘This was also a simple way to get into the French market and to appeal to kids and parents with figures or characters they know.’ When choosing programming, Teletoon benefits from the large volume of children’s programming created by French producers. ‘We’re producing in France over 300 hours of animation per year,’ he says. As well, Teletoon has been able to fill its schedule with popular foreign programs, such as Spider-Man, for which TF1 has bought exclusive rights for France, preventing newly launched Fox Kids from airing the series.
The BBC operates in a more cooperative fashion with its international competitors. It shares rights to shows including Rugrats with Nickelodeon UK and Goosebumps with Fox Kids, windowing the programs during different day parts from the international services. Its two-hour preschool block runs on Nickelodeon UK as CBBC on Nick. And, in an unprecedented move, the BBC is partnering with Disney Channel in the U.K. to co-produce a live-action drama called Microsoap.
Still, says Theresa Plummer-Andrews, head of children’s acquisitions and creative development at the BBC, ‘there’s no point in us ending up looking like the international services that are coming in. . . . We have to be distinctive. Children have to know where they are.’ BBC tries to distinguish itself by offering a mix of programming for children, including animation, live-action dramas, daily news, documentaries and magazine shows.
In Germany, competition from Nickelodeon, which launched as a commercial service in Germany in 1995, has had a positive impact on public broadcaster ZDF. ‘We learned a lot about the quality of our own programs,’ says Alice Ammermann, head of children’s programming department two at ZDF. As well, it has found that parents and kids appreciate its non-violent, advertising-free environment for children’s programming.
The competition has also made ZDF more aware of the need to work with partners, such as book publishers, around a television series. ‘In the past, we did so, but not very often. It was more a coincidence,’ says Ammermann. ‘Now, we try to organize it with the start of our programs or earlier.’
The next step for the BBC is to add more on-line connections to its children’s shows, says Thompson. The BBC has a Web site, but only a few of its kids shows are tied in.
As well as venturing into new areas, such as the Internet, some local kids programmers are increasing their levels of programming for kids, despite the new competition from international services. The BBC opened morning slots for kids shows on BBC 2 over the last 18 months, and M6 expanded its Wednesday afternoon lineup and added a half-hour slot every other weekday in 1997.
And while international services are entering markets around the world thanks to new cable and satellite outlets, local programmers are also taking advantage of these new venues. Germany’s two public broadcasters, ZDF and ARD, teamed up to launch the all-day kids service Kinderkanal in January 1997. M6 and TF1, among a group of shareholders, kicked off Teletoon at the same time last year, starting two months before the arrival of the first international kids service in France, Disney Channel. And Teletoon’s de Semlyen says the channel hopes to follow the lead of other international children’s services by extending outside of France.
In this report:
- Kids reality shows sell ‘edutainment’
- They’ve got the whole world in their plans
- Local programmers emphasize local character
- Sonic Underground
- Bob Morane
- The Myth Men: Guardians of the Legend
- Mumble Bumble
- Fix & Foxi
- Princess of the Nile
- MIP-TV Roundup