One of the biggest misconceptions about Latin America is that it is a homogenous Spanish-speaking market. But according to children’s programming experts in the region, its cultural subtleties are as varied as those found throughout Europe.
‘Northern Latin American countries have a greater familiarity with Western culture than a country like Argentina, for example,’ says Tatiana Rodriguez, head of programming for Nickelodeon Latin America. ‘They are more open to live-action programs, whereas the southern regions are sensitive to shows that are not spoken in their own regional dialects.’ As a result, animated programs do better in Argentina because viewers prefer to see animated characters speaking a neutral Spanish, rather than real people.
The multicultural nature of North America means that shows often include Chinese and African Americans, as well as other characters that provide a cross-section of the community. But this type of programming doesn’t hold the same importance to Latin American viewers.
‘These shows seem to have a tougher time in places like Chile and Argentina,’ says Brian Lacey, president of New York-based Lacey Entertainment, whose company distributes animated children’s shows such as Voltron (Worldwide Events), Mr. Men (Marina Productions) and the Japanese series Pokémon (4Kids Productions produces the English-language version). ‘They do not relate to this kind of diversity the way we do in North America, and they appear to be more comfortable with shows where the characters are from one culture.’
Humor varies from region to region, and what’s funny in Mexico is not necessarily funny in Argentina, says Steve Grieder, VP creative director at Nickelodeon Latin America. ‘It’s best to focus on universally humorous things like physical comedy because it works with a varied audience,’ he says. ‘Animation that uses a lot of slapstick comedy is especially popular, but anything that makes even the most obvious cultural reference to something North American is alienating to audiences.’
In addition to the subtle differences among countries in this region, there are some general similarities. Programs that focus on traditional family life in which mothers are caregivers and fathers are wage earners are popular. Shows that challenge this perpective, like a series in which the main character is a girl on a boys soccer team, are likely to have trouble attracting networks. The ‘girl power’ movement is big in North America and Europe, but Latin American broadcasters are not yet comfortable with the concept, says Lisa Hryniewicz, managing director of Salsa Distribution, a Paris-based distributor that sells exclusively to Latin America.
‘Family-focused shows do even better if there is a moral lesson at the end,’ she says. ‘There is also a real sensitivity to violence, more so than what you’d find with U.S. audiences.’
When a kids program does make it to air in Latin America, chances are that it will have a long life. North American shows often skew older-cartoons targeted to six- to nine-year-olds in the U.S. will likely be watched by kids as old as 12. As well, Latin American audiences, particularly in the south, are not exposed to as much television programming as viewers in Western markets, so they tend to maintain an interest in programs for longer periods of time.
Who to pitch in
There are dozens of smaller terrestrial networks throughout Latin America that carry several hours of children’s programming during the day. Their schedules and requirements vary widely. Below are some of the major buyers in the region.
Cartoon Network Latin America
This cable channel generally targets children under age 12 with animated programming, although Latin American audiences often skew older. The majority of the channel’s shows are its signature North American shows that are translated into neutral Spanish. Cartoon Network also acquires European programming.
The largest terrestrial network in Mexico, it runs both animation and live action during daytime children’s programming slots, although it broadcasts mostly animation. The amount of time devoted to children’s programming averages two hours a day. Televisa carries both local and international programs, and produces its own version of Sesame Street called Plaza Sesamo.
The second largest terrestrial network in Mexico. It carries a mix of animation and live-action daytime programming from local and international producers. The network favors animation, and is always looking for new programs.
Discovery Kids Latin America
A specialty cable channel that runs mostly live action. Programs are generally educational in nature, and are targeted at kids under age 13 and their families. The channel tends to acquire magazine-style programming, and shows relating to science, the environment and real-world issues.
Nickelodeon Latin America
The year-old cable channel, which reaches nearly five million homes in the region, runs an equal amount of animation and live-action programs targeting children under age 12. The channel broadcasts its signature Nickelodeon programs, but is always looking for programs that suit Latin American audiences. Animation is a more successful genre for Nickelodeon’s target audience.
A Mexican children’s programming pay television channel. It runs local and international shows, both animation and live action, although animation is preferred.