With Canada’s leading kids network, YTV, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and the growing popularity of recently launched cartoon specialty channel Teletoon and preschool channel Treehouse TV, the competition for kids programming has kicked into high gear. And how are Canadian public broadcasters, the longtime champions of noncommercial, educational kids programming faring in this heated battle?
‘That sort of fragmentation puts increased pressure on us to maintain the audience numbers,’ says Adrian Mills, CBC’s creative head of children’s, youth and daytime. ‘As there’s more choice for children, it’s easier for them to move to other networks.’
The CBC has added an extra hour each weekday of kids programming this season, introduced two new CBC Playground hosts who perform on a 3-D virtual set, and increased its children’s programming budget (for an undisclosed amount). Mills says that signals a clear priority with the CBC.
Among the new shows on the CBC Playground, a hosted programming block for preschoolers that runs from 8:30 a.m. to noon weekdays and from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Saturdays, are Arthur (Cinar/WGBH), The Babaloos (Cinar/France Animation), Rolie Polie Olie (Nelvana) and Noddy (Catalyst Entertainment in association with BBC Worldwide Americas, the Enid Blyton Company, TVOntario, and with the participation of CBC Television).
The CBC Playground weekday programming block from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. received a 27% share for the 1997-98 season, up from 22% the previous year. ‘The Playground development was done over time,’ says CBC spokesperson Ruth Ellen Soles. ‘These things always take time to pick up steam, for the audience to find it. This last season was a culmination of good planning, good programming, word of mouth and time for it to develop.’
The new fall slate of Ontario’s regional public broadcaster, TVOntario (TVO), which runs 10.5 hours of kids programming per day, includes The Adventures of Spot (King Rollo Films), Animal Alphabet (Partridge Films and Adams Wooding Television), Baby Animals (Dorling Kindersley Vision) and MAXimum Dimension (Owl/SDA Productions).
While the provincial government committed Cdn$48 million (US$31.2 million) to TVO’s April 1, 1998 to March 31, 1999 operating budget for TVO and TFO, its French sister station, TVO won’t disclose its children’s programming budget. The network, however, has to rely on government funding, and has recently suffered a series of budget cuts.
Despite that, ‘we do very, very well in this market,’ says Pat Ellingson, acting head of children’s programming at TVO.
For example, TVO’s weekday afternoon programming block, Crawl Space, which airs from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., and is targeted at two- to 11-year-olds, gets a 30% share of the market.
‘What we can’t do from that, as the privates can,’ Ellingson comments, ‘is turn that into commercial dollars.’
That calls for strategy. ‘In the programming area,’ says Ellingson, ‘it’s trying to buy right, buy smart, buy early enough so that you can be the broadcaster that gets there first, and some of it is getting there first.’