New kidcasters eyeing Israel

Kids TV in Israel is in a transitional development period, with international program sales getting in gear on the production side, and new players hovering on the broadcast front....
February 1, 1999

Kids TV in Israel is in a transitional development period, with international program sales getting in gear on the production side, and new players hovering on the broadcast front.

There was a buzz at MIPCOM over the first Israeli kids show to attract international buyers when Israel’s Noga Communications signed a breakthrough deal for its Big Bug Show. The in-house project sold to ITV for GMTV (Good Morning Television).

The international sale is welcome news to Noga, a partner in Channel 6, the country’s sole children’s channel. Noga’s only competition during the past four years is the Educational Channel (a government funded organization that airs a block of programs on Israel’s Channel 1 and Channel 2), but serious competition is right around the corner. As soon as Israel’s cable consortium and the government come to a compensation agreement, licenses for direct-to-satellite broadcasting will be awarded.

Global titans of children’s broadcasting are cued to grab a piece of the DBS pie.

Fox Kids Central Europe is aligned with Saban Israel, a company that currently distributes Saban and Fox shows in Israel. Alona Abt of Argo Films in Tel Aviv says she is also spearheading a group that wants to become a DBS network program provider. Her partner in the proposed venture is MTVS-Meimad Studios, a post production facility backed by the media giant Ze’ev Moses Group.

Abt says there are two options available for her new co-venture. One avenue is to simply become a partner for a big local channel. Branding a local channel is another route.

‘We are keen to bring over branded channels such as Nickelodeon,’ says Abt. ‘As we see it, Argo has the advantage of being flexible because we are an independent local group.’ Not only would Argo help smooth permissions to broadcast in the territory, as Israel’s top independent supplier of children’s programming, Abt says her company could ‘help on the local production front.’

Ehud Meron, president and CEO of Noga Communications, describes the DBS change as a challenge ‘to read the map and gain ground.’ The Big Bug Show sale was one small step forward, and the publicity will help establish Noga as a pioneer and potential consultant for formatting new channels.

Cable broadcasters are not sitting idly and waiting for the DBS onslaught. In addition to negotiating longer franchise agreements with the government, they are investigating the cost of implementing digital TV. Meron says cable companies are considering splitting the channels by demographic, or establishing an umbrella channel on basic cable with dedicated channels on digital.

Noga leads Israeli parade into global market

Children’s programming in Israel can by described by two letters-VJs. Young video jockeys populate the dedicated children’s channel, as well as the educational programming blocks on other stations. Local stars command top salaries, and easily make the transition into TV, movies and merchandising deals.

VJs are faces that serve as local brands. Unfortunately, VJ-driven shows do not have export value. As a result, Noga Communications developed its preschool puppet program, the Big Bug Show-a successful export-friendly bid that’s produced in segments that can run as interstitials or be packaged together as a 22-minute program. However, the series’ US$100,000 per hour cost is double what Noga normally pays for licensing independent shows. To sustain production, Ehud Meron, president and CEO of Noga, is hoping to find co-producers to assist with new episodes, and by April, the company hopes to complete 26 x 20-minute shows. ITV will air the shows as full episodes, but distributor Philippa Kowarsky says other countries are interested in buying them as interstitials.

Producing a pure puppet show for tots is also the route Alona Abt of Argo Films is taking: ‘Unlike the Big Bug Show, which is formatted to work as interstitials, Mimi and Me is a proper series, done in the old fashioned way.’

With 10 episodes under her belt and 18 more in production, Abt is hoping to make the second international sale in the history of Israeli children’s programming. She hopes Noga has paved the way: ‘I think that any sale brings a positive output in any territory.’

In the past, Abt found it impossible to sell kids series because of the live-action/animation combo, but now the VJ segments are being strategically placed at the beginning and end of the show so they can be cut from an international version.

The Educational Channel’s big breakthrough was to produce Rechov Sumsum/Shara’s Simsim, a puppet show in Hebrew and Arabic designed with the help of the creators of Sesame Street. After many false starts and production hurdles, the show is now airing on the Educational Channel and the four-year-old Palestinian channel. Rechov Sumsum/Shara’s Simsim promotes peace and cooperation between Arabs and Israelis, and producers hope it will eventually sell into other territories.

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