A dual buying challenge exists for Carole Bonneau, director of programming for Toronto-based, 24-hour cartoon network Teletoon. The Canadian net is comprised of both a French-language and an English-language network; each program acquisition has to air in both language feeds. ‘It’s one of the difficulties of my job,’ Bonneau says. ‘A product has to work for both markets.’ Teletoon is owned by four shareholders: Canada’s Family Channel, Nelvana, Cinar and YTV.
One of the first employees at the two-year-old animation network, Bonneau previously worked as head of communications at TVOntario, and at Sullivan Entertainment. Currently, Bonneau is in charge of all Teletoon acquisitions, which total around 1,100 half hours a year. Of the network’s total 336 half-hour week, kids programming comprises 210 of those slots, scheduled daily from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. Preschool blocks air from early morning until 3 p.m. on weekdays, and until 8 a.m. on weekends, followed by programming for kids ages six to 12 until 7 p.m. daily. A family block airs from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., followed by adult animated fare.
Bonneau says that Teletoon has reached the position of number one specialty channel in the French market and number two specialty channel in the English market by differentiating itself with comedy programming. ‘After the first year, we saw that the thing that was working for us was funny stuff,’ Bonneau notes, citing Cartoon Network pick-ups Cow and Chicken and Johnny Bravo as the building blocks of Teletoon’s brand identity and slogan, ‘Teletoon-it’s unreal.’
A recent acquisition from Montreal’s Ciné-Groupe that exemplifies Teletoon’s emerging brand is Bad Dog, an animated comedy that fits the network’s dual-language bill. Inspired by the hit After Dark Screen Saver software, the half-hour series features an overly obedient canine hero, Berkeley, who takes everything humans say quite literally, (including figures of speech like ‘bury the hatchet’), putting an Amelia Bedelia spin on it. Bonneau picked up Bad Dog for her standard license fee, which ranges from US$2,300 to US$4,000 for Canadian product, and is following her initial 13-episode purchase with an order for 26 additional half hours. (Teletoon pays from US$3,000 to US$5,000 for U.S. and non-North American product.)
‘We don’t compete [price-wise] to acquire the hot titles. We have to be more creative than that,’ Bonneau admits, citing the network’s modest fees compared to those of YTV (which, as a basic service, reaches seven million viewers, as compared to Teletoon’s four million) as the reason. ‘We’re a specialty channel, and YTV has ten times our budget,’ she notes. Bonneau says financial restrictions also necessitate straight acquisitions rather than pre-buys.
Teletoon’s co-production budget allows for 143 half hours of original, co-produced product this year, or roughly five to 10 series. The network has no output deals with studios.
Bonneau’s acquisition of product from outside producers is a necessity, dictated by Teletoon’s CRTC license agreement. Conditions of the license mandated the network to launch with a maximum of 25% of its programming coming from the shareholders (Cinar, Nelvana, YTV and the Family Channel). Another stipulation requires that amount to decrease by 5% each year, in order to encourage growth in the overall Canadian animation business. Today, 45% of Teletoon’s slate must come from non-affiliated Canadian producers, increasing to 50% by its seventh year of operation. Non-Canadian product currently makes up 45% percent of Teletoon’s programming.
With this mandated increase in Canadian programming, plus a CRTC requirement that 25% of the network’s schedule from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. be comprised of non-North American product, the days of Teletoon’s reliance on American comedy product from Cartoon Network and the Warner Bros. library may be numbered. ‘As Canadian content increases, American content is decreasing,’ notes Bonneau, adding that product such as Bad Dog-which is Canadian but captures the right ‘distinct originality’ she looks for-will fill the gap going forward.
Probably the biggest distinction between Teletoon and its competitors, such as YTV, is the fact that the cartoon network programs to every age group. ‘Because it’s all animation, [the audience] thinks it’s for children, but. . . after 9 p.m., we program for an adult audience-that’s just starting to sink in,’ says Bonneau.
The network also seeks to offer product spanning diverse animation techniques. Series Bonneau has added to meet this goal include Teletoon’s first 3-D toon Voltron: The Third Dimension, which launched in March. She says this series and other innovative fare, such as performance-animated Donkey Kong, are sought by the network in an effort to go beyond the traditional cel look. ‘We’re looking for different forms such as computer and clay animation to see if that will work for us,’ Bonneau notes.