Surveying the satellite kids networks in Latin America, buyers say they are interested in acquiring locally produced fare, but it’s extremely scarce.
‘The economics of the region cannot sustain an animation industry,’ explains Andrew Berman, the L.A.-based director of international sales for Tokyo’s TMS, which sells Japanese animation in Latin America. ‘Unlike Europe, there’s really not a lot of locally produced animated product available.’
One local kids show cited by numerous buyers is the high-quality Chiquititas live-action, half-hour series, a Telefe, Argentina production that is available as a format to regional broadcasters (including SBT in Brazil), who then adapt the series for local audiences. More than 350 episodes of the show have been produced, and a new season is currently in production.
According to Tatiana Rodriguez, director of programming and acquisitions for Nickelodeon Latin America, a major deterrent to indigenous production is the fact that local content quotients are not enforced. While Mexico requires both broadcasters’ and cablers’ programming to be comprised of 20% local content, she says loopholes allow most networks and channels to get around this stipulation by dubbing locally and uplinking via satellite.
Although independent kids studios are scarce in Latin America, Discovery Kids has made indigenous in-roads via co-producing original Spanish-language series locally. Scouts En Accion, a 10 X 30-minute, live-action docusoap that airs in July, was filmed in December `98 at the first-ever Latin American boy scout jamboree in Chile, in conjunction with Chilean production company Nueva Imagen. Another recent local co-pro that debuted on DK last month is Acceso Total, a 26 x half-hour magazine show that takes kids behind the scenes in the entertainment biz, from the Barnum & Bailey Circus to the comic book industry. The series was shot in Mexico and L.A.
Other Discovery Kids co-productions include Ciberkids, a half-hour series featuring Latin American kid reporters exploring the world of video games, computers and the Internet, and Paleokids, a paleontology show for the younger set.
The focus on co-pros represents a conscious effort by the kids net to up its level of original production to 30%, according to Rick Rodriguez, VP of programming, Discovery Networks, Latin America/Iberia. All four original series are being offered as part of a one-hour branded block called Discovery Kids Adventure Hour, which is for sale to Latin American broadcasters. The block doesn’t represent a threat to Discovery Kids Channel since DK is on cable, and cable penetration in Latin America is not high (50% in Argentina and 10% in Mexico).
In terms of acquisitions, Ryan Shiotani, director of programming and acquisitions for Discovery Networks Latin America/Iberia, looks for series with Latin American relevance (such as Plaza Sesamo, a CTW/Televisa Spanish-language version of Sesame Street that was produced in Mexico), as well as live-action adventure series like CTW’s Ghostwriter.
International networks that need to round out their animation schedules in Latin America tend to be open to acquiring outside product. Tatiana Rodriguez says that while nearly 75% of Nick Latin America’s slate is original Nick product, she combs all the markets, including L.A. Screenings, to make sure she doesn’t miss compelling material.
Recently, Rodriguez snapped up Three Friends and Jerry (from Happy Life/Nick UK/TMO-Loonland), Nelvana’s Flying Rhino Junior High and Scholastic’s Animorphs. Currently, she’s looking to boost the channel’s slate of live-action fare. ‘Some [domestic Nick live-action series] are very specific to the U.S.,’ she notes. When hunting for non-animated fare, Rodriguez hopes to find product that will score high with focus groups, where local kids’ tastes are put to the test. Nick’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? live-action series, for example, ‘got a very strong reaction from kids in Latin America,’ Rodriguez notes.
Probably the leader in live-action programming, Fox Kids Latin America doesn’t have to boost its slate in the genre, with the number-one performing Goosebumps, plus Eerie, Indiana and The Adventures of Shirley Holmes setting the pace for kids live action in the region. Mary Ann Halford, senior VP and GM at Fox Kids Latin America, named live-action series Wishbone as her most successful recent acquisition.
Halford says she looks for complementary product in three categories: mystery, adventure and comedy. ‘We also coordinate our acquisitions with Fox Kids in European countries to create buying synergies,’ she notes. Halford adds that since much of Fox Kids product is from Saban, it was developed with the international marketplace in mind.
The web’s indigenous production is limited at the moment to interstitial programming in three formats, using local kids from the broadcast regions as cast members: Fox Kids News, Fox Kids Sports and Fox Kids Hollywood.
Another in-house-heavy network, Cartoon Network Latin America focuses its acquisitions strategy on finding product that will ‘flow’ with the Turner library fare and original series. Hits at the moment include Cartoon Network’s own The Powerpuff Girls, Ed, Edd n Eddy, as well as returning series Cow and Chicken and Johnny Bravo. The strength and freshness of this original fare makes acquisitions more difficult, says Cindy Kerr, president of programming for Cartoon Network Latin America.
‘It is very difficult to find product that is similar to what we broadcast,’ Kerr notes. However, purchases such as Toronto-based Decode Entertainment’s Freaky Stories demonstrate the edginess and humor which are even more important to Cartoon Network Latin America than domestically, due to a significant 25- to 36-year-old audience component. ‘In Latin America, there are more adult viewers who watch with their kids-for family bonding,’ Kerr says. ‘In the U.S., our adult viewers are more of the avid cartoon-lovers,’ she adds. Acquisitions that have recently made their way onto Cartoon Latin America include Columbia Tristar’s Godzilla, Barcelona-based Cromosoma’s The Bored Witch and Nelvana’s Ned’s Newt and Franklin.
Locomotion, a 24-hour animation channel broadcast to 27 countries, presents a more open-minded format than the indigenous networks and the internationals in the region, says TMS’s Berman, due in part to the fact that the network targets a whole variety of demos in different timeslots. For instance, Locomotion picked up Cliff Hanger, an edgy Japanese animated comedy centering around a gang of jewelry thieves, to air in a block that targets teens.