MADRID: In September, Spain will welcome two new children’s channels: the Spanish version of The Cartoon Network, and Megatrix, promoted by terrestrial broadcaster Antena 3.
U.S.-based Turner Broadcasting System opened an office in Madrid and recruited a staff of about 15 people from the region to create a local version of Cartoon Network, which, in addition to airing library fare, is intended to include Spanish productions and trigger its own original programs. The channel is being distributed by the leading digital satellite platform, Canal Satellite Digital, with 715,000 subscribers.
The Cartoon Network (already present in Spain since 1997 as a European feed) will air 24-hour programming based on classic cartoons from Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros. like Scooby-Doo and Tom & Jerry, as well as series like Batman and Tazmania and new productions like Johnny Bravo and Cow and Chicken. The channel will also rely on Spanish animation and local quiz shows and games to capture a local kid audience. ‘We are in talks with the most important Spanish animation production companies. Spain makes very good children’s productions and we are looking for the best stuff,’ says Stephen Johnstone, director of the Cartoon Network in Spain. Other European productions are not ruled out, however, they would not represent a large percentage of Cartoon Spain’s lineup because, as Johnstone says, ‘we do not want the channel to lose its U.S. identity either.’
Johnstone goes on to say, ‘Spaniards know how to enjoy themselves and this channel is pure fun entertainment. That is why we want to include a touch of humor and local programming to be closer to people.’
The channel is intended to become an interactive endeavor garnering ongoing feedback with its viewers. The launch of a children’s Web site is also being studied. Since the Cartoon Network is mainly targeted at kids but tries to capture all ages, Johnstone explains that its audience niche is larger in Spain because, in his opinion, ‘Spaniards are not afraid to admit that they have a kid in themselves and like this kind of programming.’ Cartoon Network is working out a schedule to face the audience challenge with different slots dedicated to a particular viewership, depending on the time of the day.
To a certain extent, this programming strategy is similar to the one planned by Megatrix. Commercial TV, Antena 3 TV, is currently working on this children’s thematic channel (the third one launched by Antena 3 following Canal Campero and the teleshopping venture Punto de Venta) to be launched by the end of September or at the beginning of October. Megatrix will be distributed in Spain by the second Spanish digital satellite platform Via Digital (286,000 subscribers) and through cable networks. It will also be offered in Latin America through satellite Hispasat and cable, mainly in Argentina, Chile and Peru. Antena 3 is in talks with several possible partners to jointly produce the channel, among them are NBC and Canada’s Cinar, part owner of Teletoon.
With an initial investment of more than US$3.1 million, Megatrix will air a 17-hour programming wheel from 7 a.m. to midnight that will include kids series, animation, quiz shows, films and entertainment shows with a focus on audience participation. Its programming will contain a high percentage of local shows, although most of its series and films will be externally produced. Jose Diaz Arguelles, director of Antena 3 Tematica, in charge of this project, did not disclose the percentage of national/international productions. The schedule will be divided into dedicated blocks; thus, first morning slots (from 7 a.m. to around 9 a.m. or 10 a.m.) and an afternoon slot from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. will be for preschoolers; morning and afternoon slots until 2 p.m. during the summer months will be dedicated to children ages five to 10; afternoon slots until 9 p.m. are for the up to 12 set; and from 9 p.m. through to midnight is for an audience from 12 to 24. During the school year, afternoon slots until 8:30 p.m. will be dedicated to children ages five to 12.
Antena 3«s executives think that the channel is going to be ‘very successful because we have found out that there is an important niche to cover.’ The channel will take the name of the Antena 3«s currently successful daily Club Megatrix programming block that has been on air over the last four years. This daypart (which in summer airs six hours daily from 7 a.m to 1 p.m.) is leading the children’s audience ratings in Spain with an average share of 25.1% (in June `99), an average share of 38.4% amongst children ages four to 12, and 43.4% among those ages 13 to 24. Club Megatrix has 700,000 (kid) partners and apart from its daily programming, it offers its viewers a magazine and gives them bonus points to exchange for gifts. The idea of launching a thematic children’s channel emerged as a result of its success. The channel Megatrix is intended to have a Web site and be an interactive media to all its viewers.