As new players jump into the business of selling chunks of kids TV shows under their own brand umbrella-in tandem with existing players continuing to announce program block sales in new territories, not to mention the Noggin blocks skedded on Nick-you have to frequently wonder how the economics of selling individual shows does not become an obsolete model. (see ‘Where the blocks are,’ page 96.) No wonder so many show creators are looking to the Net and convergence, hoping for revenue and reach as TV slot options narrow with each single-supplier program package deal signed (which themselves fall prey to vertical integration).
Fortunately for those outside the program block action, not all programmers buy into block theology, and even if they do, new block contenders who do not have studio-sized libraries at their disposal can open some doors for indies.
Program blocks are a love/hate thing-with those who sell and buy them largely in the love camp, and with those who aren’t decrying them as a lazy way to program. Kid TV vets argue that while kids recognize and flock to specific networks, and just as quickly migrate to wherever they can catch their fave shows, the brand lure phenomenon doesn’t extend in the same compelling way to blocks. Unless the block packaging itself offers irresistible content, the block model is really most attractive to the packager.
Since there are many broadcasters who would not consider picking up a block unless the brand name was intrinsically strong enough to grow their kid audience, the impact on the international TV market of newcomers joining the realm of the big brand-name block purveyors is pooh-poohed by some as negliglible. However, the proliferation of kids programming options means that for every territory where there are broadcasters who would only be interested in a studio block, or who would not want a block brand to compete with their own brand, there is likely a channel not in the same position of strength that might well consider a block from a newbie. (see ‘New players on the kids programming block scene,’ page 94.)
Whatever the market may bear in terms of block expansion, the impact for other distributors trying to get new shows on air is that the funnel tightens in every territory that embraces blocks. Given the difficulties inherent in finding broadcasters and funding for new original shows, many companies continue to sweeten the odds by picking old favorites that partners in the property’s home country will have a soft spot for, to the point that outside studio and kidnet circles, original made-for-TV TV is rarer in relation to the volume of repurposing.
Since production funding requires many partners, originally premised kids series face a bit of a Catch-22. They are properties whose value lies in the originality of the creator’s vision, and are least likely to command a deal structure that retains one-party editorial authority. Creative freedom is a factor behind a lot of originally premised material test-piloting on the Web, ultimately seeking a broadcast home.
Ironically, by dint of its sponsorship deal with Hasbro, block newcomer itsy bitsy has secured a broadcast platform for many short European series in the U.S. (home turf of the major global block players). Indeed, some of the British short series in the block are being eyeballed for stand-alone potential. The financial model that made it possible is a throwback to TV’s early days, when toon producers pitched their shows to ad agencies for cereal ‘presented by’ sponsorship. The dark side? That like last decade’s downward spiraling license fees, this bring-your-own-revenue-stream model becomes the new norm. The structure of the kids TV market seems to force indies to increasingly put more original thinking and creative focus into innovative distribution scenarios than into fresh content. Web business models also typically call for sponsorship. And last count, there weren’t enough Hasbros to go around.