The news of a major merger between the U.K.’s Pearson Television and Germany’s CLT-Ufa, breaking mere days before this year’s market, left many film and TV industry pundits speculating on the deal’s fall-out while sipping kirs at the Majestic Bar. One popular topic was the US$20-billion entity’s plan to form a joint venture with Canal +. Also keeping consolidation impact in the foreground was Andrew Macbean’s mid-MIP announcement that he’s leaving ITEL to pursue a career on the stage, with some players attributing the timing of the thespian pursuits to momentum of the previously announced merger plans of the U.K.’s largest media companies, Carlton Communications and United News and Media.
Despite the consolidation theme of this year’s market, many companies took the opportunity to reveal expansion plans to tap into new arenas. Lego Media International announced the launch of a global production team that will start off co-producing TV, film and Web programming, both animated and live action, for delivery in 2001. In the longer run, Lego Media Production plans to focus on developing original multiplatform properties. The new division’s London office will be headed up by Lego vet Connie Kalcher, who will serve as VP of children’s and family programs, Europe and Asia. Kalcher will be joined by controller of European and Asia programming and strategy Vanessa Chapman, an ex-controller of children’s and family programming at ITV, and former BBC Children’s deputy head of program acquisition and animation Michael Carrington as head of acquisitions and co-productions. Kathrin Seitz, previously VP of movies at Nickelodeon, will run the new arm’s U.S. HQ in L.A. as VP of children’s programming, Americas.
Also stepping into new genres is U.K. prodco Ragdoll, of Teletubbies fame. The company has launched an animation unit and intends to create both toon series for TV and a live-action feature film over the next few years. Ragdoll is kicking the new studio into gear with a 46-minute narrated live-action/2-D show called Badjelly the Witch, based on a 1973 kids book penned by U.K. author Spike Milligan. Aiming to air as a Halloween special for eight- to 10-year-olds this year before rolling out on video in 2001, Badjelly stars two kids who band together to vanquish an evil sorceress. Ragdoll also has two new preschool series on the go.
Fox Kids Europe is stretching its reach into potentially risky waters later this year with the fall launch of a channel for the two to 14 demo via the Premiere World pay-TV service in Germany. Christophe Erbes, who served as deputy managing director and head of programming for Nickelodeon Germany, which folded in 1998, will try again in the region as managing director of the new FKE channel. Carried as part of the Family World package, Fox Kids Germany is initially expected to reach two million subscribers with a 16-hour daily sked featuring Saban library fare like Spider-Man and Inspector Gadget, as well as some regionally-specific programming.
Fox Kids Europe is also planning to debut preschool blocks on its channels in the U.K. and France starting in September. Programming lineups for the strands, which, according to executive director of programming and acquisitions Benoit Runel, will be a half hour or hour in length, are still being hammered out.
Finally, the ubiquitous Euro kidnet tapped into the Internet buzz at this year’s market by announcing an ambitious long-term Web plan that encompasses wireless platforms for which on-line hook-ups are still being developed, including mobile phones, portable video game units and broadband devices.
The short-term idea is to create a pan-European on-line community for kids by revamping each of the existing Fox Kids Web sites in Europe in two stages. The first phase, set for Q3 2000, will see the addition of entertainment and community features including games, downloadables, Webisodes, Jukebox, video on demand, chat, votes & polls and a translator service. As of Q1 2001, kid surfers will also be able to access instant messaging, multiplayer games and e-mail. This second stage makeover will also aim to make the Web community profitable by introducing virtual wallets to support the sites’ e-commerce areas, paid content initiatives for games and streaming videos, and site subscription. To implement its plan, FKE has signed key deals with: Vignette for content management; Sun for server hardware; Globix for connection to the Internet; and Real for on-line media delivery.
Following last year’s global infiltration of Pokémon, a North American programming phenom is set to invade Europe. World Wrestling Federation Entertainment has inked two multimillion-dollar distribution deals in France and Germany. Canal + will air 130 hours of ring-side fare over the next two years, including the weekly series WWF Superstars and several special events. In Germany, pay service Premiere World has picked up the rights to 520 hours of WWF programming in a deal that spans three years.
In other distribution news, Harvey Entertainment has signed an agreement to handle international sales and distribution of Film Roman’s library. The L.A.-based prodco is currently working on prime-time series The Oblongs and Mission Hill for The WB, the Howard Stern-starring Doomsday for UPN and live-action feature Johnny Tsunami for The Disney Channel. Film Roman will also be producing Saturday morning series X-Men with Marvel Media for the Kids’ WB!
Adding to its growing roster of acquired children’s publishing companies, Nelvana has picked up Klutz, a Palo Alto-based publisher of instructional and activity books, for a cool US$74 million. Klutz boasted 1999 sales of more than 50 million books and a profit for that year of over US$40 million. Nelvana also introduced five new series at MIP-TV, including Brace Face, an empowering toon for the eight to 10 demo that stars a metal mouth whose orthodontic supports give her supernatural powers. Also for the eight- to 10-year-olds is The Moville Mysteries, a project created by Klasky Csupo. For preschoolers, Nelvana is developing Mister Monster about a klutzy superhero and Max & Ruby, based on books by well-known kids author Rosemary Wells.