When Kinderkanal debuted in 1997, Helmut Thoma, former leading man of RTL, mocked that soon each German child would have its own channel. Since then, Nickelodeon Germany has shut down and most stations have ceased airing weekday children’s programming.
But this year, things are different. In January, Sat 1 successfully launched the EM.TV Junior block, and in fall, a brand new competitor will come to Germany. However, with the kids market already oversaturated-over the weekend, five stations are struggling for US$119 million in advertising revenue-Fox Kids Germany is betting on Leo Kirch’s pay-TV platform Premiere World. There, Fox Kids will join the Disney Channel and the preschool entry Junior (jointly owned by KirchGroup and EM.TV). Together with Super RTL and the commercial-free KI.KA (formerly Kinderkanal), Fox Kids will be the fifth German children’s channel.
The man Fox Kids Europe sent to Germany to build up a new brand is Christophe Erbes, a player who knows the German market well. Before he established Fox Kids in Spain, he was head of programs at Super RTL and at Nickelodeon Germany. As with all start-ups, it’s quite the uphill battle-shows that Fox Kids air successfully elsewhere, such as Teletubbies (Spain) and Pokémon (France), already air in Germany: RTL 2 has huge success with Pokémon (market share of over 60% of kids ages three to 13), and KI.KA reaches 10% of all viewers with Teletubbies.
Beyond the terrestrial rights being sewn up to hot kid properties, another advantage of working in a niche is that Erbes’ colleagues, such as Susanne Schosser, program director at Super RTL, are looking forward to cooperating with Fox Kids: Schosser welcomes Erbes as ‘a new partner for co-productions,’ but she has doubts that working in this niche will be as protected as Erbes hopes. Schosser predicts that via broadband and digital, sooner or later most of Germany’s big children’s flagships will have their smaller boats: separate stations for boys and girls, stations for animation and live action, and another for tots. Says Schosser, in the 500-channel universe, five years from now, 25 kids channels will not be that much.
Gert K. Muentefering, CEO of Bavaria-Film-Kinder since February, also looks at digital TV as an opportunity for KI.KA. The former head of programming at pubcaster WDR and so-called father of the famous ARD Die Sendung mit der Maus (Germany’s market-leading preschool show for more than 25 years) predicts that for the big media families such as CLT-Ufa (RTL, Super RTL) and Kirch (Pro Sieben, Sat 1), kids programming will play a minor role in the digital world. Therefore, he forsees KI.KA’s role growing, and is not averse to reflecting the content of other kids channels in order to do so. As per Muentefering: ‘Why not dedicate a whole afternoon to Pokémon?’
One area where kids experts do share similar opinions is the Internet and its meaning for children’s TV. Super RTL is Germany’s market leader with more than three million page impressions per month. For Schosser, the Internet provides an opportunity to test new shows before they are added to the schedule, but adds that ‘it will take some time until we make money with the Internet.’
Erbes holds that once stations get past using the Web as a marketing supplement to TV, it could become as important for kids as TV was to their parents.