Fox forces hit market with deeper pockets and wider demo needs

Benoit Runel, executive director of programming and acquisitions, Fox Kids Europe
Coming to market with a tripled acquisitions budget for this fiscal year, Benoit Runel is gearing his team up...
October 1, 2000

Fox forces hit market with deeper pockets and wider demo needs

Benoit Runel, executive director of programming and acquisitions, Fox Kids Europe

Coming to market with a tripled acquisitions budget for this fiscal year, Benoit Runel is gearing his team up for some hard-core show-hunting. ‘We are not going to avoid any country, distributor or producer,’ he says. ‘We’re represented at MIPCOM by 10 different buyers, and we are joining forces with buyers from Fox Kids Latin America, Fox Family Worldwide and Fox Kids Network. So all together, we are a pretty efficient army, clearing the floor to make sure we aren’t missing anything.’

Armed with more pocket money, Runel is looking to expand the Fox Kids buying remit to include girl-skewing series and animated comedy series in the seven- to 10-minute format. Since Fox Kids has practically cornered the market on action-adventure offerings for the six to 12 set, Runel won’t be looking too closely at these types of pitches, nor at anything that’s too boy-oriented. ‘We’ve had our share of [Power Rangers-like series],’ he says emphatically.

Sam Ewing, VP of international co-productions and acquisitions, Saban International

Companion pieces for Fox Kids’ current projects are at the top of Sam Ewing’s MIPCOM wish-list, but he’s also looking beyond the six to 10 standard demo for fare that will hit with tween audiences. Shows with a lot of music, marquee value and 40-plus episodes (so they can easily piggyback on existing series) will make the grade in his books.

To go along with Fox Kids’ new 2-D toon Just Stupid (co-produced with Super RTL in Germany and Ciné-Groupe in Canada), Ewing is on the prowl for a concept centered around a strong and funny lead character that kids can relate to. Primarily targeting early teen boys, Just Stupid is based on the somewhat obscure short stories by Australian writer Andy Griffiths (not Andy Griffith!) and stars an outrageous prankster of the same name.

For both live-action paranormal series Scary But True (produced by L.A.-based Highland Entertainment and airing October 21 on Fox Family) and animated wizard show WunschPunsch (co-produced with Germany’s ARD and France’s TF1), Ewing is searching for like-themed kid-centric projects that could attract an older demographic.

Despite concentrating on tweens at this year’s market, Ewing is still receptive to preschool and kid pitches-as long as they have a strong character and a great story line that can be conveyed in 25 words or less. Twists of any kind are also desireable. Ewing recalls a producer pitching a series about six kids on the back of a big dog. ‘Too many shows with dogs,’ was his terse reply. The producer sallied with, ‘OK, there’s six kids on the back of a dinosaur. . . ‘

Christophe Erbes, managing director, Fox Kids Germany

Over in Germany, Christophe Erbes is implementing kindertainment, a concept concentrating on what kids want, not what adults think kids want. Apart from that, there are three elements to his buying strategy for the new kidnet on the block. He’s looking for: shows that are complimentary to the vast Saban catalog (some 6,000 eps); shows with local (German) content; and shows that are a little creative and risky. Since he already has the proven Digimon in his lineup, Erbes isn’t seriously entertaining other kids anime pitches. He’s seen something like 10 Pokémons-to-be, but doesn’t think they’re going to fly.

There are only three pay-TV kids channels in Germany: Fox Kids Germany; Disney Germany, which has a tendency to look in-house for new programming; and Junior (on Premiere World), which is currently on a production streak and isn’t avid for acquisitions. There are also a lot of German companies sitting on big catalogs. ‘Ravensburger just got the German rights to Nelvana, for instance, and since I’m the new kid on the block, I get sent lists and lists and tapes and tapes.’ In terms of what producers shouldn’t do, Erbes reminds that he has a huge library to draw from himself, so when people approach him with ‘zillions of episodes, I say, `that’s very nice, but I get to cherry-pick.”

Tales of pitching- with and without undies

Mark Gray, controller of program development, Carlton International

Mark Gray will be trolling the floor at MIPCOM in search of family movies, long-running live-action series and ‘that elusive half-hour animation series with high production values aimed at eight- to 12-year-olds.’ Realistically, Gray says, Carlton Television provides the core of his division’s shows, but he’s always on the look-out for programming that will travel well and complement existing series.

‘MIP-TV, MIPCOM and Natpe are the events where the different levels of professionalism really come to the fore,’ Gray explains, commenting that the spectrum swings between those who barrage the buyer with ‘the full kit, including promos, visuals, research data and even prototypes of merchandising,’ and those whose presentations consist of little more than cocktail napkin doodles. ‘I well remember one enthusiastic producer who pitched a long-running animation project about butterflies with no visual aids or written material, and a fairly basic grasp of English, but complete mastery of the art of gesticulation.’ As this scene springs to mind, Gray recounts another not-so-convincing pitch made by ‘a very earnest lady’ who presented a program for three- to six-year-olds ‘via a strange-looking glove-puppet (whose species and sex I never managed to determine) and no other aids.’ Promotional gifts can also be surprising; Gray once received (and wore-he’s got the photo to prove it) a large pair of y-front underwear with the logo of a putative animation series.

Gray will be joined at this year’s market by Chris Tidman, Carlton International’s new acquisitions and development exec. Tidman formerly served as acquisitions exec at London-based factual production house and distributor TVF, and it’s his knowledge of reality fare that interested Gray the most. ‘At Carlton International, we spend a lot of money acquiring drama, factual and children’s programs.’

Tidman has an interesting weird-pitch anecdote related to his previous remit. ‘I was attending a documentary festival Down Under in Adelaide. Just as I was reaching the point of polite yawning, two different production companies gave two different pitches in the buff-stark naked. It was art imitating life, since the pitchers were looking at the subjects of streakers and the Emperor’s new clothes, respectively. I await similar experiences at Carlton International-though obviously the subjects will have to have international appeal.’

Canal J shifts gears and puts kids in the driver’s seat

Pierre Belaisch, director of programming, Canal J

After a rather turbulent year that has seen France’s dedicated kids channel adopt a new on-air identity and tone that speaks more directly to kids, director of programming Pierre Belaisch is heading to MIPCOM with this shift in attitude top of mind. ‘Before, we were the channel parents dream of for their children,’ explains Belaisch, ‘and not the station children dream of.’ Taking a cue from Canal J’s new kid-empowering slogan ‘It’s up to you,’ Belaisch is looking for shows that depict kids as heroes, and will be focusing on ferreting out new programming for the seven to 12 demo. An additional US$1-million investment in animation should help achieve this goal, and Belaisch will be using it to pick up modern toons along the lines of Max Steel, a Columbia TriStar offering that recently joined the Canal J Saturday morning sked as part of the ANIMAX block.

Belaisch is also keen on finding a good amount of live action that speaks to younger kids as well as the seven- to 12-year-olds. ‘That’s the cornerstone of the changes we’ve made and how we’re different from our competitors.’

Realistic-but not too real-needed for new Netherlands tween block

Suzanne van der Wateren, children’s program buyer, NCRV and AVRO

With the September launch of a new kids block on one of the Netherland’s three regional channels, Suzanne van der Wateren is gearing up for some hefty acquisition activity at this year’s market. Buying for NCRV and AVRO, two of the nine major kids casters that have to share Nederland 1, 2 and 3, van der Wateren has laid claim to filling 15 hours of the Z@ppelin block with programming for the nine to 12 set. The block broadcasts on Nederland 3 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, and 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Sundays.

In terms of what she will be looking for, van der Wateren says she’s a little sick of the anorexic-looking female leads in much of the children’s animation available. As she’s targeting the older end of the kid spectrum, she’ll be looking for toon series that have strong, realistic female protagonists that her girl viewers can relate to. Contemporary animation styles will also earn points with van der Wateren, who is looking to veer away from classic 2-D cel and incorporate more edgy-looking toons into her lineups. On the live-action front, van der Wateren favors story- and character-based concepts over hard-core action-adventure. Finding these types of shows isn’t easy. She gets tape after tape and goes through a lot to find two or three good ones. In some cases, a little research would have helped. Someone pitched her on a medical documentary full of procedure and gore that would have caused her nine- to 12-year-olds to run screaming from the room.

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