In November 1999, U.K.-headquartered Zone Vision launched Fantastic, a new kids channel for Poland airing over cable and satellite out of Kingston Media Stream near London. A year later, the broadcaster is gauging the response to its block deal with Nickelodeon that yields 12 hours of daily Nick programming, plus two hours of content acquired from Paris-based Xilam through Igel Media in Germany. The response has been good so far, but Fantastic channel manager Vicki Geary feels she should wait until the net has turned around all of Nick’s fare and the companion two-hour block before she decides what to do next.
‘Because [Fantastic] is in its initial stages and Nick is completely new launching into Poland,’ Geary explains, ‘we need a little bit of time to figure out what we need to target or expand. It’s so different from what [the viewers] are used to. I’m waiting to see what the response is on stuff like CatDog or Ren & Stimpy.’ But Geary assures that they are looking for new/more/other programming to fit the non-Nick slot. With only three shows filling the two hours following Nick, she says she’d like to beef up this chink. ‘I’d really like to see some regional programming there,’ she adds, as that would nicely balance the very North American Nick shows.
Chris Sharp, managing director of Zone Vision Enterprises, says that in terms of budget the channel needs to go as cheaply as possible. Its average acquisition budget ranges between US$200 and US$400 per episode. The rights to the Nick programming are licensed for five years, whereas the Igel Media content is more typical in its two- to three-year Polish programming rights. Sharp points out that Fantastic is not a terrestrial channel, nor does it have advertising, so its means are initially limited.
Zone Vision is in negotiations with producers, but realistically the 14-hour block will only grow in relation to Fantastic’s distribution levels. Sharp is planning for, and hoping to double Fantastic’s sub base of 500,000 by Q1 next year. ‘I’m a programming person,’ he says, ‘so ideally I want as much programming as possible.’ But for now, he has to suffice himself with continued development on the Nick block, while promoting a level of diversity for the channel with the companion block’s programming.
Fantastic airs the Nick block 12 hours daily between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. CET. Fantastic’s other programming-consisting of Oggy and the Cockroaches, Space Goofs and The Magician-airs during the two hours following the Nick slot.
For its own block, Nickelodeon does all the programming, but Fantastic and Zone Vision do all the scheduling and dubbing-a very time-consuming process, Geary explains, because Nick’s series often have many characters, in turn requiring a lot of actors whom Nick reserves approval on.
Restrictions on the volume of foreign material that can enter the country during a certain period tend to slow the dubbing process. Still, some of the more telling factors affecting Fantastic’s decision-making process come in reckoning the impact of the programming. The channel has to be careful in what it tries to introduce to an audience that has had limited exposure to U.S.-originated kids programming. ‘OK, they’ve got The Cartoon Network, but this is completely different,’ says Geary. Fantastic decided that only half of the first Ren & Stimpy series was appropriate in Poland, the rest being ‘a little too dark. . . a little too off the wall.’