‘Ten thousand calls per day provide impressive proof of our viewers’ enthusiasm to take part in our programming,’ says Frank Beckmann, programming and managing director for Germany’s Kinderkanal-cum-KI.KA. The four-year-old commercial-free channel broadcasts 13 hours daily to kids ages three to 13. This year, says Beckmann, he will be making a huge push towards interactive and live-action series, resisting the action-packed animation that appears to be flooding the German market.
KI.KA’s programming mix is comprised of 30% animation and 35% to 40% live action, with the remainder made up of in-house produced journalistic edutainment interstitials. Starting in May, the channel is starting a club format program (Mondays to Fridays) called Kikania that will incorporate a game show format with computer gaming and audience interactivity (both at home and in the studio). ‘The kids become heroes in the computer game,’ explains Sebastian Debertin, head of acquisitions and co-productions at KI.KA. The appeal is not only in the technology, he continues, but in the game show elements as well. ‘There is a strong wave of game shows in Germany right now,’ he says. Around six are airing each week. Combined with the video game format, the new show should fit well with the older end of the KI.KA demo.
The entertainment value of the new club format lies in the interactivity. Spielboxx, another interactive format for the channel, aired last July. But, says Debertin, it is a much simpler concept that Kikania built on. ‘The live audience and viewers at home have the chance to participate in the show in an active and direct way,’ says Debertin. ‘This enables both the audience in the studio, and viewers at home, to influence the creative form of the show. The possibility to take part in the program, to have a say, and simply belong to the team sums up the essential features of the new format-something entertaining as well as informative.’ Topic areas range from school and parents, to relationships and your first love. In-studio interviews, call-ins, faxes, e-mails and a live chat on the web round out the interactive elements.
‘Virtual games will be another of the club show’s highlights,’ Debertin says. ‘It’s a unique opportunity for the candidates to act in a virtual landscape. Each player will team up with a viewer calling in. The teams have to find their way through futuristic game paths, keep unmanageable machines running and answer tricky questions.’ Kids will also be able to purchase a CD-ROM (with regular upgrades) that will run as a PC and on-line companion game to the on-air show. A PC adventure game is also in development, with initial negotiations underway with German software company Terzio.
‘The CD-ROM will allow children without Internet access to get the same content that can be found on the web,’ says Debertin, with ancillary games and content that can’t be found on-line. The thinking behind this, he explains, is that on-line access in Germany is still quite costly, and both parents and kids are hesitant to spend a significant amount of time on-line (or at least the time that would be required to participate in the new format). It also lends itself to another new direction for the commercial-free channel. ‘Merchandising,’ Debertin says, ‘as a means of marketing will be much more important for Kinderkanal in 2001.’
A print element is in development to support the new Kikania club format-’a magazine,’ says Debertin, ‘that will bring kids more information on our programming, our characters, our young anchor people, the club activities and other goodies.’
The downside, perhaps, to KI.KA’s continued move towards interactivity is that the technical elements have greatly inflated the channel’s budget. While Debertin and Beckmann couldn’t comment specifically on budgets at press time, Debertin was willing to say, ‘it costs a lot. Compared to Super RTL [or similar German channels], it might be nothing special, but for us it is huge.’ Still, the interactive elements driving up total expenditures, says Debertin, are both worth it ‘and necessary,’ he stresses, ‘to survive the competition in Germany. Hopefully it will work.’
In addition to the interactive glut, KI.KA is complementing its preschool programming by acquiring Tweenies. ‘This is the so-called missing link Kinderkanal has targeted to complete our programming in slots for toddlers already embracing Tinky Winky and Co.,’ says Beckmann.
On the co-production side-’besides the dozens of co-pros ARD and ZDF are internationally involved in,’ Debertin adds-KI.KA is concentrating on two projects: live-actioner Outriders (a co-pro with Frankfurt-based Hesssicher Rundfunk, Berlin’s Neue Deutsche Film and Australia’s Southern Star Productions) and animated Little King Macius (a book-based property for four- to eight-year-olds, co-produced by KI.KA, Hesssicher Rudfunk, Germany-based Saxonia Media-Studio 88 and Ellipse France and Germany).
Also, in the continued fight against animated action series, Debertin has acquired futuristic teen drama The Tribe from U.K. prodco Cloud 9. . . ‘an experiment for us,’ says Debertin, ‘because the conception of the series is truly an unusual approach-a world without adults where children are creating their own rules.’ Strange indeed.